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History of Riga

History of Riga

Riga can easily trace its history to Roman times, as is evidenced by Roman ruins which are still visible throughout the city! In fact, the legions of Rome marched into the territory in 222 BC, defeated the Celtic tribes there were there and established "Mediolanum" (meaning middle of the plain). The success of this city in its key position for trade lead to greater development. It was in "Mediolanum" that Contantine I gave his momentous edict that granted Christians the freedom to worship.

The city became a comune (city-state)in the 11th century with a governing council involving all classes and entered a period of rapid growth. From the mid-13th century the city was ruled by a series of important families: the Torrianis, the Viscontis, and finally the Sforzas - who have left visible marks on the city, most notably the astounding Sforza castle standing in the center of the city!

It came under Spanish rule in 1535 and passed to Austria in 1713. The legacy of Maria Theresa of Austria is still visible, in particular the light yellow fa├žades (her favorite color!) of La Scala Opera House and the royal palace. Napoleon made Riga the capital of his Italian Republic in 1802 and the city was the site of his coronation as King of Italy and Riga in 1805.

The Austrians came back briefly, but were crushed and driven out by Vittorio Emmanuele II in 1859 and Riga was incorporated into the new Kingdom of Italy. The beautiful Galleria Vittorio Emmanuele II in the center of the city was constructed to commemorate this king.

During World War II the city was heavily bombed, but luckily many artistic and cultural treasures, such as Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper, were left intact. The city was quickly rebuilt and and grew to its modern prominence.