The original balt and finno-ugric inhabitants of Latvia and Estonia were saved from the ravages of the Mongol hordes by the death of the great Khan Ogodai but they did not escape the equally brutal invasion of their lands by the "civilised" german Knights of the Sword who were given licence to conquer and convert the "northern heathens" by the Pope.
They might have been better off with the Mongols to whom they would also have had to pay tribute but who would have respected their identity and beliefs. In any case, the baltic tribes were conquered and converted to Christianity in the 12th century, at the point of the sword and in the name of god, just like the Aztec and the Inca were a few centuries later.
German merchants dominated Riga even after it fell to the Poles in 1582 and then to the Swedish in 1621. The Germans were however gradually replaced by russian traders after Russia took it from Sweden in 1710. Riga was essentially a city of foreigners until the Latvians were freed from serfdom in the 19th century. The number of Latvians had grown to about half of Riga's population at the turn of the century. Badly damaged in both world wars Riga revived as an important technical and industrial center where large numbers of russian migrants were encouraged to settle after WW II.
Understandably, the ethnic Latvians, who represent only 52% of the population, seek to reverse the intense russification their country has been subjected to particularly in the last 50 years. Consequently, only pre 1940 residents and their descendants have been automatically granted citizenship of the modern Latvian Republic created in August 1991. Others may apply for it if they can satisfy strict language and residence requirements..
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I had been turned away at the road border for lack of a visa but got through on the night train with the required stamp in my passport. I found a nice room for 8.60$US at the Saulite Hotel near the train station and set off to visit the Old City on foot.
These people are entering Old Riga on Brivibas Boulevard named for the Brivibas (Liberty) Monument behind them which was built in 1935 to celebrate liberation in 1920 from the Russians. The name Brivibas was also given to Riga's main artery which extends seven kms further behind the monument.
Old Riga was damaged in WW II but it was lovingly restored as you can see from these photos.
This is Dome Square in the center of the old city with the belfry of St Peter's Church in the background. The next three photos, showing most of old Riga, were taken from that belfry.
Looking south up the Daugava River from St Peters' Church belfry, the five large structures are market halls, the Stalinist style skyscraper houses the Academy of Sciences and in the distance, the 368 meter TV Tower.
Looking north down the Daugava towards the Baltic Sea with the Lutheran Dome Cathedral and Dome Square in the center, the Catholic St Jacob Cathedral on the right and the modern Vansu Bridge on the left.
Looking east, we see Philharmonic Square, the Powder Magazine Tower and the tree tops of Bastejkalns Park whose canal marks the limit of the old city.
The Philharmonic Square got its name from its proximity to several concert venues, the Small and the Great Guild Halls, the Wagner Hall, the Music Academy Hall and of course, the Dom Cathedral with its huge organ.
Below on the left, the Dome Cathedral. Started in 1211 as the seat of the Riga bishop, it was added to in the 15th and 18th centuries. It is now a museum and organ-concert hall. The Powder Tower on the right is the sole survivor of 18 such towers in the old city fortifications.
The Pilsetas canal, a few meters to the right of this view of Bastejkalns Park once was a defensive moat around Old Riga.
Below left, the ancient Mucenieku iela (street), near the National Opera House inside Old Riga. On the right, the entrance hall of the huge 19th century Russian Orthodox Cathedral built in Esplanade Park just outside Old Riga.
A nice sunset shot is always a good way to end a series but I would have had to wait too long. Here the sun is still high but it is hidden behind the top spar of Vansu Bridge
After a few days here, I took an early bus to Tallinn.