Situated on the Baltic Sea and surrounded by Lithuania and Estonia, the Republic of Latvia is a country known for its rich traditions, beautiful beaches, national parks, lush greenery, and cultural heritage.
Although this region has had its share of political unrest, it persisted, celebrated its independence from Russian rule on November 18, 1918, and kept its trademark culture intact.
Here are some interesting facts about the country of Latvia.
1. Jānis Čakste was Latvia’s first president
Jānis Čakste served as Latvia’s president from 1922 to 1927. He was a former lawyer and newspaper editor, and he was also one of the organizers of the 4th All-Latvian Sing Festival.
2. Latvia is home to one of Europe’s biggest song and dance events
The Latvian Song and Dance Festival has been the main event in Latvia since 1873. Dancing was added to this famous event’s line-up in 1948. The festival is held every 5 years, and the next festival will take place in July 2023.
3. This country joined the European Union in 2004
Latvia’s journey to joining the European Union (EU) was no small matter. In fact, the country’s Parliament amended the constitution in 2003 to allow for a referendum for people to vote yes or no for joining the EU or not. This, in turn, let to around 67.5% of voters giving a yes vote and Latvia becoming part of the EU, an interesting fact about Latvia.
4. Latvia is home to Europe’s widest waterfall
Known as Venta Rapid, or Ventas Rumba in Latvian, this famous waterfall is situated in Kuldiga in the western part of this country. It is about 249 metres wide and can swell up even more to 270 metres wide when it is spring flood season. Venta Rapid is a significant tourist attraction, as an estimated 130 000 tourists visit this landmark per year.
5. Its official language is called Latvian
The official Latvian language has three distinct dialects, namely Livonian Dialect, Middle Dialect and Upper Latvian Dialect. Latvians are clearly passionate about their official language as they host many ‘use of language’ competitions each year. An example is the ‘Word of the Year’ event that has categories such as ‘Best Word’ and ‘Worst Word’.
6. Riga is the capital of Latvia
About a third of Latvia’s population (around 632,614 people) live in Riga. Of the 9 cities and 67 towns situated in Latvia, Riga is the largest. This city is well-known for its Art Nouveau-style buildings as well as its many wooden buildings. Riga’s historical centre has been included in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)’s World Heritage List.
7. Rye bread is one of the most popular foods in Latvia cuisine
A fun fact about Latvia is that Rye bread is so popular in this country that it was even included in the traditional culture section of the Latvian Culture Canon (a selection of 99 things unique to Latvia that includes traditional culture, architecture and design, performing arts, visual arts, literature, music and film). Latvians enjoy rye bread with many of their meals, and it is estimated that a Latvian eats about 100 pounds of rye bread per year (this is around 50 kilograms).
8. The famous ballet dancer and actor Mikhail Baryshnikov is from Latvia
Mikhail Baryshnikov was born in Riga in 1948. He started his ballet studies in this city aged at only 11 years old. Four years later he would continue his studies at the Vaganova Academy of Russian Ballets in St. Petersburg.
9. The main religion in Latvia is Christianity
In 2001, it was estimated that the majority of Christians in Latvia practised Lutheranism (with about 708 773 congregation members). In second place was Catholicism, with about 430 000 congregation members.
10. This country has four national parks
The four Latvian national parks are Gauja National Park, Kemeri National Park, Razna National Park and Slitere National Park. Each park has a unique characteristic. Gauja is known for being the largest and oldest of the four parks, whereas Kemeri is home to the Kemeri Marsh known for its therapeutic mud, a fun fact about Latvia. Razna was created in part to protect the area surrounding Lake Razna. Slitere is famous for its blue hills that once upon a time made up the shorelines of the Baltic Ice Lake.
11. Before becoming part of the Eurozone, the Latvian currency was the lats
The lats was first introduced in 1922 and would remain the Latvian currency until the Euro became the standard currency. An interesting fact about Latvia is that this currency had a remarkable history behind its design. Each design would showcase a Latvian value or famous people from this country. It was a perfect example of how notes and coins were seen as ways to display the Latvian culture too. Today, you can still view examples of the lats at the National Library of Latvia in Riga.
12. There are over 5 million titles housed in the National Library of Latvia
Over and above the lats display it holds, the library’s collection of works includes documents spanning from the 14th century up to recent times. The library was formed in 1919 and is sometimes referred to as the Castle of Light.
13. The inventor of modern jeans was a Latvian born designer
Jacob Youphes, later referred to as Jacob W. Davis, was a Latvian born tailor. After emigrating to the UC in his early 20s, he would have an interesting career journey, the highlight being a partnership with the famous businessman Levi Strauss to patent his jean design in 1873.
The citizens of Latvia have overcome many hardships. From an average of 12.5 per cent of Latvians losing their lives in World War II to thousands imprisoned in forced labour camps in the mid1940s to the early 1950s, the future looked bleak.
Yet, the Latvia of today is proof of the resilience its residents had and how they thrived despite political setbacks and the ravages of war.
A strong focus on celebrating culture, music and song, and preserving history shows that the country of Latvia is dedicated to protecting its unique character.
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