Modern Latvia encompasses 64,589 square kilometres on the eastern shore of the Baltic Sea. The land itself is not immediately imposing, but has a gentle, pastoral beauty and a surprising variety of landscapes. A coastal zone of long beaches, a few natural harbours and navigable rivers yields to a patchwork of fields, forests, lakes, marshes and low hills. The landscape also reveals the history of Latvia before the nineteenth century. The ancestors of the Latvians built fortifications on the hilltops for centuries prior to the arrival of German Teutonic Knights and missionaries. Archaeological digs continue to uncover the contours of ancient Baltic society. In 1201, under the Germans, Riga was built. Latvia's landscape is dotted with relics of the following seven hundred years of different ruling powers’ hold on the eastern Baltic littoral. Most castles, churches and palaces tell of the local control of Baltic Germans, but others attest to the periods of Polish and Swedish rule. Many ruined castles bear witness to Russia's expansion into the Baltic area in the eighteenth century. By the end of that century, all of modern Latvia was within the realm of the Russian Empire. Baltic Germans continued to hold power locally, but the nineteenth century witnessed the rise of a new force. The peasant nation that constituted the bulk of the population began to see its ethnic differentness as a unique identity. This identity consisted of social and economic demands as well as the political mantra of modern nationalism: that the political unit should be synonymous with the ethnic. Latvia's history stretches for millennia, but the modern history of the Latvians begins essentially in the nineteenth century.