Riga, Latvia – Out of Soviet Shadow
Having just returned from Riga, I can verify that despite two Soviet occupations and the threat of today’s aggressive Russian bear, Latvia’s capital Riga embraces western influences, and offers solidarity with its Baltic state neighbours and war-torn Ukraine.
Sitting pretty on the Gulf of Riga, on the banks of the Daugavu River before it meets the Baltic Sea, Latvia’s capital exudes energy and confidence which easily match its UNESCO World Heritage Historic Centre status.
Throw in an iron clad desire to continue forging ahead as an independent capital, with 700,000 inhabitants, and a yearning to remain an eastern European destination with stae of the art attractions, and you have a must-see jewel in the Baltic crown.
Building upon the country’s independence (1991), after fifty years of Soviet (1940-1941, 1944-1991) and Nazi (1941-1944) occupations, the feeling of relief and a liberation remains papaable. Despite the rather oppressive Cold War landmarks that remain scattered across the city, the sense of modernity is evident to any visitor.
Furthermore, with the shadow of the Russian invasion of Ukraine at the forefront of minds, I was thrilled to be able to the surrounding region, from Old City spires, out to sunshine soaked Mežaparks with forests, lakes and beaches on the Baltic Sea.
As these photos show, the city’s calm and gentle nature gives visitors with a chance to enjoy the history of the Old City, along with rolling parks, colourful markets and waterside recreational sites. All the while appreciating the city’s more recent history with Soviet landmarks freedom monuments.
For example, the ex-KGB detention & holding-cell Corner House (now a museum), Stalin-era Academy of Sciences skyscraper (locally nicknamed ‘Stalin’s birthday cake’) and outmoded communist statues remain juxtaposed to the Freedom Square monument, billboards highlighting NATO’s influence and countless grandstanding Ukrainian flags.
Although the sense of history pervades, today’s contemporary vibrance of the city has little chance of turning back through time. Riga, supported by a new vibrance of young, web-based technology, and sense of self-direction firmly appears here to stay.
I highly recommend visiting before the mainstream post-COVID international tourist crowds return in earnest.