The 700,000 inhabitants of Riga make up one-third of the population of Latvia and makes it the largest city in the Baltic States.
Much of the old town was either destroyed by fire or destroyed by the Germans in World War II and remained in ruins until it was rebuilt in the late 1990s, mainly to make Riga attractive as a tourist destination.
Riga is also popular due to its nightlife and discount airlines that offer cheap flights to/from much of Europe. Old (medieval) town is in the center of the city on the east side of the river.
It is surrounded by a ring of ~19th -- early 20th century architecture, followed by a mix of private 2-floor house districts (many also pre-WW2) and Soviet-era 5-18 floor apartment districts, with an occasional factory (especially near railroad lines).
The term "centre" loosely refers to quite a large area around Old town limited by the river to the west, the railroad lines to the east and south, and without a definite boundary to the north.
In 1710, an invasion by Peter the Great of Russia ended Swedish rule and cemented Russian influence on the city.
Latvia declared its independence on November 18, 1918, although it was annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940.
Riga became the capital of the Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic until Latvian independence in 1991.
Riga was founded in 1201 by Albert of Bremen as a port city and a base to conquer and convert the native Livonians to Christianity, a goal that was achieved in 1206 after a battle in Turaida during the Northern Crusades.
Riga developed as the major trade hub of the area during the peak of the Hanseatic League in the 13th to the 15th centuries and was ruled by the Archbishop of Riga.
The Reformation reached Riga in 1522, which ended the Archbishops' power.
In 1621, Riga became part of the Kingdom of Sweden, although it maintained a great deal of autonomy.