Eastern and Central Europe (Eyewitness Travel Guides)

(Ben Green) #1

Latvia’s strategic geographical
position prompted its more powerful
neighbours to gain control over the
region and largely decided the course
of its history. A short period of self-
determination in the early 20th
century ended with occupation first
by Nazi Germany and then by Soviet
Russia. Independence was not
restored until 1991. Nonetheless, a
distinctive Latvian culture survived,
assimilating foreign influences and
still retaining a strong connection
with nature. While still coming to
terms with the legacies of the 20th
century, today the country has a
new con fidence. Its historic cities
have been restored, while rural areas
are being developed for ecotourism.

Latvia’s history is traditionally
considered to begin with the advent
of the Teutonic knights in 1201.
Looking for conquests and converts
in a pagan land, these German
warrior-monks conquered Latvia and
founded Rīga, which grew into an
important centre for trade between
the Baltic region and Western
Europe. The beneficiaries of this
growth were the Germans, while the
Latvians were dispossessed and
forced to become serfs.
The early 16th century saw
Protestantism declared as the state
religion. However, in 1561,
Catholicism was estab lished when
Poland con quered Latvia dur ing the



ying between Lihuania and Estonia, Latvia is characterized by

delightful forests and lakes, fascinating historical towns and

dynamic cities, which are, by and large, under-explored.

By contrast, the country’s exciting capital, Rīga, draws hordes of

Western Europeans all year round. The largest city in the Baltic region,

Rīga revels in its cultural treasures and hedonistic nightlife.

Renaissance-style façade of the House of Blackheads, Rīga

Bank of the Gauja river below Eagle Cliff, Gauja National Park
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