Riga - Encyclopedia

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RIGA (Esth. Ria-Lin), a seaport of Russia, 366 m. by rail S.W. of St Petersburg, the capital of the government of Livonia. The Gulf of Riga, 100 m. long and 60 m. in width, with shallow waters of inconsiderable salinity (greatest depth, 22 fathoms), freezes to some extent every year. The town is situated at the southern extremity of the gulf, 8 m. above the mouth of the Dvina, which brings Riga, by means of inland canals, into water communication with the basins of the Dnieper and the Volga. Below the town the river divides into several branches, among islands and sandbanks, receiving before it enters the sea the Bolderaa river, and expanding towards the east into wider lacustrine basins. Having direct railway communication with the fertile parts of southern and south-eastern Russia, Riga has become the second port for foreign trade on the Baltic, ranking next after St Petersburg. The port freezes on an average 127 days every year. The larger ships cannot reach Riga, and are unloaded at Ust-Dvinsk (formerly Dunamiinde). By no means all the trade with the interior is transported by the railways; no inconsiderable portion of the goods is carried by water.

Riga consists of four parts - the old town and the St Petersburg and Moscow suburbs on the right bank of the Dvina, and the Mitau suburb on the left bank, the two sides being connected by a floating bridge, which is removed in winter, and by a viaduct, 820 ft. long. The old town still preserves its Hanseatic features - high storehouses, with spacious granaries and cellars, flanking the narrow, winding streets. The only open spaces are the market-place and two other squares, one of which, facing the citadel, is adorned with a granite column erected (1818) in commemoration of the defeat of Napoleon I. in 1812. The suburbs, with their broad and quiet boulevards on the site of the former fortifications, are steadily growing. The St Petersburg suburb is the seat of the German aristocracy and merchant community.

Few antiquities of the medieval town remain. The oldest church, the Dom (St Mary's), founded in 1215, was burned in 1547, and the present building dates from the second half of the 16th century, but has been thoroughly restored since 1883. Its organ, dating from 1883, is one of the largest in the world. St Peter's church, with a beautiful tower 412 ft. high, was erected in 1406-1409. The castle, built in 1494-1515 by the master of the Knights of the Sword, Walter von Plettenberg - a spacious building often rebuilt - is the seat of the Russian authorities. The "House of the Black Heads," a corporation or club of foreign merchants, was founded in 1330, and subsequently became the meeting-place of the wealthier youth of the place. Of the recent erections, the polytechnic, the exchange, the monument of the German writer, Johann Gottfried von Herder, who lived at Riga towards the end of the 18th century, the gymnasiums (schools) of Lomonosov and Alexander I. and the large bonded warehouse are worthy of notice. The esplanade (where a Greek cathedral built in 1877-1884 now stands), the Wohrmann Park and the Imperial Park are much visited. Riga gives name to an archiepiscopal see of the Orthodox Greek Church and to an episcopal see of the Roman Catholic Church, and is the headquarters of the XX. army corps. In the environs, Dubbeln and the sea-bathing resorts of Bilderlingshof and Majorenhof have numerous visitors in summer.

The population, which was 102,590 in 1867, increased to 168,728 in 1881 and to 282,943 in 1897, so that Riga now ranks seventh in the empire in order of population: 47% of the inhabitants are Germans, 25% Russians and 23% Letts, with a small admixture of Esthonians, Jews, etc. The city has a commercial school (1903), a municipal library, the Dom museum, an art museum with picture gallery (1904-1905), technical and theological middle schools and a pilot and navigation school. Industrial activity has developed and includes railway-carriage works, works for the manufacture of machinery, oil mills and breweries. Owing to its communication by water and rail with the forests of White Russia and Volhynia, Riga is a great mart for timber. Flax and linseed also occupy a prominent place, Riga being the chief Russian port for the extensive flax-producing region of north-west Russia. Owing to the great railway which crosses the country from Riga to Smolensk, afterwards dividing into two branches, to Orenburg and Tsaritsyn on the lower Volga respectively, Riga is the storehouse and place of export for hemp coming by rail from west central Russia, and for corn, Riga merchants sending their buyers as far east as Tambov. Oats, in particular, are extensively exported to England from the central provinces. Wheat, barley, eggs, butter, oilcake, hides, tallow, leather, tobacco, rugs, feathers and other items add considerably to the total value of the exports, which increased from 14 million sterling in 1851-1860 to 8-14 millions sterling in 1901-1905. The imports, consisting chiefly of salt, fish, wine, cotton, metals, machinery, coal, oils, fruits and tobacco, are also rapidly increasing: whereas in 1851-60 they were valued at about z million sterling, in 1901-1905 they reached 6-114 millions sterling.


Riga was founded in 1158, as a storehouse at the mouth of the Diina (Dvina), by a few Bremen merchants. About 1190 the Augustinian monk Meinhard erected a monastery there, and in 1199-1201 Bishop Albert I. of Livonia obtained from Pope Innocent III. permission for German merchants to land at the new settlement, and chose it for his seat, exercising his power over the neighbouring district in connexion with the Teutonic Knights. As early as the first half of the 13th century the young city obtained the right of electing its own magistracy, and enlarged the walls erected during Albert's time. It joined the Hanseatic League, and from 1253 refused to recognize the rights of the bishop and the knights. In 1420 it fell once more under the rule of the bishop, who maintained his authority until 1566, when it was abolished in consequence of the Reformation. Sigismund II., king of Poland, took Riga in 1547, and in 1558 the Russians burned its suburbs and many ships in the river. In 1561 Gotthard Ketteler publicly abdicated his mastership of the order of the Teutonic Knights, and Riga, together with southern Livonia, became a Polish possession; after some unsuccessful attempts to reintroduce Roman Catholicism, Stephen Bathory, king of Poland, recognized the religious freedom of the Protestant population. Throughout the 17th century Riga was a bone of contention between Sweden, Poland and Russia. In 1621 Gustavus Adolphus, king of Sweden, took it from Poland, and held it against the Poles and the Russians, who besieged it in 1656. During the Northern War between Sweden and Russia, it was courageously defended (1700), but after the battle of Poltava it succumbed, and was taken in July 1710 by the Russians. In 1781 it was made by Russia the capital of the Riga viceroyalty, but fifteen years later, the viceroyalty having been abolished, it was made the capital of Livonia. In 1812, the approach of the French being apprehended, the suburbs were burned. (P. A. K.; J. T. BE.)

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