There was a small Liiv village on the right bank of the lower reaches of the Daugava River, near a natural port at the mouth of the Riga River or Rīdzene. The Daugava River was the oldest water way of the international trade route between the Baltic and Black Seas as early as since the 5th century. In the history of navigation, this route is more often referred to as the trade route from the Varangians (the name given by Greeks and the Rus' people to Vikings) to the Greeks or the Daugava-Dnieper amber route. Along the busy trade route settlements started to grow and in the 12th century such a village was set up in the place where Riga now stands. Located at the natural harbor, where ships could take shelter from the wind, waves and ice during the spring floods, unload goods and accommodate seafarers, a small Liiv village became a convenient trade location for Scandinavian, German and other merchants arriving by sea and traders sailing on the Daugava River from Russian Principalities.
The beginning of the 13th century is associated with the arrival of the German Bishop Albert and the Order of Knights, described in the chronicles. The knights disembarked in the lower reaches of the Daugava with the aim to convert local people to the Christian faith, as well as to control trade with Slavic people. The year 1201 is recorded in chronicles as the year of the founding of Riga, and Bishop Albert is mentioned 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 later with Hanseatic cities, thus becoming a significant interstate trade port and a member of the Hanseatic League.
Influence of the Hanseatic League
In the 14th century, the city of Riga was under the rule of the Livonian Order and under the influence of the Hanseatic League, a confederation of merchant guilds and market towns, dominating Baltic maritime commerce. Trade relations were flourishing, construction and crafts were booming. At that time the port of Riga was located in the extension of the Rīdzene River - Lake Rīga, where an intensive exchange of goods was thriving. Metal products, spices, salt and various fabrics were imported, while wax, flax, hemp, timber and fur were the main exported goods.
Discovery of the New World and a sudden commercial boom at the port of Riga
The discovery of America in 1492 had a positive effect on the volume of trade between European countries, including the city of Riga. An unprecedented era of shipbuilding and intensive cargo transportation by sea has begun. Demand for grain and timber has increased exponentially, and the most valuable goods to be exported from the port of Riga were mast trees. The port moved to the Daugava River, leaving the banks of Rīdzene River for berthing small sailing boats and for ship wintering. The range of imported goods, arriving at Riga by sea, was dominated by salt, herring, fabrics, metal products and colonial goods.
The Livonian War and the port of Riga under Polish rule
In 1558, the 25-year Livonian War between the Russian Tsardom and the Livonian Confederation began, later joined by the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, as well as the Kingdom of Denmark and Sweden. These were hectic times for the city under the siege of hostile forces, when the winner gained the right to rule over the city and the port of Riga. This stage in the history of Riga is marked as the time of the Free City of Riga, when the envoys of the Riga City Council negotiated with the Holy Roman Empire on granting Riga the status of a free city subordinated to the Emperor. However, as a result of the Livonian War, Riga and its port came under Polish rule. King Stefan Batory of Poland issued an order to collect a customs duty - a portoria, approximately 2% of the value of all imported and exported goods, which is considered to be the first customs duty in the history of the city of Riga. The documents of the City Council contain information about the port's activities during one of the years of Polish rule: in 1591, 391 sailing vessels visited the port of Riga. However, in general, during the Polish rule, the port of Riga lost competitiveness due to unreasonably high taxes.
Swedish rule in Riga
In 1600, the Polish-Swedish war for influence in the Baltic Sea region began. Frequent Swedish attacks blocked the port and restricted trade. However, in 1621, in the decisive battle for Riga, the Swedes broke the resistance of the besieged citizens. Polish-Lithuanian troops were not able to break through the siege of Riga, and the Riga City Council opened the city gates to the troops of Swedish King Gustav II Adolf. In 1629, when the King of Sweden got into financial difficulties, an increased customs duty licente was introduced for goods imported via the River Daugava from the eastern lands. Frequent wars and disputes in the region resulted in overseas trade volume decrease. On average, no more than 300 sailing vessels called Riga every year. The flow of goods in the region was increasing, but due to high customs duties, part of the cargo flows was shipped through the ports of Kurzeme and Prussia.
Riga - the first Russian port in the Baltic Sea
In 1700, Russian Tsar Peter I declared war on Sweden. After ten years of devastating warfare, on July 4, 1710, the act of capitulation of the city was signed, and on July 14, Marshal General Count Boris Sheremetyev arrived at Riga to receive the city keys. In the following years, the city governance model was changed several times, until during the reign of Catherine II, the Riga City Council was dismissed and the next city council was elected following the example of the cities of tsarist Russia. The new city council launched a large-scale reconstruction work, as the city had been destroyed and no economic activity was taking place as a result of the long-running war. After the death of Catherine II, the Riga City Council partially regained its powers and in the second half of the 18th century, under the leadership of Colonel Gustav Emanuel Weismann, began the planned construction of engineering structures at the River Daugava estuary with the aim to foster navigation and port operation. In 1788, after the completion of the construction of the Cometfort dam, a bonfire was lit on the scaffolding platform at the end of the dam, which served as a lighthouse and was considered to be the first lighthouse location in the history of the port.
Introduction of the latest engineering solutions, hydro structures and railway in the port of Riga
Despite the construction of hydro structures, at the beginning of the new century navigation in the port of Riga was critical due to siltation of the fairway. The city's foreign trade has become completely dependent on dredging. The work was financed mainly by traders and the Riga Stock Exchange Committee, which supported ideas of the most advanced engineers of that time and used the most modern equipment in dredging works. In 1846, the first steam-powered dredger started operating in the port of Riga. In 1848, Alexander Suvorov was appointed Governor-General of the Baltics, and under his leadership the ramparts of the Riga fortifications were demolished, the Riga-Daugavpils railway was built, and an electric telegraph line from Riga to Bolderāja was installed. In 1850, with the blessing of Tsar Alexander II, the Committee for the Construction of the port of Riga was established, under the leadership of which the construction of the Mangaļsala (Eastern) Breakwater was started, the Western Breakwater was built, and the port's sea gate acquired its present look. In 1861, a gas-powered navigation light was installed on the Eastern Breakwater (currently it can be seen at the Freeport of Riga Authority Building at 12 Kalpaka Boulevard). After the establishment of the Riga-Tsaritsyn railway connection in 1871, Riga gained access to extensive Russian raw material markets. In 1877, after several particularly severe winters, the Riga Stock Exchange Committee decided to purchase the flywheel steamer "Simson" for ice breaking in the port.
A time of rapid growth and change
At the beginning of the 20th century, Riga was the largest Russian export port in the field of timber transshipment and ranked 3rd among the ports of the Russian Empire in terms of total foreign trade. In 1901, in order to increase throughput capacity, the Russian government decided to build an Export Port on Andrei Dam (currently the territory of the Passenger port). In 1902, the first cold storage facility was opened in Andrejsala, and a year later the Riga Prechu Station started its operation. In 1905, the city's first electric power plant was opened in Andrejosta. In 1914, shortly before World War I, the second railway bridge over the Daugava was opened. In 1912, the icebreaker "Pyotr Velikiy", built in Gothenburg, started operating in the port of Riga.
The port of Riga during the World War I and the Republic of Latvia proclamation
In 1915, the evacuation of Riga's factories, ships and port equipment to Russia was started. In 1917, German troops occupied Riga and when leaving the city, the Russian Army blew up the Riga port lighthouse, the Railway Bridge, certain port protection structures and port buildings. On November 18, 1918, the Republic of Latvia was proclaimed. In July 1919, after heavy battles for Latvia's independence, the first ship entering the port of Riga, which became the port of the Republic of Latvia, was the steamer "Saratov" with a red-white-red flag and members of the Latvian government on board.
Years of peaceful work and development between the two world wars
In 1920, the Latvian-Russian peace agreement was signed and the period of economic activity restoration began in the port of Riga. Renovation of hydro structures and dredging of the fairway were carried out. In 1928, the depth of the fairway reached 8.2 meters, while in 1938 it was already 9.0 meters. New warehouses and cold storage facility were built at Eksportosta. In 1926, the icebreaker "Krišjānis Valdemārs" started working in the port of Riga. The main trade partners of Latvia were Great Britain and Germany. In June 1940, USSR troops entered the country, and a Soviet regime was established in Latvia, which hindered development of the port of Riga for many years of Soviet rule.
An important USSR export port for trade with Western countries
In the summer of 1941, World War II began. Military operation resulted in ruins, destroyed hydro structures and buildings in the port of Riga. In the post-war period, the development of the port of Riga was organized according to the 5-year plans developed by the USSR government under the strict supervision of the relevant Soviet ministries and departments. The port of Riga played an important role in the USSR foreign trade – via the port exported cargo was shipped to Western countries, so plans for the port modernization and expansion had been developed in the mid-sixties and early seventies. At the beginning of the eighties, one of the largest container terminals in the USSR was commissioned in Kundziņsala, a berth and infrastructure for liquefied gas export were built, the Riga Sea Passenger Station and the Fishing Port in Rīnūži were put into operation. At the end of the eighties, the process of Atmoda (Awakening) began throughout the Baltics, Latvia left the USSR and its national independence was restored. On May 4, the Supreme Council of the Republic of Latvia adopted the Declaration of Independence and a new phase of the Riga port development was started.