GENERAL FACTS ABOUT LATVIA
Latvia in Brief
Location: Latvia is situated in Northern Europe, on the coast of the Baltic Sea.
The Territory of Latvia: 64,589 square kilometres (24,938 square miles).
National anthem: 'Dievs, sveti Latviju!' (God Bless Latvia)
International code: LV
Constitution: democratic parliamentary republic
The parliament, called the Saeima consists of 100 elected MPs.
President: Valdis Zatlers ( from 2007)
Offical language: Latvian
Total population: 2,302,800 (April 2005)
Capital city: Riga (with 764,328 inhabitants)
Administrative organisation: 7 cities, 65 towns, 26 regions, 11 districts, 467 parishes
Traditionally divided into 4 regions: Vidzeme, Latgale, Kurzeme and Zemgale
Largest cities apart from Riga: Daugavpils, Jelgava, Jurmala, Liepaja, Rezekne, Ventspils
Major ports: Ventspils, Riga, Liepaja
Ethnic composition: Latvians - 57.7%, Russians - 29.6%, Belorussians - 4.1%, Ukrainians - 2.7%, Poles- 2.5%, Lithuanians - 1.4%, Others - 2%
Religion: Non-religious - 35%, Lutheran - 24%, Catholic - 18%, Orthodox - 15%, Others - 8%
Currency: Lats (LVL), 1 lats = 100 santimi
Time: GMT +2, from April to November GMT +3
Internet domain: .lv
International telephone code: +371
Electricity supply: 220 volts, 50 Hz European-style 2-pin plugs
Latvia is situated in Northern Europe, on the coast of the Baltic Sea.
64,589 square km in total of which interior water (rivers, lakes etc) comprises 2,543 square km. Greatest distance from North to South is 210 km, from East to West is 450 km. The majority of the territory is dedicated to forests and agriculture.
Latvia has land borders with 4 countries - Estonia, Russia, Belorussia and Lithuania. The total length of the border is 1,862 km. Land border in the North with Estonia is 343 km, in the East with Russia is 282 km, in the Southeast with Belorussia is 176 km and in the South with Lithuania is 576 km. Coastal border with the Baltic Sea is a further 494 km.
Averages 87 m above sea level. The highest point in Latvia is Gaizinkalns at 311.6 metres above sea level (1,020 feet).
Rivers and lakes
The largest river in Latvia is the Daugava. Its length in Latvian territory is 352 km (1,005 km in total). The longest river within the country's territory is the Gauja - 452 km. The largest lake is Lake Lubans (80.7 hectares), while the deepest is Lake Dridzis (65.1 metres). Water sources account for 1.7% of Latvia's total territory. More than 40% of Latvia's lakes are located in the Latgale region.
Latvia has four well-defined seasons when the temperatures of air, water and soil change markedly. Latvia is located into the moderate climatic zone. Its temperate, moist climate is created by Atlantic air masses and influenced by the Baltic Sea and the Gulf of Riga stretching deep into the country's interior. Weather conditions are generally rather changeable and unpredictable, in common with much of coastal Europe.
The hottest months are July and August (with average temperature 16 - 18 C), the coldest - January (average -2 C to -6 C). Annual rainfall totals 500-800 mm (19.7 to 31.5 inches). Length of days is affected by the Northerly latitude, averaging 6 - 7 hours in December and 17 - 18 hours in June.
Flora and fauna
Latvia is situated in Europe's mixed forest zone. Its geographical position and the presence of the Baltic Sea determines its natural diversity. Here one can find oceanic as well as continental species and many rare and protected plants. The main vegetative type is forest alongside marshlands as well as many biologically valuable meadows.
There is still large population of predators including around 400 wolves (more than in the whole of Northwestern Europe) and lynx. The most common mammals are hares, red squirrels, moose, elk, wild boar, red deer and foxes. Additionally, Latvia has the biggest beaver population in Europe.
The bird population is also rich and diverse, since the Baltic Sea coast provides ideal places for nesting and feeding. Several coastal areas are established waypoints for migrating birds along their routes from Asia to Western Europe, Africa and Middle East.
Around 223 different bird species are nesting in the territory of Latvia, including such rare birds as sea eagles, black and white storks and others. Birdwatching towers and ornithological stations are common throughout the country.
Most of the Latvia's fish are fresh water varieties but Atlantic salmon still come to breed in Latvian waters.
About 9% of land is given special legal protection for its special biological or scientific interest. There are four national nature reserves - Grinu, Moricsalas, Kurtskalnu and Teicu Nature Reserves. In addition there are three national parks - Gauja National Park, Kemeri National Park and Slitere National Park. There also are 211 restricted areas, 22 nature parks, 6 protected landscape areas plus the Ziemelvidzemes Biosphere Reserve.
• The territory of present-day Latvia has been inhabited from 9,000 years BC. Latvians are descended from Baltic tribes which arrived in around 2,000 BC.
• Due its important geographical position, Latvia has always been desired, fought over and occupied by various larger powers including Russia, Germany, Poland and Sweden.
• German traders established their first camp on the banks of the river Daugava in 1054.
• German archbishop Albert of Livonia founded the city of Riga in 1201. Later, the city became a key member of the famous European trading alliance called the Hanseatic League.
• In the 13th century German crusaders gradually progressed further into Latvian territory converting the local peoples to Christianity - often by force. They also started to collect taxes and reorganised the distribution of land.
• The Duchy of Kurzeme (Curland) and The Duchy of Pardaugava appeared as a result of the success of the Polish-Lithuanian Kingdom during the Livonian Wars (1558-1583).
• Sweden gained most of the Duchy of Pardaugava after success in the Polish-Swedish War (1600-1629).
• Russia came to occupy the whole of present-day Latvian territory during 18th century largely as a result of its success in the Northern War (1700-1721) against Sweden after which Vidzeme, the Northern region of Latvia, came under the Russian rule.
• Russia gained Latgale, the Eastern region of Latvia, during the second division of Poland in 1772 and the Duchy of Kurzeme, the western part of Latvia, in 1795.
• From 1804 the power of German nobles over Latvians gradually diminished. The liberation of the serfs took place in Kurzeme in 1818, Vidzeme in 1819 and Latgale in 1861. Latvian farmers began to create their own farmsteads, Latvian language flourished and advances were made in education and culture.
• By the end of the 19th century, Riga was the third biggest industrial city in the Russian Empire (after Moscow and St Petersburg) according the number of employees, and it was the fourth largest city (after Moscow, St Petersbugh and Ivanova) according its produce.
• As a result of WWI and the revolution, Russia's influenced was sufficiently weakened to give Latvia its chance to announce independence on 18th November 1918.
• During its first twenty years as an independent state, Latvia experienced rapid growth in all spheres - economy, foreign affairs and culture. Germany (imports) and the United Kingdom (exports) became the main European trading partners.
• For a short while there was an authoritarian regime in Latvia when Karlis Ulmanis seized power in a 1934 coup. After the initial crisis the country flourished economically (1936-1939) and Ulmanis became a popular president.
• Latvia signed a non-aggression pact with Germany in 1939 in an effort to maintain its neutrality.
• The country's destiny was decided by the infamous Molotov-Ribentrop pact which was signed between Germany and the Soviet Union on 23 August, 1939. The secret protocol stipulated the spheres of interest of both countries. According to this protocol the Soviet Union re-occupied Latvia on 17 June, 1940.
• Soviet occupation was followed by two major spates of deportations (1945 and 1956 TBC) when thousands of people were sent to Siberia in cattle wagons. Many died on the way, others as a result of harsh living conditions and hard labour.
• The Soviet policy of 'russification' continued by shipping in workers and establishing military bases. The western coast and the whole city of Liepaja were isolated from the rest of the country and accessible only with special permits.
• Latvia remained under Soviet rule until the communist system collapsed. The so-called 'Singing Revolution' of 1991 was followed by re-establishing Latvian independence on 21 August.
• Latvia became a full member of the European Union and NATO in 2004.
Modern Latvians have been living here for around 2,000 years. The Latvian nation developed when ancient Baltic tribes including Latgalllians, Semigallians and Curs mixed with Finno-Ugric people such as Estonians and Livs. Today around 2.5 million Latvians live in the country, with smaller communities as far afield as the USA and Australia.
Latvian is the official state language. However Russian, English and German are widely spoken. Latvian belongs to the Baltic language group, part of the Indo-European language family. The language has three main dialects with the Latgallian dialect, spoken in the eastern part of Latvia, especially distinctive.
Latvia is free democratic parliamentary republic. Political and legislative power is concentrated in the hands of the parliament called the Saeima which is elected every four years in open elections. The Saeima consists of 100 members who elect a president, the head of state. The president in turn appoints the Prime Minister who forms and heads the government.
Latvia is predominantly a Christian country. The three main Christian churches are Lutheran, Roman Catholic and Russian Orthodox. However there are a number of other religions present including Judaism, Buddhism, and Paganism.
Culture and Art
Latvia has a rich and diverse cultural heritage influenced by its turbulent political history as well as its position on major East-West trade routes. Even during the frequent occupations by foreign powers, Latvians have kept their distinctive identity and traditional culture alive, which continues to blend well with modern life.
Latvia's individuality can be observed in its architecture, monuments, folklore, art, literature and music. Of particular significance on the European level are the nation's typical farmsteads, aesthetically pleasing landscape formed by rolling hills, its forests, lakes and the long coastline. Traditional wooden architecture is still maintained in many provincial towns as well as in the capital.
Several cultural and historical monuments are recognized by the UNESCO Heritage List such as Riga's Old Town, several Art Nouveau buildings, Latvian Dainas (folk songs) and the traditional Song and Dance Festival.
Riga is home to numerous museums, many art galleries and the renowned Latvian National Opera. Cultural events and festivals take place around the country throughout the year, being particularly spectacular during the summer months when outdoor venues come into their own.