Rīga is the largest of the three Baltic capitals and – with a trading history of more than 800 years – it is not surprising to find that it is also the most cosmopolitan. The city boasts a well preserved (or restored) Old Town, an interesting neighborhood of ornate Art Nouveau (Jugendstil) architecture, a fine city park that runs along the old defensive moat, an eclectic assortment of churches, open vistas along the Daugava River and a wide variety of restaurants and shops and that appeal to tourists and locals alike.
Founded in 1201, Rīga has been controlled over the centuries by German merchants and knights, the Kingdom of Sweden, the Russian Empire, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union before finally achieving independence in 1991. These historic influences are particularly evident in the buildings and churches in and around Rīga's Old Town. Today, independent at last, Rīga is a rapidly modernizing city that is growing economically through trade, business and tourism. The city is also the political and educational center of the country. Despite its successes, however, the population of the city has actually been declining from a pre-independence high of 909,000 in 1990 to about 727,600 in 2006. Residents seeking work abroad have combined with emigration by ethnic Russians and a declining birthrate to account for this precipitous decline. It is all the more surprising because Rīga – at least on a casual visit – has the feel of a vibrant and successful city that would be attracting, not losing, residents.
I spent three days in Rīga during May 2006, and would have been happy to stay longer had my schedule permitted. It's a wonderful city to walk around and it just has a nice feel to it. The photographs above offer some highlights of the city, including the Art Nouveau district, the bustling city market (built in World War I zeppelin hangers), the city park along the old moat and the Daugava River. For more detail of Rīga's popular Old Town and the ornate Orthodox Nativity of Christ Cathedral, check out the slide shows below that will run in a separate pop-up window.
Rīga's Historic Old Town Area: The Old Town area of Rīga is a UNESCO World Heritage site that proudly showcases the city's 800 year history. Sights range from the 14th century Powder Tower (along the old city wall), to 17th century homes and guild halls of German merchants, plus several imposing churches, including the Dome Cathedral founded in 1211 for the Rīga bishop. One of the most incredible sights is the House of the Blackheads, first built in 1344 as a guild for unmarried merchants of the Hanseatic League and beautifully restored after it was razed by the Soviets after World War II. (21 Photos) [Preview This Slide Show]
Nativity of Christ Cathedral: Rīga's 19th century Nativity of Christ Cathedral, is an Eastern Orthodox cathedral that has been carefully restored after years of decline during the Soviet era, when it was used as a planetarium. The interior of the church is elaborately decorated with silver icons, sculpted walls and religious paintings. (7 Photos) [Preview This Slide Show]