Port of Riga over nine Centuries

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The origin of Riga is a Liiv village – a convenient natural port. The Daugava River was used for international trade between the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea as early as the 5th century. The navigation history also includes the trade artery from the Varangians to the Greeks, or the Daugava-Dnieper Amber Road. In the 12th century a small village, that later became the city of Riga, was created on the river bank. The location possessed all natural preconditions required for a port – a place where ships could find shelter from winds, waves and spring floods, as well as unload goods and disembark passengers. The Liiv village on the right bank of the Daugava , at the mouth of the Riga or Ridzene River, became a convenient location for trade between seamen from Scandinavia, Germany, the Netherlands and other countries arriving to Riga by sea and Russian merchants who used to come by River Daugava.


Foundation of Riga.

The beginning of the 13th century is connected with the arrival of German Bishop Albert, that is described in the chronicles, and the Order of Knights of the Christ established by Bishop Albert with a view to control trade with Slavonic nations and introduce the Christian faith to local inhabitants. The year 1201 is considered to be the official year of foundation of Riga with Bishop Albert as its founder. In the 13th century, the Town Council of Riga entered into agreements on international trade and exchange of goods with Eastern principalities and Hansaetic towns, thus Riga became an important interstate trade port and a member of the Hansaetic League.


Consolidation of the Hansaetic League.

In the 14th century Riga was under the rule of the Livonian Order. The power of the Hansaetic League consolidated. The Baltic Sea used to be called Lake Hansa. The principal port of Riga was located at the mouth of the River Ridzene, and such popular goods of the epoch as wax, flax, hemp, timber and furs were exported through it.


Discovery of the New World resulted in a sudden boom in the trade at the Port of Riga.

In 1492, Columbus discovered America, and this event significantly affected the trade volume between European countries and the City of Riga. The era of large shipments started. The demand for grain and timber increased manifold. Spars were the most valuable export commodities. The Port of Riga moved to the Daugava, leaving the source of the River Ridzene for landings of small sailboats and wintering of ships. Salt, herring, cloth, metalware and colonial goods predominate in the list of goods imported by Riga.


The winner in the Livonian War became the possessor of the key of Riga and ruler over the city.

In 1558, the Livonian War began. The Port of Riga was intended as a prize to the winner in the endless fight of the Lithuanian-Polish Union, the Swedish Kingdom and Russia. These were hectic times for the city under the siege of hostile forces, which ended in the victory of the Poles in 1581. In 1591, 391 sailing vessels called at the Port of Riga. However, all in all, the Polish rule reduced the competitiveness of the port due to high taxes.


Swedish times in Riga.

In 1600, the Polish-Swedish War broke out, due to tempts to gain influence over the Baltic Sea. Frequent Swedish attacks blocked the port and restricted trade. In 1621, however, in the decisive battle for Riga, Swedes broke down the resistance of the people of Riga. On average, 300 sailing vessels attended the Port of Riga each year. Though the flow of goods from the East increased, part of the cargoes was shipped through ports of Kurzeme and Prussia due to high customs duties.


Riga became the first Russian port in the Baltic Sea.

In 1700, Russian Tsar Peter I declared war on Sweden. In 1710, the key to the City of Riga was received by Count Sheremetyev. The 18th century witnessed intensive engineering and construction work, which was carried out to adjust the Daugava River bed. The deepening of the river and protection of the city against spring floods were the main reason to start the construction of dams. In 1788, one lighthouse was set up in Daugavgriva, which replaced the existing bonfire in the log tower. The first navigation school was opened.


As a result of the grandiose railway, dam and bridge construction, the significance of Riga increased.

The beginning of the new century saw new problems: navigation in the Port of Riga became critical due to the silting of fairways. The external trade of the city became completely dependent on dredging. It was mainly financed by traders or the Riga Exchange Committee. The excavation works profited from the ideas of the most progressive-minded engineers and the most advanced techniques at the time. In 1830, the first steamer Oskar called at the Port of Riga. In 1850, the construction of the Eastern Pier was launched. Between 1881 and 1885, the Western Pier was built and the Riga Sea Gate acquired its present appearance. In 1852, the telegraph line Riga-Bolderaja was opened. In 1861, a gas-operated lighthouse was lighted on the Eastern Pier and the Riga-Daugavpils railway was opened; in 1871, the Riga–Tsaricino railway and the railway bridge across the River Daugava were also opened. Riga was linked to Russian markets and sources of raw materials. In 1877, the Port of Riga acquired its first icebreaker. In 1894, an elevator and a railway leading to the elevator were opened in Andrejosta. On 31 May 1898, the expanded borders of the port were approved.


Time of growth and changes.

The new century started with the world’s industrial crisis. At the beginning of the 20th century Riga was the largest Russia’s timber export port and ranked the 3rd in the Tsarist Russia Empire according to the external trade volume. In 1901, in order to increase the throughput capacity, the Russian government took a decision to build Eksportosta. In 1902, the first freezer was opened in Andrejsala. A year later the Riga Freight Station started its operations. In 1905, the first electric power station of the city was opened in Andrejosta. In 1914, shortly before World War I, the second Railway Bridge across the River Daugava was opened. In 1915, the evacuation of Riga’s factories, ships and port equipment to Russia started. In 1917, when leaving the city, the Russian Army blew up the bridges of Riga as well as some buildings located at the port. The German army occupied Riga. In 1918 the Republic of Latvia was proclaimed. On Christmas of the same year the first ship in the world raised the red-white-red Latvian flag. In 1920, a Peace Treaty between Latvia and Russia was signed and the renewal of economic life started. In 1928, the depth of fairways reached 8.2 meters, while in 1938 - 9.0 meters. New freezer and warehouses were built in Eksportosta. In 1926, the icebreaker Krišjānis Valdemārs started its operations. The main trade partners of Latvia were the Great Britain and Germany. In 1940 the Soviet regime was proclaimed in Latvia for the first time. In the summer of 1941, World War II broke out, which excluded the possibility of logical development for the Port of Riga for a long period of time. During Soviet years, at the beginning of the 1980’s, one of the largest container terminals in the USSR was built in Kundzinsala, as well as a berth and an infrastructure for liquid gas export was created, the Riga Passenger Terminal and Zvejas Osta in Rinuzi were put into operation. On 4 May 1990, the Latvian Supreme Council adopted a Declaration on the Renewal of Independence of the Republic of Latvia and a new stage in the history of development of the Port of Riga started.