About Latvia

Cities and Towns

 

Today, 77 towns and cities are located in the relatively small Republic of Latvia. Latvian cities have undergone diverse changes throughout the centuries. Some of them, like Straupe, Rauna, and Koknese have lost their former glory and status, however, the city of Daugavpils has changed its location. Latvian cities have developed and grown around trade and traffic routes, nowadays, more so around significant manufacturing facilities (Olaine, Aizkraukle). Some former cities have been swallowed up by their larger expanding neighbours, for instance, Gostiņi has joined Pļaviņas, Krustpils has joined Jēkabpils, Grīva has joined Daugavpils.

 

The development of Latvian cities commenced in the 900's - 1100's, as it did in the rest of Northern Europe. During this time wide settlements developed, particularly in significant farming and trading centres, more often near a harbour. These are considered to be the earliest Latvian cities, some of which had areas of up to 15 hectares (at the castle mounds of Daugmale, Jersika, and Mežotne). The development of these cities was cut short by the invasion of the crusaders in the 1200's, the development of new political and social organisations, and the introduction of a new culture.

 

The 1200's were a time when the foundation of the oldest still existing city, Rīga, took place. It acquired city status in 1201. In the Middle Ages city status was granted to 11 inhabited settlements. Of these, 8 were also members of the most significant Northern European trading organisation - the Hanseatic League. 24 new cities were founded in the centuries that followed till 1918. This period of time was characterised by countless wars and power changeovers. With the creation of an independent Republic of Latvia the number of cities doubled. City status was granted to 30 inhabited places in a period of 20 years. During the 50-year period of annexation to the USSR only 4 new cities were established. After the renewal of independence in 1991, however, city status was granted to 21 inhabited areas.

 

Today the life of each Latvian city revolves around its own local government, according to the legislation concerning local government passed in 1991. Latvian cities are differentiated by their status: 9 cities of the Republic (Rīga, Daugavpils, Liepāja, Jelgava, Jēkabpils, Valmiera, Ventspils, Jūrmala and Rēzekne), and regional towns.

 

Inhabitants and Economy

 

Today the larger part of Latvia's population resides in city areas - that is 1 540 998 inhabitants or approximately 68 % of the population. Latvian cities differ greatly in size. 21 cities have a population of over 10 000, the largest of these being Rīga (population 717 371), Daugavpils (population 105 958), and Liepāja (population 85 050). However the smallest Latvian towns are Durbe (population 460), Subate (population 1019) and Pāvilosta (population 1150).

 

The nation's largest and most famous manufacturing concerns like the stock companies "Aldaris", "Laima" and others are concentrated in the cities. Latvia's largest manufacturing centres are in Rīga, Ventspils and Daugavpils. There are 3 significant harbours - in Rīga, Ventspils and in Liepāja. Through these harbours there is movement of Latvian export and import, as well as a large portion of Russian- European transit.

 

Cultural Life in Latvian Cities

 

Rīga is the capital of Latvia, and has been visited in previous centuries by many politicians and monarchs. Also many famous scientists and artists such as the enlightened philosopher Johann Gottfried Herder, and the composer Richard Wagner. Today there are professional theatres in Rīga, Liepāja, Valmiera, and Daugavpils. Every regional town has a museum, and in Rīga the museums number more than 50 - the Museum of History and Shipping founded in 1773, being the oldest in the Baltic.

 

Internationally recognised festivals regularly take place in Rīga, the film festival "Arsenals" (in Rīga), the Middle Ages music festival (in Rīga and Bauska), and the ballet festival (in Rīga). Latvian choirs and folk dance troupes take part in a song and dance festival every 4 years, and have achieved a high level of recognition at Scandinavian song and dance festivals. Jūrmala is a favourite holiday-place in Latvia, well known for its health resorts, which are slowly regaining their former status.

 

Cultural Heritage in Latvian Cities

 

Even though there are architectural similarities amongst Latvian cities, each has its own unique charm. Archaeological monuments in some cities are testimony to their former importance. Majestic and attractive castle mounds can be found in Limbaži, Alūksne, and Saldus, in Grobiņa, a unique Scandinavian cemetery and castle mound (600's - 700's). The Middle Ages had introduced stonewalling to Latvian architecture. The first stone wall building to be built in Latvia was the Ikšķile church, in 1185, which still exists today on a small island in the river Daugava. The most important element of the Middle Age town was the castle of its noblemen. Many Latvian towns of the Middle Ages featured stone castles, however the only surviving reconstructed examples remain in Rīga and in Jēkabpils. Ongoing reconstruction of Middle Age castles is taking place in Cēsis, Turaida and Bauska. Smaller remains are to be found in Dobele, Limbaži, Valmiera, Rēzekne and Ludza.

 

The most impressive baroque castle is to be found in Jelgava, designed and built by Rastrelli. The 200 or so art nouveau structures in Rīga are of exceptional importance to the architecture of this century and it is with good reason that Rīga can be called the art nouveau capital of the world.

 

It is structures from the last 100 - 200 years that mostly survive in Latvian cities, including churches whose beginnings can be attributed to the Middle Ages. Works of famous artists adorn Latvian churches, for instance, the altar painting by J.K.Dorn from Koenigsberg (painted 1742-1758) in the Liepāja Holy Trinity church. The architecture of Latvia's small towns is singularly beautiful, formed by its one and two store structures, soviet apartment blocks, and city centres. More than 20 town centres are protected by law as a part of Latvian national heritage, and in 1997 the historical centre of Rīga was included in the UNESCO heritage list of the world's most important cultural and natural sites.

 

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