Territory and population
The area of Latvia is about 64 thousand square kilometers. The population is 2.5 million people: 58% of Latvians, 29% of Russians, 4% of Belarusians, as well as Ukrainians, Poles, Lithuanians, Jews and representatives of other peoples.
The largest cities are the capital of Latvia – Riga (800 thousand people), Daugavpils (117 thousand people), Liepaja (97 thousand people), Jelgava (71 thousand people), Jurmala (59 thousand people) and Ventspils (47 thousand people).
Latvia is divided into 4 historical regions: Vidzeme, Kurzeme, Latgale and Zemgale. The highest point in Latvia – Gaisins – 311.5 meters. The climate in Latvia is temperate with slight temperature fluctuations. Summer is warm, in autumn and spring the weather is not bad, and snowy winters are sometimes very cold. At any time of the year often it rains for a short time.
Vidzeme is the northern region of Latvia. The picturesque nature of Vidzeme makes this region of Latvia a real haven for tourists. The Gauja River will lead you to the “Latvian Switzerland” – Sigulda and the National Park. Sigulda will please you at any time of the year, including in winter. There is a bobsled track and a great downhill. History buffs will also find many interesting things here. Vidzeme is rightfully proud of its ancient cities – Valmiera, Cesis, Limbaži.
Zemgale is the central region of Latvia. In the southeastern part of Zemgale, in the Bauska district, on a hill between two rivers – Memele and Musa, the castle of the Livonian Order is located. Every year, during the third week of July, the Early Music Festival is held here. Nearby are three more castles built at the end of the 18th century – Menjotne, Kautzminda, Bornsminda. Another attraction of this region is the Rundale Palace, erected for the Duke of Courland of Courland by the famous architect FB Rastrelli. In Jelagva, which was once the capital of the Duchy of Courland, you can explore the Jelgava Palace – the most impressive building of its kind in the Baltic States. An interesting natural forest park in Tervet. The oldest and highest pine trees in Latvia grow here.
Kurzeme is the southern region of Latvia. The life of this region is closely connected with the sea. It is worth coming here to see the large ports and tiny fishing villages located in the dune zone among the majestic pines. Ventspils is the “western gate” of Latvia and the largest ice-free port in the Baltic. The city will delight you with its clean streets and cozy houses. There is also something to see in Liepaja. A third of the city’s territory is occupied by Karaosta (Military Port) – you can visit its bunkers and ancient fortifications. One of the most picturesque cities of Kurzeme is kuldiga. It is located on the banks of the Abava River, whose valley was included in the World Heritage Fund in 1996.
Latgale – eastern region of Latvia – lake region. 25 km from Rezekne, surrounded by hills, is the second largest lake in Latvia, Razna. 45 km from Rezekne you can see a very beautiful lake of Ezhezers, famous for a large number of bays and islets. Latgale is the spiritual center of Latvian Catholics. Many crucifixes along the roads testify to the deep devotion to the faithful of these places. A special shrine for them is Aglona.
The nature of Latvia – more than 400 kilometers of sandy beaches, 2256 lakes scattered throughout the country, 12,500 rivers and streams. Almost half of the republic’s territory is covered with pine, oak and mixed forests. A huge number of birds, among which there are representatives of several rare species. Especially there are a lot of storks in Latvia, and if you are lucky, you will see a black stork, which still lives in Latvia.
The official state language of Latvia is Latvian. Russian is widely spoken, to a lesser extent English and German.
There is no state religion in Latvia, but the predominant number of believers are Lutherans, Catholicism is widespread in the east. Latvia has a large Orthodox community, and a large Old Believer community. In general, society is tolerant of various religious movements, and the church does not have a significant impact on public life.
In the form of government, Latvia is a democratic republic. 1.8 million of its inhabitants have voting rights, and 480 thousand have the status of “non-citizens” and cannot participate in the elections of the supreme bodies of power and in the elections of local governments. The head of state is the Prime Minister, as a rule the leader of the faction winning the parliament. The president of Latvia is also elected by the parliament for 4 years, and mainly performs representative functions, although it may block the adoption of certain decisions.
After the restoration of independence in September 2001, Latvia headed for membership in European and international organizations, since April 2004 Latvia has been a NATO member, and since May 1, 2004 – a member of the European Union. Latvia is a member of the WTO.