Latvia ABC

Turaida Castle is located about 60 km from Riga, near the town of Sigulda.

Country information

Area: 64 589 km2. (in square miles equals to 24,937). About 43 per cent is covered by forests. Agricultural use accounts for 39 % of the land area. Latvia is situated on the east coast of the Baltic Sea. Latvia’s Baltic coastline is 494 kilometres, but the country has no islands.

Country code: For vehicles and the Internet the country code is LV.

Highest point: Gaizins (Gaizinkalns), 312 m.

Longest river: Gauja 460 km, Daugava 357 km (on the Latvian side, total length 1020 km). Biggest lake Lubans 81 km2. Altogether about 3000 lakes. Average yearly temperature, about 6-7 Celcius. In the summertime (July-August) the daily temperature is about 15-25, sometimes up to 30-33.

Population: Latvia has about 2.4 million inhabitants (statistics from July 2000 gave 2.371.33). About 58 % are ethnic Latvians, 30 % Russians, almost 4 % Belorussian, less than 3 % Ukrainians and 2 % Poles. Lithuanians account for 1.3 %, the Jewish almost 0.5 %. More than 75 % have Latvian citizenship. There are only 30 000 foreigners in Latvia. There are more than 500 000 non-citizens.

Language: the only official language is Latvian, which is spoken by 75 % of the population. Of the people under 40 years of age, about 70 % can speak some English. Practical English language skills are, however, not very good. Especially outside Riga the spoken English is not good, although some English is understood by young people.

Russia is spoken by the majority of the people over 30 years of age. Also some German is spoken, many younger people also know some French. Latvian is a Baltic (not Slavic) language, related only to Lithuanian, but it belongs to Indo-European language group.

Cities: Capital Riga has almost 800 000 inhabitants, Daugavpils 115 000 and Liepaja 95 000. The population of Jelgava is about 70 000, that of Jurmala 60 000, and port city Ventspils has 46 000 inhabitants.

Political system: Constitution is called Satversme (1991/92). Parliament – Saeima – has 100 MPs. The biggest parties are Tautas partija (People’s Party), Latvijas Cels (Latvia’s Way), TB/LNKK (For the Fatherland and Freedom), LSDSP (Latvian Social Democrats), Jauna partija (Young Party).

President: Vaira Vike-Freiberga, first woman president to be elected in the former Eastern and Central European countries.

National holidays: Latvian Independence Day is 18.11. The country became independent on 18.11.1918. The most important non-official holiday is that of Midsummer, Jani, celebrated 23./24. Of June.

Economy: Latvian currency is Lats (LVL), divided into 100 santims. Lati’s rate is almost double to that of Euro.

Latvian symbols: Latvian flag has dark red stripes and a smaller white stripe between these two stripes. The flag had some models from the 13.the century, but the new version was designed by Ansis Cirulis in May 1917. The country became independent in November 1918 (18.11.1918).

Symbols of Riga: The recent version of the emblem of Riga is from 1925, based on the 1660 emblem. There are even older parts. A picture of a wall with two towers symbolises the independence of the city. The two crossed keys of St. Peter denoted the power struggle between the Bishop and the Livonian Order. In the 14.th century a cross of the Order was put above the keys. A small lion was added in the gate. In the 16.th the two larger side lions were added. The crown was finally added in 1660 as a mark of the Swedish rule.

Banner of the Riga: was approved in 1937. Upper blue reminds form the Swedes, white symbolises the connection of Riga with the Baltic Sea.