The History of Symbols
The Coat of Arms
It is known that between circa 1225-1226 AD and circa 1330-1340, city walls with opened gates and two towers, with crossed staves between them, were displayed on the city’s coat of arms. The walls with gates were a widely used heraldic element in the coats of arms of medieval towns, symbolising the independence, importance and power of the city. The keys are usually interpreted as being those to purgatory and heaven and symbolised St Peter’s patronage of the city, while the crossed staves represented the power of the bishop within the city. In 1347 a new stamp press was prepared for the Riga city council in which changes to the coat of arms can be seen. Elements from the previous version such as the walls with the raised gates and the keys remain, however their location has changed. The cross of the Order, symbolising the Order’s dominance in the city, replaced the crossed staves. A new element was added, a lion within the raised gates, indicating the stout heartedness and ever increasing independence of the city’s inhabitants.
In 1554 a new heraldic element was added to Riga’s coat of arms – the lions, the upholders of the shield of the coat of arms.
In 1656 the city earned the right to include the crown of the Swedish king in the coat of arms, as an expression of gratitude for the heroic defence of the city during the siege by the Russians.
Tsaritza Catherine II approved Riga’s coat of arms in 1788 after the city was incorporated into the Russian Empire following the Great Northern War. The shield-holding lions were exchanged for the double-headed eagle, the symbol of the Russian Empire, while the crown of the Swedish king was exchanged for that of the Russian Emperor.
On 31 October 1925, Riga obtained a coat approved by the State President. Its description was as follows: “Red brick walls on a silver background with two towers and raised gates in which a gold lion’s head is displayed, and on the upper part of the shield between the towers and beneath a gold crown stand crossed gold paws and two crossed black keys. The shield holders are two golden lions with red tongues and turned heads on two grey cornices supported by a stylised leaf.”
Under Soviet rule little attention was paid to the city’s symbols, and in fact the Riga coat of arms was only approved on 15 February 1967 (the rules of heraldry were not observed in its design.) The coat of arms includes a red star, the Soviet symbol of power, Riga’s foundation year “1201” was placed inside the gates in place of the lions, and the foundations for shield were the colours of the Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic flag.
The flag of the city of Riga is first mentioned in historical sources in 1232, but nothing is known of its colour and form. After Riga joined the Hanseatic League (1282) it was ruled that the flag of Riga ships must include a white cross. The form and colour of the flag are not indicated. In the early 14th century, Riga ships were assigned a black flag with a white cross, most likely square in shape with a wedge-shaped indentation. These elements were those used most often in practice.
After 1582 Riga merchant ships flew a white flag with a red city coat of arms on it. In the mid 17th century this flag for merchant ships was replaced by a blue and yellow cross, with two crossed keys on a red field in the centre of the cross. This flag was used up to the 1860s, even though in 1673 a new flag design was approved in the Riga articles of incorporation – a half blue, half white square.
In 1917 a new Riga flag was approved – equal blue, red and white stripes.
From 1920 to 1930 the blue and white flag was used again, and in 1937 the Riga coat of arms was added to the centre of this. This flag was used until 1940.
During the Soviet era, the approved flag of Riga was a red square with Lenin’s portrait on one side with laurel leaves and the inscription “Proletarians of the world unite!”, and on the other side the coat of arms of the Latvian SSR and the words “City of Riga” in Latvian and Russian. It also included a yellow fringe and the ribbon of the Order of Lenin.