If Rīga were a human, it would be keeping a stack of expired passports issued in its name by a dozen states and empires.
It was born German in 1201. Bishop Albert von Buxhoevden (say that fast three times) founded Rīga as a bridgehead for the crusade against the northern ‘heathens’ – the Balts, the Slavs and Finno-Ugric people. Thus Rīga became a stronghold for the Knights of the Sword and the newest trading junction between proto-Russia and the West. When Sweden snagged the city in 1621, it grew into the largest holding of the Swedish Empire (even bigger than Stockholm!). Then the Russians snatched Latvia from Sweden’s grip and added an industrial element to the bustling burg. By the mid-1860s Rīga was the world’s biggest timber port and Russia’s third city after Moscow and St Petersburg. The 20th century also saw the birth of cafes, salons, dance clubs and a thriving intellectual culture, which acquired a distinct Latvian flavour after the country became independent in 1918. All of that ended with the Soviet occupation in 1940 followed by WWII, which left the city bombed out and without its two large communities – the Germans, who resettled into Germany, and the Jews, who were slaughtered in the Holocaust. But somehow, Rīga’s indelible international flavour managed to rise up from the rubble, and even as a part of the USSR, Rīga was known for its forward thinking and thriving cultural life.
Today, Rīga’s cosmopolitan past has enabled the city to effortlessly adjust to a global climate, making it more than just the capital of Latvia – it’s the cornerstone of the Baltic.