Part of the Russian Empire

History of Latvia between 1722 - 1918

In 1700, the Great Northern War broke out. The course of this war was directly linked with today's Latvian territory and the territorial claims of the Russian Empire. One of its goals was to secure the famous and rich town of Riga. In 1710, the Russian Tsar, Peter I, managed to secure Vidzeme. Through Vidzeme to Riga, Russia obtained a clear passage to Europe. By the end of the 18th century, due to the Partitions of Poland, all of Latvia's territory was under Russian rule.

In 1812 Napoleon's troops invaded Russia and the Prussian units under the leadership of the field marshal Yorck occupied Courland and approached Riga. The governor-general of Riga Ivan Essen set the wooden houses of the Riga suburbs on fire to deflect the invaders and thousands of city residents were left homeless. However York did not attack Riga and in December the Napoleon's army retreated. Serfdom was abolished in Courland Governorate in 1818 and Governorate of Livonia in 1819. However all the land stayed in the hands of the German nobility. Only in 1849, a law granted a legal basis for the creation of peasant-owned farms. Reforms were slower in Latgale which was part of Vitebsk Governorate, where serfdom was only abolished in 1861 after emancipation reform. In the middle of 19th century industry developed quickly and the number of the inhabitants grew. Courland and Vidzeme became one of Russia's most developed provinces.

Latvian National Awakening

In the 19th century, the first Latvian National Awakening began among ethnic Latvian intellectuals, a movement that partly reflected similar nationalist trends elsewhere in Europe. This revival was led by the "Young Latvians" from the 1850s to the 1880s. Primarily a literary and cultural movement with significant political implications, the Young Latvians soon came into severe conflict with the Baltic Germans.

In the 1880s and 1890s the russification policy began by Alexander III was aimed at reducing the autonomy of Baltic provinces and the introduction of the Russian language in administration, court and education replacing German or Latvian (in regard to schools).

With increasing pauperization in rural areas and growing urbanization, a loose but broad leftist movement called the "New Current" arose in the late 1880s. Led by Rainis and Pēteris Stučka, editors of the newspaper Dienas Lapa, this movement was soon influenced by Marxism and led to the creation of the Latvian Social Democratic Labour Party.

1905 Revolution

Following the shooting of demonstrators in St. Petersburg on January 9 a wide-scale general strike began in Riga. On January 13 Russian army troops opened fire on demonstrators in Riga killing 73 and injuring 200 people. During the summer 1905 main revolutionary events moved to the countryside. 470 new parish administrative bodies were elected in 94% of the parishes in Latvia. The Congress of Parish Representatives was held in Riga in November. Mass meetings and demonstrations took place including violent attacks against Baltic German nobles, burning estate buildings and seizure of estate property including weapons. In the autumn 1905 armed conflict between the German nobility and the Latvian peasants begun in the rural areas of Vidzeme and Courland. In Courland, the peasants seized or surrounded several towns. In Livland the fighters controlled the Rūjiena-Pärnu railway line. Altogether, a thousand armed clashes were registered in Latvia in 1905. Martial law was declared in Courland in August 1905 and in Livland in late November. Special punitive expeditions were dispatched in mid-December to suppress the movement. They executed 1170 people without trial or investigation and burned 300 peasant homes. Thousands were exiled to Siberia. In 1906 the revolutionary movement gradually subsided.

German occupation World War I

On August 1, 1914 Germany declared war on Russia and by 1915, the conflict reached Latvia. On May 7 the Germans captured Liepāja and on May 18, Talsi, Tukums and Ventspils. On June 29 the Russian Supreme Command ordered the whole population of Kurzeme evacuated, and around 400,000 refugees fled to the east. Some of them settled in Vidzeme but most continued their way to Russia. On July 19 the Russian War Minister ordered the factories of Riga evacuated together with their workers. In the summer of 1915, 30,000 railway wagons loaded with machines and equipment from factories were taken away. In August the formation of Latvian battalions known as Latvian Riflemen started. From 1915 to 1917, the Riflemen fought in the Russian army against the Germans in positions along Daugava River. In December 1916 and January 1917, they suffered heavy casualties in month-long Christmas Battles. In February 1917 Revolution broke out in Russia and in the summer the Russian army collapsed. The German offensive was successful and on 3 September 1917 they entered Riga. In November 1917, the Communist Bolsheviks took power in Russia. The Bolshevik government tried to end the war and in March 1918, the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was signed which gave Kurzeme and Vidzeme to the Germans. By February the Germans had occupied all of Latvia. However after the German Revolution, on 11 November the armistice treaty between the Allies and Germany was signed thus ending World War I. Great Britain declared its de facto recognition of Latvia in writing on that day as well, confirming a prior verbal communication of 23 October to Meierowitz by the British Minister for Foreign Affairs, A. J. Balfour.

References: Wikipedia

Popular sites founded between 1722 and 1918 in Latvia

Reformation Church

Built from 1727-1733, this is one of the few Calvinist churches in Latvia. After renovations in 1805, its basement was turned into a warehouse, while the Soviets turned the whole building into a recording studio. Now the upstairs is used for occasional concerts and the downstairs is waiting for yet another entrepreneur to open a club there.
Founded: 1727-1733 | Location: Riga, Latvia

Latvian War Museum

The Latvian War Museum is a war museum in Riga, Latvia. It began as the Riflemen Museum in 1916 during World War I. The building that houses the museum was erected in the years from 1937 to 1940. The mission of the War museum is to save collective, historical memory of the nation about political and military history of Latvia, the influence of the military conflicts (especially 20th century World Wars) on the destiny of ...
Founded: 1916 | Location: Riga, Latvia

St. Saviour's

This little church commissioned by British traders living in Riga was built in 1857 on a shipload of English soil specially imported from the UK. Consecrated in 1859, the church was only full when British warships visited Latvia. Transformed into a student disco during Soviet times, it is once again a place of worship which is attended by Riga's English-speaking expat population. Its pastor and his dedicated flock are als ...
Founded: 1857-1859 | Location: Riga, Latvia

Nativity of Christ Cathedral

The Nativity of Christ Cathedral (Kristus Piedzimšanas pareizticīgo katedrāle) was built to a design by Nikolai Chagin in a Neo-Byzantine style between 1876 and 1883, during the period when the country was part of the Russian Empire. It is the largest Orthodox cathedral in the Baltic provinces built with the blessing of the Russian Tsar Alexander II on the initiative of local governor-general Pyotr Bagration and bishop ...
Founded: 1876-1883 | Location: Riga, Latvia

Latvian National Theatre

The Latvian National Theatre (Latvijas Nacionalais teatris) was built between 1899-1902 by the design of architect Augusts Reinbergs, becoming Riga's second (Russian) theatre. It closed during the First World War; on the 18th of November 1918, Latvia's independence was declared in the theatre building. In 1917 the first shows in Latvian were held in the theatre. The Latvian National Theatre was founded 30 November, 1919, ...
Founded: 1899-1902 | Location: Riga, Latvia

National Opera House

The National Opera House was constructed in 1863 by architect Ludwig Bohnstedt from St. Petersburg, for the then German-speaking City Theatre. It has been refurbished several times; 1882-1887 (following a fire in 1882), 1957–1958, 1991-1995 (following independence). A modern annex was added in 2001 with a 300-seat New Hall.
Founded: 1863 | Location: Riga, Latvia

Rundale Palace

Rundāle Palace is one of the two major baroque palaces built for the Dukes of Courland in what is now Latvia, the other being Jelgava Palace. The palace was built in two periods, from 1736 until 1740 and from 1764 until 1768. It was constructed to a design by Bartolomeo Rastrelli as a summer residence of Ernst Johann von Biron, the Duke of Courland. Following Biron's fall from grace, the palace stood empty until the ...
Founded: 1736-1768 | Location: Rundāle, Latvia

Orthodox Church of the Annunciation

The original church that once stood here was destroyed when the entire area was razed in 1812 to deprive Napoleon’s army of shelter. The army took a different route. Fortunately, some of the historic icons were saved and now adorn the walls of the current yellow wooden church that was built in 1818. Although it looks like it’s falling apart on the outside its simple interior is still worth a quick peek.
Founded: 1818 | Location: Riga, Latvia

Old St. Gertrude's Church

The monumental neo-Gothic church was consecrated in 1869. This red brick masterpiece topped with a green copper spire was designed by one of the city’s most prolific architects, J.D. Felsko. Unfortunately, some of its decorative ornaments cast in concrete are now in a sad state and hang precariously above passers-by. Many of the art nouveau buildings surrounding the church are also worth a look.
Founded: 1869 | Location: Riga, Latvia

Sigulda New Castle

The Sigulda manor center began to develop in the fore-castle area of Sigulda Medieval Castle during the 17th century. There are still a few remaining 18th and 19th century buildings built during the ownership of the Von Borghs and Kropotkins. These are the Summer Castle, the New Castle, the White Castle, the vagar's (supervisor of serfs) house, the servants' house, a barn, a laundry house and a vegetable and fruit basemen ...
Founded: 1878-1881 | Location: Sigulda, Latvia

St. Alexander Nevsky Orthodox Church

Construction of this Classicist wooden building began in 1820 and was completed five years later. In 1862 its eclectic-style belfry was added. Yellow and round with a large green dome, it’s hard to miss it on the corner of Brīvības and Blaumaņa. Inside you’ll find three porticoes, beautiful icons and, unusually, a central altar in the middle of the room.
Founded: 1820-1825 | Location: Riga, Latvia

Venta Brick Bridge

The clay brick bridge across the Venta built in 1874 is one of the longest of this type of bridge in Europe. The bridge was built according to the road standards of the 19th century (500 feet long and 26 feet wide) so that two carriages could pass each other. The bridge was repaired in 1926 after it was damaged by the Germans during World War I.
Founded: 1874 | Location: Kuldīga, Latvia

Birini Palace

Bīriņi Palace was built by Riga architect Friedrich Wilhelm Hess between 1857 and 1860 for Baltic-German baron August von Pistohlkors. It has two floors with higher three floor risalit in the centre. All four corners of the building are adorned with towers - three of these towers are small, decorative but southwestern tower is larger. The palace is asymmetric as this was required by the rules of Neo-Gothic. It is surrou ...
Founded: 1857-1860 | Location: Limbaži, Latvia

Holy Trinity Orthodox Church

Although an older church dating back to 1453 once stood here, the current 17th-century Russian baroque-style building was completed in 1893. Designed in the shape of the Orthodox cross, its soaring belfry and blue and green onion domes can be seen from quite a distance. Inside you’ll find the smell of incense and hundreds of icons common to Orthodox churches.
Founded: 1893 | Location: Riga, Latvia

Jelgava Palace

Jelgava or Mitava Palace is the largest Baroque style palace in the Baltic states. It was built in the 18th century based on the design of Bartolomeo Rastrelli as a residence for the Dukes of Courland in their capital - Mitava (today Jelgava). The palace was founded by Ernst Johann von Biron in 1738 on an island between the Lielupe river and its branches. The site had borne the residence of the former Courland dukes of th ...
Founded: 1738-1772 | Location: Jelgava, Latvia

Aglona Basilica

At the end of the 17th century, the Dominican Order established a monastery in Aglona and built the first wooden church. After the church burnt down in 1699, a stone monastery building and the present church were built in its place in 1768-1780. The interior of the shrine was created in the 18th-19th century, but the pulpit, the organ, and the confessional were built at the end of the 18th century. The church houses an e ...
Founded: 1768-1780 | Location: Aglona, Latvia

Cesvaine Palace

Cesvaine Palace was built in 1896 for the German baron Emil von Wulf (not to be confused with the von Wolf baronial family). Authors of the project were architects Hans Grisebach and August Dinklage from Berlin. The palace is built in the late Tudor Neo-Renaissance style. It is located next to the old medieval castle ruins, remains from the old bishops castle. At the end of the 19th century, Germany abandoned the reprodu ...
Founded: 1896 | Location: Cesvaine, Latvia

St. Simeon’s and St. Anna’s Orthodox Cathedral

St. Simeon’s and St. Anna’s Orthodox Cathedral was designed by architect N. Chagin and built during 1890-1892, with the financial support of Russian Czar Alexander III. The altar and foundation remained from the previous church which was built in 1774 after the design of architect F.B. Rastrelli. It was devastated in WWII and renovated between 1993 and 2003.
Founded: 1890-1892 | Location: Jelgava, Latvia

Mezotne Palace

Mežotne Palace was built in Classicism style during 1798-1802 for a teacher and governess of the grandchildren of Russian Empress Catherine II, Charlotte von Lieven (1742–1828). Architects of the palace were famous Italian Giacomo Quarenghi and Johann Gottfried Adam Berlitz, architect of the Durbe Manor and the Kazdanga palace. Simultaneously with the palace there has also been developed an English style landscape park ...
Founded: 1798-1802 | Location: Mežotne, Latvia

Daugavpils Fortress

Daugavpils Fortress, also known as Dinaburg Fortress is the only early 19th century military fortification of its kind in Northern Europe that has been preserved without significant alterations. For a long time it was a defense base of the western frontier of the Russian Empire. Planning of the fortress began in 1772 by decree of Tsar Alexander I of Russia, shortly after the First Partition of Poland when Latvia ceded to ...
Founded: 1772-1878 | Location: Daugavpils, Latvia

Durbe Manor

Durbe as was first mentioned in written sources as Šlokenbeka manor in 1475. Built in 1671, the manor was reconstructed in classical form between 1820 and 1823 according to the project of architect Johann Gottfried Adam Berlitz who rebuilt the façade with a wedding-cake portico and Ionic columns in the 1820s. From 1789 to 1808, Ernst Karl Philip von Groth used the property as a summerhouse. From 1818 to 1838 ...
Founded: 1820-1823 | Location: Tukums, Latvia

St. John's Church

St.John's church was dedicated on August 27, 1900 after the long history before. The first wooden church was built in 1461, the next, also made of wood, was built in 1530 and renovated in 1567. The masonry church was built in 1614-1615 and financed by Wilhelm Duke. The fifth church in Saldus was built in 1737 on the hill where the present church stands. It was reconstructed in 1825. In 1898 the old church was torn down. ...
Founded: 1900 | Location: Saldus, Latvia

Aizupe Manor

Aizupe Manor (Latvian: Aizupes muižas pils) was built in late classicism style in 1823. In 1561 the estate was the property of the Duke, who granted the manor to his counselor Salamon Henning. In 1719, the manor became property of his heirs, and later von Koskulu"s, and von Mirbahu"s. From 1793 to 1920, the manor was in the hands of the Hahn family. The manor then remained a 19th century farm complex with resi ...
Founded: 1823 | Location: Vāne, Latvia

Gaujiena Manor

In 1818 the estate of Gaujiena was bought by Baron Adolf von Wulff. Gaujiena remained the in the possession of the von Wulff family for 100 years, during which more than 16 buildings were put up and the park laid out over an area of 12 hectares. The complete manor ensemble took shape during the 19th century and in the early 20th century, and consisted of 30 buildings and structures, 17 of which have been retained in good ...
Founded: 18th-19th century | Location: Gaujiena, Latvia

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Church of the Savior on Blood

The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood is one of the main sights of St. Petersburg. The church was built on the site where Tsar Alexander II was assassinated and was dedicated in his memory. Construction began in 1883 under Alexander III, as a memorial to his father, Alexander II. Work progressed slowly and was finally completed during the reign of Nicholas II in 1907. Funding was provided by the Imperial family with the support of many private donors.

Architecturally, the Cathedral differs from St. Petersburg's other structures. The city's architecture is predominantly Baroque and Neoclassical, but the Savior on Blood harks back to medieval Russian architecture in the spirit of romantic nationalism. It intentionally resembles the 17th-century Yaroslavl churches and the celebrated St. Basil's Cathedral in Moscow.

The Church contains over 7500 square metres of mosaics — according to its restorers, more than any other church in the world. The interior was designed by some of the most celebrated Russian artists of the day — including Viktor Vasnetsov, Mikhail Nesterov and Mikhail Vrubel — but the church's chief architect, Alfred Alexandrovich Parland, was relatively little-known (born in St. Petersburg in 1842 in a Baltic-German Lutheran family). Perhaps not surprisingly, the Church's construction ran well over budget, having been estimated at 3.6 million roubles but ending up costing over 4.6 million. The walls and ceilings inside the Church are completely covered in intricately detailed mosaics — the main pictures being biblical scenes or figures — but with very fine patterned borders setting off each picture.

In the aftermath of the Russian Revolution, the church was ransacked and looted, badly damaging its interior. The Soviet government closed the church in the early 1930s. During the Second World War when many people were starving due to the Siege of Leningrad by Nazi German military forces, the church was used as a temporary morgue for those who died in combat and from starvation and illness. The church suffered significant damage. After the war, it was used as a warehouse for vegetables, leading to the sardonic name of Saviour on Potatoes.

In July 1970, management of the Church passed to Saint Isaac's Cathedral (then used as a highly profitable museum) and proceeds from the Cathedral were funneled back into restoring the Church. It was reopened in August 1997, after 27 years of restoration, but has not been reconsecrated and does not function as a full-time place of worship; it is a Museum of Mosaics. Even before the Revolution it never functioned as a public place of worship; having been dedicated exclusively to the memory of the assassinated tsar, the only services were panikhidas (memorial services). The Church is now one of the main tourist attractions in St. Petersburg.