The Freeport of Riga lies on the banks of the River Dvina about 15 kilometers inland from the Gulf of Riga. The Latvian capital city is about 80 nautical miles west-southwest of the Port of Parnu in Estonia and about 235 kilometers northeast of Lithuania's Klaipeda State Seaport. The Freeport of Riga's historic center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, largely based on its plentiful German Art Nouveau (Jugendstil) architecture. The Freeport of Riga has made many improvements to the city's infrastructure in recent years, increasing leisure and business travel. In 2006, over 727 thousand people called the Freeport of Riga home.
The Freeport of Riga is Latvia's major cultural, administrative, and industrial center. Although icebreakers are necessary to open the Freeport of Riga from December until April, the port is an important part of the local economy. Riga contributes about 50% of Latvia's industrial output, with major contributions from the city's production of pharmaceuticals, textiles, food and beverages, furniture, wood products, communications equipment and from the printing and publishing, public utility, and financial sectors. The city has many engineering companies that build ships and make electrical equipment, machine tools, diesel engines, rolling stock, streetcars, and other products.
The River Daugava has long been a trade route. The modern site of the Freeport of Riga, a natural protected harbor upstream from the river's mouth, was called Duna Urbs in the 2nd Century. In the following centuries, the Freeport of Riga was settled by Livs and Kurs.
The Freeport of Riga was part of the Viking's route to Byzantium during the early Middle Ages. Its residents earned their livelihood through fishing, animal husbandry, trade, and through crafts in wood, amber, bone, and iron.
By the 12th Century, the Freeport of Riga had been a trading center for centuries, The Chronicle of Henry of Livonia reported that the Freeport of Riga as an ancient port with many houses and stores for corn, hides, and flax. In the middle 12th Century, traders from Germany arrived at the Freeport of Riga.
The monk Meinhard of Segeberg arrived with German traders to convert the natives to Christianity. He lived with the Livs and built a castle and church, establishing a bishopric. Meinhard failed, though, as the Livs continued as pagans until he died in 1196. In 1198, Bishop Bertold arrived with Crusaders who attempted to force Christianity on the locals; however, he was killed, and his crusaders were defeated.
Unwilling to accept defeat, Pope Innocent III declared a crusade against the Livonians. Hartwig of Uthlede, Prince and Archbishop of Bremen and Hamburg empowered his nephew, Albert, as Bishop of Livonia in 1199. Albert arrived in the Freeport of Riga in 1200 with 23 ships and 500 crusaders, establishing his power over the Riga elders.
With German merchants encroaching on the territory, Bishop Albert established the Order of Livonian Brothers of the Sword to defend trade in the Freeport of Riga and opened the order to local merchants and nobles. In 1207, Albert began to fortify the town, and his fief became part of the Holy Roman Empire. Ownership of the lands was split between the Church and the Order, with the Church taking the lion's share.
Bishop Albert managed to get papal bulls decreeing that all merchants from Germany had to route their trade in the Baltic through the Freeport of Riga, ensuring the city's commercial future. In 1211, the city's first coins were minted. The merchants and citizens in the Freeport of Riga began to seek more autonomy from the Church, and they won the right to administer Riga and adopted a city constitution in 1221.
In the same year, Bishop Albert was forced to concede Danish power over lands in Livonia and Estonia. He turned to King Valdemar of Denmark for help in protecting the Freeport of Riga against rebelling Livs. After struggles with the Danes and Germans, Valdemar returned Livonian lands to Bishop Albert's control in 1222.
The locals continued to resist Albert's control, however, and in 1225, an agreement was reached releasing locals from paying taxes to the Bishop. The Freeport of Riga's citizens also won the right to elect their own city officers. In 1227, Albert conquered the island of Oesel at the mouth of the Gulf of Riga, and the city won new territories. When Bishop Albert died in 1229, he left a German rule over the Baltic region that would survive for 700 years. The Freeport of Riga became a Hanseatic city in 1282, bringing political and economic stability and giving the city a strong foundation that has lasted ever since.
As Hanseatic influence decreased, the Freeport of Riga became the focus of foreign dreams. In 1522, when the city accepted the Protestant Reformation, the power of the archbishops ended. Then in 1561, the Teutonic Knights who had ruled so long fell. For the next 20 years, the Freeport of Riga held the status of a Free Imperial City.
The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth gained control of the Freeport of Riga in 1581. The nearby Daugavgriva fortress was taken by the King of Sweden in 1621 who entered the Thirty Years' War to bolster German Lutheranism as well as to gain money and power.
During the Russo-Swedish War in the 1650s, the Freeport of Riga fended off a Russian siege, and it was Sweden's biggest city until 1710. Under the Swedes, the Freeport of Riga had much autonomy. In 1710, during the Great Northern War, Peter the Great of Russia invaded the Freeport of Riga, and Sweden's rule ended. The 1721 Treaty of Nystad made Russia the strongest power in the north, and the Freeport of Riga was annexed into Russia. It soon became an industrialized port for the Russian Empire, and it remained so until the first World War. By the beginning of the 20th Century, the Freeport of Riga was Russia's third largest city after Moscow and Saint Petersburg.
Throughout all the years of changing powers over Baltic region and the Freeport of Riga, the Germans in Riga continued to be the dominant ethnic group. By the middle 19th Century, they accounted for almost 43% of the city's population, and German was the Freeport of Riga's official language.
In 1891, Russian became the official language of the Baltic provinces, and Latvians became the largest ethnic group in the Freeport of Riga. As the Latvian middle class grew in the Freeport of Riga and industrialization progressed rapidly, the city became a center for the Latvian National Awakening, the nationalist movement, and eventually the socialist New Current. These changes concluded when the Latvian Social Democratic Workers' Party led the 1905 Revolution.
In the early 20th Century, the Freeport of Riga was affected greatly by World War I and the 1917 Russian Revolution. Germany's army took the town in 1917, and the 1918 Treaty of Brest-Litovsk made the Freeport of Riga and the Baltic countries the property of Germany.
When the 1918 Armistice ended World War I, Germany was forced to relinquish its ownership of the Baltic States. With the Freeport of Riga as its capital, Latvia proclaimed its independence in 1918. Between the two world wars, the Freeport of Riga's focus shifted from Russia to Western Europe. Germany and the United Kingdom became the country's most important trading partners.
Latvia and the Freeport of Riga were occupied by the Soviet Union in 1940, but Nazi Germany invaded the territory and held it from 1941 to 1944. The ethnic Germans in the Freeport of Riga were forced to return to Germany, and the city's Jews were forced into a ghetto. Concentration camps were built at nearby Kaiserwald and at Salaspils some 20 kilometers to the southeast of the Freeport of Riga.
In 1945, the Red Army liberated the Freeport of Riga from Germany. During World War II, Latvia lost about a third of its population. Under Soviet rule, the Freeport of Riga was forced to industrialize, and Russian workers were imported into the city, further changing its ethnic character.
When the Soviet Union was dissolved, Latvia regained its independence in 1991 when it joined the United Nations. Latvia joined the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 2004, and the Freeport of Riga began to grow as a tourist destination.
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