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Riga

Situated on the Baltic Sea coast at the mouth of the Daugava river, Riga is the capital of Latvia and a major regional port and industrial centre. The city's population has fallen since Latvia's independence (1991) from 910,000 to 760,000, largely as a result of the departure of part of the large ethnic Russian population.

In 1158 AD Baltic-German traders founded a commercial settlement at Riga in Livland or Livonia. In 1201 Archbishop Albert of Buxthoeven-Bremen and Riga granted Riga city rights. Riga as well as Livonia and Prussia came under the protection of the Holy Roman (German) Empire, which included archbishops among its subordinate rulers. At the time of Luther Livonia and Prussia became Protestant.

A member from 1282 of the powerful Hanseatic League of northern European trading cities, Riga employed German as its official language of administration until the imposition of Russian in 1891 (all birth, marriage and death records are in German until then). In 1900 Riga's population of 282,943 was a quarter Latvian, a quarter Russian and a half Baltic-German.

After a period as a free city (1561-1581) Riga came under the rule of first the Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth and then Sweden (1621-1710) and subsequently Russia. After the region's terrible losses during the Great Northern War (1700-1721), Riga enjoyed rapid growth as a leading port and later industrial city of the rising Russian empire, its population doubling in the latter half of the 18th century and again in the first half of the 19th, and more than quadrupling in 1850-1900.

After severe losses in 1914-1920 owing to war, military occupation, revolution and a brief civil war, a first period of Latvian national independence (1918-1940) saw a slowing of growth as Riga, though now a national capital, lost most of the trade of its former Russian hinterland, now under communist government in the Soviet Union. World War II brought further losses following Soviet annexation (1940) and German occupation (1941-1944).

Restored Soviet rule brought renewed population growth augmented by the immigration of large numbers of non-Latvians from other Soviet republics, particularly Russians: by 1975 less than 40% of Riga's inhabitants were ethnic Latvians, a proportion which has risen since independence.

A list of rulers of Riga: Archbishops of Riga who were also secular rulers until 1561:



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