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.
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.
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.
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.
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.