Riga was founded in 1201 and is a former Hanseatic League member. Riga's historical centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, noted for its Art Nouveau/Jugendstil architecture and 19th century wooden architecture. Riga was the European Capital of Culture during 2014, along with Ume in Sweden. Riga hosted the 2006 NATO Summit, the Eurovision Song Contest 2003, the 2006 IIHF Men's World Ice Hockey Championships and the 2013 World Women's Curling Championship. It is home to the European Union's office of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC).
In 2016, Riga received 2.3 million visitors. It is served by Riga International Airport, the largest and busiest airport in the Baltic states. Riga is a member of Eurocities, the Union of the Baltic Cities (UBC) and Union of Capitals of the European Union (UCEU).
One theory about the origin of the name Riga is that it is a corrupted borrowing from the Liv ringa meaning loop, referring to the ancient natural harbour formed by the tributary loop of the Daugava River. The other is that Riga owes its name to this already-established role in commerce between East and West, as a borrowing of the Latvian rija, for threshing barn, the "j" becoming a "g" in German notably, Riga is called Rie by English geographer Richard Hakluyt (1589), and German historian Dionysius Fabricius (1610) confirms the origin of Riga from rija. Another theory could be that Riga was named after Riege, the German name for the River Rdzene, a tributary of the Daugava.
The river Daugava has been a trade route since antiquity, part of the Vikings' Dvina-Dnieper navigation route to Byzantium. A sheltered natural harbour 15 km (9.3 mi) upriver from the mouth of the Daugava the site of today's Riga has been recorded, as Duna Urbs, as early as the 2nd century. It was settled by the Livs, an ancient Finnic tribe.
Riga began to develop as a centre of Viking trade during the early Middle Ages. Riga's inhabitants occupied themselves mainly with fishing, animal husbandry, and trading, later developing crafts (in bone, wood, amber, and iron).
The Livonian Chronicle of Henry testifies to Riga having long been a trading centre by the 12th century, referring to it as portus antiquus (ancient port), and describes dwellings and warehouses used to store mostly corn, flax, and hides. German traders began visiting Riga, establishing a nearby outpost in 1158.
Along with German traders also arrived the monk Meinhard of Segeberg to convert the Livonian pagans to Christianity. Catholic and Orthodox Christianity had already arrived in Latvia more than a century earlier, and many Latvians baptised. Meinhard settled among the Livs, building a castle and church at Ikile, upstream from Riga, and established his bishopric there. The Livs, however, continued to practice paganism and Meinhard died in Ikile in 1196, having failed his mission. In 1198, the Bishop Berthold arrived with a contingent of crusaders and commenced a campaign of forced Christianization. Berthold was killed soon afterwards and his forces defeated.
The Church mobilised to avenge. Pope Innocent III issued a bull declaring a crusade against the Livonians. Bishop Albert was proclaimed Bishop of Livonia by his uncle Hartwig of Uthlede, Prince-Archbishop of Bremen and Hamburg in 1199. Albert landed in Riga in 1200 with 23 ships and 500 Westphalian crusaders. In 1201, he transferred the seat of the Livonian bishopric from Ikile to Riga, extorting agreement to do so from the elders of Riga by force.