The name "Latvija" comes from the ancient Latgallians, one of Indo-European Baltic tribes who along with Couronians, Selonians and Semigallians formed the Latvian people of today. The Republic of Latvia, founded on November 18, 1918, is named after Latvians.
The state is recognized internationally since 1921. Latvia overcame the Soviet and Nazi occupations (1940-1991) and restored independence in 1991. Since then the Republic of Latvia has reached the vanguard of the Western World by joining NATO and the European Union in 2004.
Composed by Kārlis Baumanis, the anthem „Dievs, svētī Latviju!” was initially sung at the very first Latvian Song Festival in 1873. The Constitutional Assembly of the Republic of Latvia chose the song as the national anthem in 1920.
God, bless Latvia,
Our dearest fatherland,
Do bless Latvia,
Oh, do bless it!
Where Latvian daughters bloom,
Where Latvian sons sing,
Let us dance in happiness there,
In our Latvia!
Also the Latvian 2 euro coins bear the inscription of anthem’s title around the edge.
The Latvian flag dates back to the 13th century, being one of the oldest in the world. The carmine-red flag with a white band in the middle is simbolical of the Latvian history.
According to a legend, a Latvian tribal chief wounded in a battle was put on a white sheet which was soaked with his blood on two sides. His soldiers hoisted the warrior’s sheet as a banner as it led them to victory. The fight for freedom is recurrent in Latvian history since then.
Coat of Arms
Latvian statehood and national identity is illustrated with symbols such as three stars, the sun, the sea and oak leaves. Historical geographic districts of Kurzeme and Zemgale are represented by a red lion, while Vidzeme and Latgale are depicted by a silver griffin.
Brīvības piemineklis - the ‘Freedom Monument - is is the most important landmark, the symbol of Latvian independence and statehood.
Designed by Kārlis Zāle and funded through public donations in 1935, the monument survived a fifty year occupation to emerge as a rallying point for mass pro-independence demonstrations in the late 1980’s.
The inscription „Tēvzemei un brīvībai” means ‘For Fatherland and Freedom”. The sculptural reliefs at its base depict important moments in Latvia’s history, while the woman at the top symbolizes Latvia’s freedom and sovereignty. She holds aloft three stars indicative of the three historical districts of Latvia.
Symbols in Nature
The Latvian national bird is the baltā cielava or White Wagtail (Motacilla alba). This tireless, highly energetic bird is frequently mentioned in Latvian folk songs as a symbol of hard work and industriousness. It likes to nest in building rafters, woodpiles and other man-made objects, and is most frequently seen scurrying across the ground in search of twigs for its nest and food for its little ones. As its name implies, it rapidly wags its tail up and down as it dashes about.
The Latvian national insect is also one of Latvia’s most beloved symbols in children stories and fairytales - the Two-spotted Ladybird (Adalia bipunctata). The insect’s Latvian name - mārīte - is derived from Māra, the name of the supreme Latvian goddess, or ‘earth mother’ responsible for the fertility of the land. Unlike the sprightly White Wagtail, the Two-spotted Ladybird moves slowly and diligently, but is excellent at defending itself.
The Latvian national flower is the pīpene or daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare). This common wildflower blossoms in June, just in time to be woven into festive wreaths for the Midsummer festivities (Jāņi). It continues to bloom until September, providing Latvian flower lovers, decorators and celebrants with their most popular accent for floral gifts and arrangements throughout the summer.
The oak and linden are male and female figures in Latvian folklore, and popularly viewed as the national trees of Latvia. The linden, or lime tree (Tilia cordata, Latvian: liepa), and the oak (Quercus robur, Latvian: ozols), are characteristic of the Latvian landscape and figure prominently in the practical and spiritual lives of ancient Latvians. Both trees have traditionally been used for medical purposes, and are also frequently mentioned in legends, fairytales, and the Latvian dainas. Linden blossoms and oak bark are still popular today in teas and medicinal preparations. The oak had a divine status in the pre-Christian religious beliefs of the early Latvians, and many of these ancient sacred oaks still stand today. Many are designated by law as ‘Great Oaks’ and protected as national treasures. Oak leaves are used to create men’s wreaths on Jāņi (worn by men named Jānis) and are a frequent design element in Latvian heraldry and decorative arts.
The River of Destiny is Daugava – Latvia’s largest and historically most important river. It defines the border between the ethnographic regions of Vidzeme and Latgale on the right bank, and Kurzeme and Zemgale on the left. The river was first used by Vikings as the first leg of The Amber Road, a major trade route linking the lands around the Baltic and Black Seas. Daugava was both a strategic transport artery and a mean of livelihood for many Latvians. Last century saw the river serve as a source of hydroelectric power, bringing light to many Latvian houses. The river’s fateful role throughout Latvia’s history has made it a treasured subject of song, poetry and stories.
© Latvian Institute 2015; Photos © Ieva Cika, Valts Kleins, Inna Lazdina, Imants Urtāns.