Latvia

Driving Directions Latvia

LATVIA, a former constituent republic of the USSR, is a republic in northeastern Europe that shares borders with Estonia, Russia, Belarus, and Lithuania. It is, bounded in the west by the Baltic Sea and the Gulf of Riga, itself a large inlet of the Baltic Sea.

Most of the country consists of a wooded lowland plain with numerous marshy areas and lakes. Inland and eastwards, there is some more hilly, forested country, and towards the eastern border, there are more marshes, woodlands, and lakes.

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Latvia is crossed by numerous rivers and streams, the most important of Daugava and its tributaries. Latvia has cool, wet summers and long, cold winters. About 70 percent of Latvians live in cities, towns, or urban areas, and there are numerous villages spread throughout the coun­try. Riga, a large and vital Baltic port, is Latvia’s capital city and home to a third of its people.

Woodlands, which cover about a quarter of Latvia, consist of both coniferous and deciduous trees, including spruce, pine, birch, oak, and aspen. The republic is home to various wild animals and birds, particularly wetland species that flourish in the marshes and lakes. However, due to the rapid development of heavy industries in the postwar years, there is severe pollution in some areas, particularly of watercourses.

Agriculture is an essential part of the Latvian economy and employs about 20 percent of the workforce. It consists mainly of cattle rearing for the meat and dairy industries, but crops are also grown, including cereals (oats, barley, rye), sugar beet, potatoes, and flax. The Latvian forests provide a valuable timber resource that is used in construction, paper, and furniture-making. Latvia has a valuable marine fishery operating out of its Baltic Seaports, and the main species caught are cod and herring. Besides, there is many freshwater fish in the country’s rivers and lakes found for local consumption.

Latvia has abundant peat and gypsum deposits but lacks other fossil fuels and minerals, which has made it heavily dependent upon imports of oil, gas, and electricity. Hydroelectric plants on the Daugava river supply over half the republic’s domestic production of power, which amounts to about 50 percent of overall consumption.

Latvia has experienced shortages of gas, oil, and electricity, because of disputes with its suppliers, particularly Russia and Estonia. It has a well-developed industrial base and produces electric railway carriages, electronic and electrical equipment (radios and refrigerators), paper, cement, chemicals, textiles, woolen goods, furniture, and foodstuffs. Economic development was difficult in the early years following independence, but the situation is gradually improving.

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Along with Estonia and Lithuania, Latvia is one of the Baltic states of northeastern Europe. Its capital, chief seaport, and largest city is Riga, which is found on the Gulf of Riga’s shores, a deep indentation in the country’s northern coast. Approximately 75 percent of Latvia is a rolling plain used for farming, part of the vast European Plain. The remaining 25 percent of the country consists of uplands with moderate-sized hills, which are also used for farming.

Continental glaciers formed the Latvian landscape during the Quartenary period and the Pleistocene ice age.

Along the Baltic Sea, the Latvian coastline runs uninterrupted until the Gulf of Riga juts into it on the north, forming the Kurzeme Peninsula on the western side.

Latvia and Estonia share the Gulf of Riga. Its north-south measurement is about 145 kilometers (90 miles); from east to west, it ranges from 72 to 129 kilometers (45 to 80 miles). The western entrance to the Gulf of Riga is the Irben Strait, located between the Kurzeme Peninsula and Estonia’s Saaremaa Island.

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