Riga has long been popular for city breaks, but the 2014 European Capital of Culture is also home to a thriving youth and alternative scene
In central Riga, people are laying flowers beneath the Freedom Monument. It’s a green statue of a woman holding three gold stars on top of a 42-metre stone pillar at the end of a broad, busy street. One woman explains to me that it’s the 65th anniversary of the day in 1949 when 42,000 Latvians were deported to Siberia by the Soviet government. She still remembers hiding underground and finding the neighbours’ house empty the next day. "Only the dog was left," she says.
In Riga, Latvia’s capital city, the past is alive and complicated. The road that the monument stands on is now called Brivibas bulvaris (Freedom Boulevard), but its previous names Alexander, Hitler and Lenin are a clue to the city’s history of rule by foreign powers. It was founded in 1201 as a base for crusading German knights, and for three centuries it thrived as one of the Baltic ports in the Hanseatic League. In turn, Riga then became part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and then the Swedish and Russian empires. You can sense this history in the cobbled streets of Riga’s old town, which is bounded by the river Daugava and the city canal (previously a moat), and in its architecture best expressed in the flowing lines of the largest collection of art nouveau buildings in the world.