1902 Encyclopedia > Riga


RIGA (Esth. Ria-Lin), a seaport of Russia, in 56° 57' N. lat. and 24° 6' E. long., 375 miles south-west of St Petersburg, is in population the fifth city of the empire, while in foreign trade it ranks next to St Petersburg and Odessa. It is the seat of the governor-general of the Russian Baltic provinces, and also the capital of the province of Livonia. The Gulf of Riga, 115 miles long and 100 miles in width, with shallow waters of inconsider-able salinity (greatest depth 27 fathoms), freezes to some extent every year. The town is situated at the southern extremity of the gulf, 8 miles above the mouth of the Diina (Dwina), which brings Riga into water communication with an extensive region, as also with the basins of the Dnieper and Volga. Below the town the Diina, from 580 to 2300 yards in breadth, divides into several branches, among islands and sand banks, receiving before it enters the sea the Bolderaa river, and expanding towards the east into wider lacustrine basins. At its sea entrance the water on the bar has an average depth of only 14 feet, and the entrance of the river is protected by the fortress of Düna-münde, connected by rail with Riga, while another line on the right bank connects the city with the Mühlgraben village opposite. As the Düna freezes at Riga for an average of 127 days annually, the port remains closed for navigation from December to March. The roadstead at the mouth of the river, though now protected by a mole, is still too much exposed, so that only such vessels as cannot pass the bar remain there, the others discharging part of their cargo at Bolderaa or Mühlgraben and then entering the Düna, which also they leave only partially laden. Improvements designed to obviate these incon-veniences are now going on both at the outer harbour and at the new one, the " Zollhafen."

Riga consists of four parts—the old town and the St Petersburg and the Moscow suburbs standing on the right bank of the Düna, and the Mitau suburb on the left bank, connected by a floating bridge which is removed in winter, and by a viaduct, 820 feet long, resting on light piers of solid stone, and leaving a passage for ships. The old town still preserves its Hanseatic features—high storehouses, with spacious granaries and cellars, lining the narrow, winding, and busy streets. The only open spaces are the market-place and two other squares, one of which, facing the citadel, is ornamented by a granite column erected in commemoration of the defeat of Napoleon I. The old city is so limited that its population increases very slowly. The so-called suburbs on the other hand, with their broad and quiet boulevards on the site of the former fortifications, are steadily growing and undergoing new improvements. The St Petersburg suburb, connected with the city by an avenue of trees, is the seat of the wealthy German aristocracy and merchant community. The rich " poly-technicum" and the new theatre are situated there.

Few antiquities of the mediaeval town still remain. The oldest church, the " Domkirche," founded in 1204, was burned in 1547, and the present building dates from the second half of the 16th century. Its organ, with a gas-engine of 4-horse power, and 6826 pipes—dating from 1883—is said to be the largest in the world. St Peter's church, with a beautiful tower 440 feet high, was erected in 1406. The castle, built in 1494-1515 by the master of the Knights of the Sword, Walter von Pletten-berg—a spacious building often rebuilt—is now the seat of the governor-general and the Russian authorities. The " House of the Black Heads" (opposite the elegant new town-house), which was the seat of a military corpora-tion founded in 1232, and subsequently became the meet-ing place of the wealthier youth of the place, has some valuable contents. Of the recent erections, the poly-technic, the exchange, the municipal picture gallery, the monumert of Herder, who lived at Riga towards the end of the last century, the gymnasiums of Lomonossoff and Alexander I., and the large bonded warehouse are worthy of notice. The esplanade (where a Greek cathedral now stands), the quiet WShrmann's Park, and the well-shaded " Kaiserliche " Park are much visited. The environs of Riga are undergoing constant improvement, and some of them, such as Dubbeln and the sea-bathing resorts of Bilder-lingshof and Majorenhof, have numerous visitors in summer.

In 1867 Riga had a population of 102,590 (city, 18,246 ; St Petersburg suburb, 27,155 ; Moscow suburb, 41,318; Mitau suburb, 15,871). On December 25, 1881 it had 168,728 inhabi-tants, the suburbs alone showing an increase of 64,263 (city, 20,091 ; suburb of St Petersburg, 45,345; of Moscow, 73,705; and of Mitau, 29,587). About one half of the population is German, the remainder being Russian and Lettish in nearly equal proportions, with some 2000 Esthonians and nearly 5000 foreigners. The life of the city has a German character throughout, but the Russians (many of whom were serfs until 1861), and still more the Letts and Esthonians, also display a steadily progressive intellectual life. Both are seeking to counteract the German influence by increasing the number of their educational institutions, the Letts also by the stage and the press. The larger commerce is wholly in German and (to a less extent) English hands. Owing to its communication by water and rail with the forests of White Russia and Volhynia, Riga is a great mart for timber, which in value stands third among the exports. Flax and linseed occupy the first place, Riga being the chief Russian port for the extensive flax-producing region of north-west Russia. Owing to the great rail-way which crosses the country from Riga to Smolensk, afterwards dividing into two branches, to Orenburg and Tsaritsyn on the lower Volga respectively, Riga is also the great 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 Tambofl'. Oats, in particular, are extensively exported to Eng-land from the central provinces. Tallow, leather, tobacco, rugs, feathers, and other minor items add considerably to the total value of the exports. The competition of the port of Libau (with exports amounting in 1882 to 31,473,590 roubles) is counter-balanced by the steady development of the Russian railway system, so that the exports of Riga, which in 1851-1860 averaged 17,737,000 roubles, and were 23,964,000 in 1866, amounted in 1882 to 64,159,076 roubles or £6,415,900 (food stuffs, £1,706,300 ; raw produce, £4,690,170, including timber, £1,295,520 ; and manu-factured wares, £19,436). The imports, consisting chiefly of salt, fish, wine, and cotton, with metals, machinery, coal, oils, fruits, tobacco, and other minor articles, are also rapidly increasing (4,876,000 roubles in 1851-1860, 6,751,000 roubles in 1866, and 34,304,100 roubles in 1882). The food stuffs (salt, fish, tobacco, wine, oils, &c.) reached £514,847 ; raw produce (chiefly cotton, coal, and metal), £2,043,804 ; and manufactured wares, £871,132. In 1882 the port was visited by 2347 foreign vessels of 906,200 tons burden ; of these 537 (367,110 tons) were from Great Britain;

161 vessels of 89,990 tons, engaged in tne coasting trade, also entered the port. Riga is in railway communication with Libau (via Mitau), and with St Petersburg (via Diinaburg), Warsaw, and central Russia ; the traffic is very active,—no less than 11,247,00C ewts. of various wares having been brought to Riga by rail, and 844,000 ewts. shipped on the Diina.
The manufactures of the town and neighbourhood are yearly developing ; the chief items are woollen cloth, cottons, machinery, metal wares, cigars, corks, glass, and paper.

The educational institutions include, besides the polytechnic, a Greek seminary, four gymnasiums, some ten private schools for secondary education of boys and girls, and a comparatively large number of primary schools. The municipal library contains very interesting materials relating to the history of the Baltic provinces. The book trade is rapidly extern ling.

History.—Riga was founded in 1158, as a storehouse at the mouth of the Diina, by a few Bremen merchants. Its name is supposed to be derived from Righ-o, an island formerly separated from the mainland by a branch of the Diina. About 1190 the Augustinian monk Meinhard erected a monastery there, and in 1199-1201 Bishop Albert 1. of Livonia obtained from Innocent III. permission for German merchants to land at the new settlement, and chose it for his seat, exercising his power over the neighbour- ing 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 I. 's time. It joined the Hanseatic League, and from 1253 refused to recognize the rights of the bishop and the knights. Early in the 14th century Riga repelled the attack of the Kuron ruler Lamehinas, and during the next century it had to contend with 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 III., king of Poland, took Riga in 1547, and in 1558 the Russian commander Prince Serebryanyi reached the town, burned its suburbs and many ships on the Diina, and remained for three days under the walls of the fort. In 1561 Gotthard Kettler publicly abdicated his master- ship of the order of Knights of the Sword, and Riga, together with southern Livonia, became a Polish possession ; after some unsuccess- ful attempts to reintroduce Roman Catholicism, Stephen Batory recognized the religious freedom of the Protestant population. Throughout the 17th century Riga—which for nearly three centuries had been a wealthy centre of the commerce of the whole region, and was at this time visited by from three to five hundred ships annually —became a bone of contention between Sweden, Poland, and Russia. In 1621 Gustavus Adolphus took it from Poland, and held it against the Poles and the Russians who besieged it in 1656. During the Northern War it was courageously defended, but after the battle of Poltava it succumbed, and was taken in July 1710 by Sheremetyeff. 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 and still remains the capital of Livonia. In 1812, the approach of the French being apprehended, the sub- urbs were burnt. Riga still maintains many of its old municipal institutions. The "magistrate" of Riga exercises patrimonial rights over a district comprising several communes around the city. (P. A. K.)

The above article was written by: P. A. Kropotkine.

About this EncyclopediaTop ContributorsAll ContributorsToday in History
Terms of UsePrivacyContact Us

© 2005-23 1902 Encyclopedia. All Rights Reserved.

This website is the free online Encyclopedia Britannica (9th Edition and 10th Edition) with added expert translations and commentaries