The country of Latvia, like its northern neighbor Estonia, was a victim of geography throughout time, due to its location facing the Baltic Sea. Back in the 13th century, German invaders converted the local population to Christianity and formed the crusader state of Livonia (together with parts of Estonia). A conflict called the Livonian War (1558-1583) caused Latvia to fall under Polish and Lithuanian rule. The Polish-Swedish War (1600-1611) turned the country over to Swedish rule (making its main city, Riga, the capital of “Swedish Livonia”). Then, during the Great Northern War (1700-1721), Russia’s Peter the Great took over Latvia in 1710, as part of his military campaign against Sweden.
Latvia remained under Russian rule under 1917 (with Riga becoming the largest port of the Russian Empire, and waves of industrialization taking place there). With World War I devastating much of the Latvian countryside, and falling under German occupation, the independent Republic of Latvia was formed just after that conflict ended (1918). After Nazi Germany declared war on Russia during the early days of World War II, Latvia fell under German occupation yet again (from 1941 to 1944 – when the Russian reasserted control over the country). Latvia (a.k.a. Latvian SSR) stayed under Soviet control from the end of World War II until the collapse of Communism toward 1990 (that year, Latvia became independent again). By 2004, Latvia joined both the European Union (EU) and NATO.
Like its northern neighbor Estonia, Latvia yearns to do away with its Soviet past and embrace a more prosperous future that it hopes to achieve with European Union membership. For that reason, tourism is become a growing part of the country’s economy (averaging 6.4% of GDP from 2000-2012), with visitors coming mainly from Germany, Sweden, Lithuania, and Russia. The capital city, Riga, has preserved much of its historic past (going back to the Middle Ages), which is a natural draw for tourists, and more and more European and international travelers are still discovering this country. Latvia hopes to capitalize on its adoption of the Euro as its currency, which took place in January 2014.