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Stepping Into a New Century

The situation was very dismal. St. John’s Church was full of dead bodies, the water pipes were damaged and the Ridzina was full of garbage and slit. The only joy came when Peter I signed the charter of the city. He promised many different privileges. However, things changed drastically. House owners had to be German. Festivities now were held in the church of the state and in the Russian language. Slowly but surely Riga became a European city. Fashions were mostly French or English. The wives and daughters of the Small Guild dressed like real ladies. The town council didn’t allow Latvians to wear German fashions.

Along came the 18th century and Riga changed. Small simple houses were torn down and replaced by two, three or four-story buildings. Those who were wealthy acquired estates outside of the city which were surrounded by parks, terraces, and gardens. Dom School students performed Moliere’s comedies in the House of Dunnenstern. A large theater was organized for operas and ballets. Dutch capital was replaced by English capital in commerce.

In 1813 the residents of Riga were divided into gentry, bureaucrats, clergy, house owners and free people and the smallest portion being the serfs. The beginning of the 19th century didn’t bode well for Riga. Rumor had it that the army of field marshal York was approaching Riga and in the ensuing panic, fire was set to the suburbs destroying four churches, 35 public buildings, and 705 private homes. Czar Alexander I liberated the serfs in Vidzeme.

Peasants could now buy their own land. Small farms were established. The Rigas Latviesu Biedriba (The Latvian Association of Riga) was established. It was a temple that unified Latvians on the basis of common culture and economics. During this time the telegraph was installed, gas lights lighted the streets, and sidewalks were built. Two very important events took place – the ramparts were knocked down giving space for buildings and boulevards and the construction of the Riga-Daugavpils Railway Line. Eventually, the railway line was extended to Orla, and Carina and Riga became the industrial center between Russia and Western Europe. The downfall at this time was Russification and schoolchildren were forbidden to speak Latvian.

Picture of Riga Castle at the beginning of the 19th century


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