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Articles > Country and people

Latvia in Brief

Author: Raimonds Cerūzis, The Latvian Institute
Visited 13314 times
The Republic of Latvia was founded in 1918. It has been continuously recognised as a state by other countries since 1920 despite occupations by the Soviet Union (1940-1941, 1945-1991) and Nazi Germany (1941-1945). On August 21, 1991 Latvia declared the restoration of its de facto independence.

Republic of Latvia, abbreviated: Latvia.

  • Latvian:  Latvija
  • Lithuanian:  Latvija
  • Estonian:  Läti
  • German:  Lettland
  • French:  Lettonie
  • Spanish:  Letonia
  • Russian:  Латвия 

The name "Latvia" originates from an ancient Baltic (Indo-European) tribe - the Latgalians (in Latvian: latgaïi), who formed the ethnic core of the Latvian people.

  • Country Code: LV

The Republic of Latvia was founded in 1918. It has been continuously recognised as a state by other countries since 1920 despite occupations by the Soviet Union (1940-1941, 1945-1991) and Nazi Germany (1941-1945). On August 21, 1991 Latvia declared the restoration of its de facto independence.

The Coat of Arms
The coat of arms combines symbols of Latvian national statehood (three stars, the sea and the sun) as well as symbols representing ancient historical districts: Kurzeme and Zemgale are depicted by a lion, Vidzeme and Latgale are depicted by the legendary winged silver creature with an eagle's head, a griffin.


The Flag
Written records of the red-white-red Latvian flag have existed since the second half of the 13th century. Bearing a red flag with a white stripe ancient Latvian tribes went to war against ancient Estonian tribes. This would place the Latvian flag among the oldest flags of the world. The distinctive dark red colour of the Latvian flag is often referred to in the rest of the world as "Latvian red".

National Holiday
November 18, the date of the proclamation of Latvia's independence.

Latvia is the central country of the Baltic States (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania). On the world map Latvia is to be found in North-eastern Europe, on the east coast of the Baltic Sea. The landscape of the country is marked by lowland plains and rolling hills. Most of the countryside is less than 100 metres above sea level. There are thousands of rivers and lakes in Latvia.

  • Area: 64,589 sq.km or 24,937 sq.miles.
  • Regions: Kurzeme, Zemgale, Vidzeme, Latgale.
  • Total national border length: 1,862 km.
  • Length of Latvia's Baltic coastline: 494 km.
  • Largest lake: Lubâns, 80.7 sq.km.
  • Deepest lake: Drîdzis, 65.1 metres.
  • Longest river within Latvian territory: the Gauja, 452 km.
  • Largest river to flow through Latvian territory: the Daugava, total length 1,005 km, of which 352 km within Latvian territory.
  • Highest point: Gaiziòkalns, 311.6 metres.
    • 1 km = 0.62 mile; 1 m = 39.37 inches

Latvia on map



Latvia borders Estonia, Russia, Belarus and Lithuania.

It is situated on a trading cross-roads and has long since served as a bridge between Western Europe and Russia. The famous "route from the Vikings to the Greeks" mentioned in ancient chronicles stretched from Scandinavia through Latvian territory along the Daugava River to the ancient Russia and Byzantine Empire. 

Latvia's weather is governed by a moderate oceanic climate, with changing high and low pressure and a considerable amount of precipitation.

  • Summer: June - August.
  • Winter: December - February.
  • The average temperature
    • In summer: 15.8°C (in the capital 16.1°C),
    • In winter: -4.5°C (in the capital -3.8°C).
  • The warmest month: July,
  • The coldest month: January.
  • The average precipitation amount
    • In summer: 195 mm,
    • In winter: 116 mm.

Latvia is situated in a nature zone between the vegetation of Northern and Central Europe. Latvia is a country of splendid and diverse natural landscapes. Forests cover 44 percent of the territory. The larger forest tracts are to be found in the northern part of Kurzeme. Here it is still possible to enjoy the beauty and uniqueness of nature untouched by man.

Latvia distinguishes itself with a large variety of flora and fauna (total aprox. 27.7 thousand species).

Latvia's fauna is typical for a region with mixed forests. Latvia has the largest otter population in Europe, and there is a much greater chance of seeing the rare black stork in Latvia's forests than in any other European country.
Read more on Latvian nature...

Latvians are the indigenous people of Latvia.

The ethnic mix of the population of Latvia is largely the result of massive post-war immigration, which resulted in a decline in the share of ethnic Latvians from 77% in 1935 to 52% in 1989.

Population in 2005: 2,306,600

Ethnic composition:

  • 58.2% Latvian,
  • 29.2% Russian,
  • 4.0% Belorussian,
  • 2.6% Ukrainian,
  • 2.5% Polish,
  • 1.4% Lithuanian,
  • 0.5% Jewish,
  • 1.6% other nationalities.

Official Language: Latvian.

  • Hi - Sveiks
  • Good-bye - Uz redzçðanos
  • Yes - Jâ
  • No - Nç
  • Thank you - Paldies
  • Please - Lûdzu
  • Sorry - Atvainojiet

The Latvian language is a Baltic language, which belongs to the Indo-European family of languages. The Latvian language is considered one of the oldest of the Indo-European (European) languages. It is a non-slavic and a non-germanic language, similar only to Lithuanian.
Read more on the Latvian language...

Most Common Foreign Languages: English, Russian, and German.

The state guarantees free primary and secondary (high school) education. More than 90% of children attend state schools which provide free education. 9 years of primary education are obligatory. The most of the students attend state-universities. Apart from state-financed educational institutions, there are also private schools and private universities in Latvia. Latvia also has state-financed ethnic minority schools or classes where courses are presented in Belorussian, Estonian, Hebrew, Lithuanian, Polish, Roma, Russian and Ukrainian.
Read more on education in Latvia...

Largest Religious Confessions: Evangelic Lutheran, Roman Catholic and Russian Orthodox.

Since the Reformation movement in the 16th century, the Lutheran church has played a leading role in Latvia.

Type of Government: democratic, parliamentary republic.

Legislative power is in the hands of a single chamber parliament - the Saeima, consisting of 100 deputies. Parliamentary elections take place every 4 years.

The country's head of state is the President, who is elected by the Saeima for a period of 4 years. The President signs laws, chooses the Prime Minister (who heads the government) and performs representative functions.

Electoral System: proportional representation. There is universal suffrage for Latvian citizens over 18 years of age.

Memberships: European Union, NATO, United Nations Organisation, Council of Europe, World Trade Organisation, Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, Council of the Baltic Sea States, etc.

Foreign Policy
Since the restoration of independence in 1991, Latvia has been pursuing full economic and political integration into European and world structures. A key foreign policy priority is active and constructive membership in the European Union and NATO.

Capital City
Nearly one third of Latvia's population (747 thousand) lives in the capital city Rîga. Rîga, the oldest still existing medieval city, was founded in 1201. The value of Rîga's cultural and historical significance has been recognised by the fact that its old city centre has been included in UNESCO's list of the world's most important cultural and natural sites.

Largest Towns and Cities: Rîga, Daugavpils, Liepâja, Jelgava, Jûrmala, Rçzekne and Ventspils.

Today, 77 towns and cities are located within Latvia's borders. 23 cities have a population of over 10,000.

Latvia's three major ports are Ventspils, Rîga and Liepâja.

Ventspils is one of the busiest ports in the Baltic Sea region and is among the leading European ports in terms of cargo turnover.

The Most Prospective Production Sectors:
information technologies, electronics and mechanical engineering, chemical and pharmaceutical industries, timber and construction, food processing industry, textiles industry, fishery and agriculture.

Special Economic Zones: Ventspils Free Port, Liepâja Special Economic Zone, Rçzekne Special Economic Zone. Incentives in special economic zones include low tax environment and free customs regime.

The Main Trade-Partners: other member states of the European Union.

Latvian national currency is the lats (LVL), 1 lats consists of 100 santims. The Latvian currency has remained strong and secure since its inception in 1993. The stability of lats is a result of covering the supply of the national currency with gold reserves, hard currency reserves, and investments in a diversified collection of foreign currencies.

Latvian Foods
Latvia's most popular national foods are usually considered to be caraway cheese, grey peas with bacon, bacon-filled pastries made from yeast dough and a special rye bread prepared according to ancient recipes. Rye bread is eaten every day by most of the population and it can be bought in every shop. Caraway cheese is the most typical food of the Jâòi (summer solstice) celebrations. 

Most Important Traditional Festival
The annual celebration of the summer solstice, known as Jâòi is generally viewed as the most important Latvian holiday. Jâòi is celebrated on June 23 and 24. These days of celebration mark the summer solstice with a colourful array of ancient traditions whose origins date back thousands of years.

Notable Individuals in Latvian History

  • Writer:
    • Rainis (real name: Jânis Pliekðâns, 1865-1929), the most distinguished Latvian writer of all time who is the author of a number of poetry collections and plays. Rainis is also acknowledged as the "Man of the 20th Century of Latvia".
  • Composers:
    • Andrejs Jurjâns (1856-1922) and Jazeps Vîtols (1863-1948), the founders of the national style in the sphere of Latvian instrumental music.
  • Painters:
    • Janis Rozentâls (1866-1916) and Vilhelms Purvîtis (1872-1945) are the most widely recognised Latvian painters. Janis Rozentâls developed Latvian genre and portrait painting and Vilhelms Purvîtis consistently turned to the genre of scenery painting and raised the standard of Latvian scenery painting in Europe.
  • Scientist:
    • Dâvids Hieronîms Grindelis (1776-1836), the first Latvian natural scientist, chemist, pharmacist and doctor.
  • Athletes:
    • Jânis Lûsis (1939), the only athlete (javelin) in Latvia to have a complete Olympic medal set (gold, silver, bronze).
    • Uljana Semjonova (1952), tallest female basketball player in the Olympic history, 3-time World Champion.
    • Jânis (John) Konrads (1942), famous Rîga-born Latvian swimmer is the best-known Latvian from Australia. Starting in 1958, Jânis Konrads broke 31 different world records in swimming in various distances.

More information on Latvian Institute WEBSite

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