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Latvia and Riga
Officially known as the Republic of Latvia, the democratic republic of Latvia is located in northeastern Europe, and is part of the region known as the Baltic States, which is comprised of three neighboring countries. The triad of Latvia, along with Lithuania to its south, and Estonia to its north, are known as the Baltic States due to their location along the eastern shores of the Baltic Sea. Inland to the east, Latvia shares borders with Russia and Belarus.
Over 2 million inhabitants call Latvia home, with more than half the country's population being native Latvian. The remainder of the country's ethnically diverse population hails from Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania, Estonia, and other countries. More than 70% of Latvia's inhabitants reside in the country's major cities and metropolitan areas.
Aptly named Riga, Latvia's capital city is nestled along the southern tip of the Gulf of Riga, at the mouth of the Daugava River. Riga is the largest of Latvia's three main ports, along with Ventspils and Liepāja. Its ideal location on the Daugava River, combined with its accessibility to the Baltic Sea, have made Riga an important Baltic port since The Middle Ages, and have contributed to Riga's success as a major gateway for international trade over the centuries.
Latvia is divided into four administrative regions, or defined provinces: Kurzeme in west Latvia; the central plain of Zemgale; Vidzeme in northeast Latvia; and Latgale in southeast Latvia. Major Latvian cities include: Liepaja, Ventspils, Skrunda, Tukums, Jurmala, and Jelgava to the west of the Daugava River; the capital city of Riga, Jekabpils and Daugavpils along the Daugava River; and Valmiera, Aluksne, Cesis, and Rezekne to the east of the Daugava River.
The official currency of Latvia is called Lats and was introduced in 1922. However when Latvia incorporated into the USSR in 1940, the Soviet ruble replaced the Lats as the official Latvian currency. In 1993, shortly after Latvia regained its independence from Soviet rule, Lats were reintroduced and have been the official currency of Latvia since.
Although settlements in the territory of Latvia date as far back as 3000 B.C., the ancient Latvian city of Riga was officially founded in 1201, and later established as the national capital in 1918. The largest city in Latvia and in the Baltic States, Riga is home to approximately one third of Latvia's population, with about 70% being urban residents, and 30% being rural residents.
The inhabitants of Riga are as culturally diverse as the country of Latvia itself. Of its more than 727,000 residents, native Latvians account for approximately 41.5% of the city's population, while the remainder of Riga's inhabitants hail from Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania, and other countries.
Riga can be considered as two cities in one: Old Riga, and modern Riga. Old Riga is a reminder of times past, including closely placed row houses along cobblestone streets, beautiful churches, monuments, and important historic sites.
Modern Riga, which surrounds Old Riga, is home to the largest airport in the Baltic States, Riga International Airport, Riga Castle, residence of the Latvian President, as well as the Latvian Parliament. Many academic and financial institutions are located in modern Riga, including the University of Latvia, and Latvia's central bank, the Bank of Latvia. The city serves as major hub for transportation and foreign commercial trade, as well as the center of the local railway and roadway systems.
Riga is responsible for about half of Latvia's total industrial output including such products as communications equipment, textiles, furniture, food, beverages, and pharmaceuticals, such services as wood processing, printing and publishing, and such other interests as the financial and public utilities sectors.
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