Riga, Latvia, the nation's capital and largest city. Riga is on the Western Dvina River, about eight miles (13 km) southeast of where the river empties into the Gulf of Riga. The city is a major Baltic port. Exports include timber and dairy and farm products. Riga has shipyards, paper mills, locomotive works, and plants manufacturing wood products and food products. The Latvian State University, the country's leading university, is in Riga.
Riga's old town, circled by a park-lined moat, still has a medieval aspect. Along its narrow, cobbled streets are medieval churches and guild halls, a Renaissance parliament building, and the national opera house. Riga Castle, which dates from the 14th century, houses three museums. Modern industrial and residential areas surround the old town.
Riga dates its founding to 1201, when Bishop Albert—leader of the Livonian Knights, a German military order—established a trading center on the site of a small Balt settlement. In 1237 the order merged into the Teutonic Knights. Riga, dominated by German merchants, flourished commercially as a city of the Hanseatic League. Following the collapse of the Teutonic order in 1561, Riga was under Polish, then Swedish, and then Russian rule. The city was the capital of independent Latvia, 1918-40, and became the capital of the Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic in 1940. In 1991 Riga once again became the capital of an independent Latvia.