Latvia is one of three countries known as the Baltic States. The other Baltic State countries are Estonia and Lithuania. However the concept of Baltic States is misleading as it implies some sort of political unity between Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia which is not the case.
Latvia's longest river is the Daugava and its largest lake is Lake Lubana.
Latvia is also known as Lettland, named after the Letts or Lettish people.
Riga Castle was originally built in 1330 for the Livonian Order of Knights.
Today Riga Castle is the official home of the President of Latvia.
In the middle of the seventeenth century Tobago was briefly a colony of the Duchy of Courland (now part of Latvia). Tobago is the smaller of the two Caribbean islands which comprise the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.
Courlanders, from present-day Latvia, were the first Europeans to found a settlement in Gambia (James Island).
The Basilica of Our Lady of Aglona is the most well known place of pilgrimage in Latvia. The Basilica houses the icon of Our Lady of Aglona, said to be responsible for miracles.
Riga is known for some of the best Art Nouveau architecture in Europe.
Riga Technical University, the Riga Polytechnikum, was established in 1862.
The University of Latvia was founded in 1919.
Vilhelm Ostwald, born in Riga in 1853, was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1909.
Fridrich Cander (1887-1933) was a Latvian inventor who worked on the theory and design of jet engines and rockets.
In the Second World War, during the German occupation of Latvia, most of Latvia's Jewish population was sent to concentration camps.
Throughout the Russian occupation of Latvia in 1941, and the post war Soviet occupation of Latvia, many thousands of Latvians were imprisoned or sent to Siberia.
The Soviet Union annexed Latvia to the USSR. (The following countries in Europe were members of the former USSR along with Russia: Belarus, Estonia (from WW2), Latvia (from WW2), Lithuania (from WW2), Moldova (from WW2) and Ukraine; member countries from Asia were: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan).
In 1989, to demonstrate the Baltic States' wish for independence,
Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians joined hands forming a chain stretching from Tallinn to Riga and to Vilnius.
The Latvian population is returning to the national and traditional Latvian sauna - pirts. In an enclosed room, which contains specially heated rocks, one gently pours water on the rocks to establish a hot and moist atmosphere. In this hot and moist atmosphere it is the practice to use small branches tied together in a bundle to beat oneself. Then you leave the hot atmosphere of pirts to plunge into cold water (this could be a plunge pool, a dam, a lake or a stream). This type of heating and cooling process is often accompanied with a body massage.
In December 2002 Latvia took part in EU accession negotiations with nine other countries (Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, the Slovak Republic and Slovenia). The Accession Treaty was signed on 16 April 2003 with 1 May 2004 the formal entry date. EU enlargement meant the unification of twenty-five countries after over half a century of political division and the "Cold War" which followed World War II.
In 2004 Latvia became a member of NATO.
Latvia is one of the Baltic Sea States. Other members of the Council of the Baltic Sea States are Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Russia, Sweden, and the European Commission.