Second World War bombing raids reduced the buildings around Town Hall Square to rubble in 1941. Only... the statue of Roland, the knight who has symbolized north German cities since the 14th century, survived the war almost unscathed. Fortunately, the restoration of Riga's most important square was completed in 2001 in time for the 800th anniversary of the city's foundation.
On entering Town Hall Square, the most striking feature is the splendid Renaissance decorated gables of the House of Blackheads. The house was initially used by various fraternities and associations before falling into the hands of the Brotherhood of the Blackheads, a group of young unmarried merchants who took as their patron saint an imaginary African black moor (hence their name), in the 17th century. On the opposite side of the square, you will see the reconstructed Town Hall with its facade, which is relatively simple when compared to that of the House of Blackheads. A modern shopping mall was built into the new Town Hall during rebuilding.more
The House of Blackheads is one of Riga's architectural gems. It was badly damaged by bombing on 29 June... 1941 and torn down by the Soviets after the end of the Second World War. However, the House of Blackheads was entirely rebuilt to its original design for Riga's 800th anniversary celebrations in 2001. This reconstruction was undertaken using photographs and details from the few remaining documents. Since then, the building has once again been Riga's pride and joy.
The reconstruction also fulfilled one of the wishes of the Blackheads. In the 15th century, they erected a plaque in their house prophetically requesting, "If ever I should fall into ruin, build me up anew". The showpiece of the brick building is its facade with its decorated gables in the style of the Dutch Renaissance. It is decorated with the lion-guarded coats of arms of the Hanseatic cities of Riga, Bremen, Hamburg and Lübeck. The front is also adorned by an astronomic clock, St. Mary, St. Mauritius (the Blackheads' imaginary Moorish patron saint from whom they got their name) and St. George fighting the lion. Inside the building, you can visit the wonderful banqueting hall on the top floor and the Blackheads' silver collection.more
Construction of Riga Castle on the banks of the Daugava began in 1330. To this day, its four-sided layout... with towers at each corner serves as a reminder that this was once the home of a knightly order. Unfortunately, the castle has been destroyed and repeatedly converted over the centuries.
The exterior of the castle is unadorned since the structure was primarily designed according to military considerations. The two mighty round towers are particularly imposing from the opposite side of the river. The Lead Tower occupies the south-eastern corner, the Tower of the Holy Ghost the north-western corner. The castle was the residence of the Russian governor in the 18th century, and during the first Latvian republic it served as the seat of the president. It became the president's official residence again when Latvia regained its independence. When the president is at home, the Latvian national flag and the presidential banner are raised over the Tower of the Holy Ghost. In addition to the reception rooms, the castle also contains the Museum of Latvian History (open Wed-Sun 11 am-5 pm), the Museum of Foreign Art (Tue-Sun 11 am-5 pm) and the Rainis Museum of Literature and Art History (Wed-Sun 11 am-6 pm).more
Jurmala, one of the most beautiful and long-established Baltic Sea bathing resorts, lies just outside... the gates of the Latvian capital. Its fine sandy beaches stretching more than 20 mi (30 km) attracted aristocrats and the crowned heads of Europe as far back as the 19th century. The resort, which lies 12 mi (20 km) west of Riga, can now be reached in just half an hour by public transport.
The first bathing beach was opened in 1837. The opening of the rail line to St. Petersburg shortly thereafter brought yet more holidaymakers to the area. Jurmala is still cashing in on its beach, with its fine sand surrounded by dunes and pine forests. The blue flag indicates that the water quality is good, and because the beach slopes gently into the sea, it is also ideal for families with children. Even though the people of Riga flock to Jurmala beach from the city at weekends, it never gets really crowded. Simply walk down the beach for a few minutes, and you will be almost completely on your own. However, Jurmala has much more to offer than just a beach. Many of the resort's spa hotels have been renovated from top to toe, and now provide every conceivable type of health and pampering treatment. Nor should you miss an opportunity to wander though the narrow streets of Jurmala and admire the wooden houses and their artistically-carved facades.more
The brilliant white building housing the Latvian National Opera is fascinating both due to its clear... classical forms and its location at one end of the late 19th-century park. The performances by the National Opera enjoy an excellent reputation not only across Latvia but also abroad. Its repertoire consists mainly of international classics, but also includes pieces by Latvian composers.
The current National Opera House was built between 1860 and 1863 and was originally called the German Theater of Riga. The edifice follows strict classicist ideals. Its front is adorned by six Ionic columns that together support a portico. Inside the tympanum, there are several figures grouped around Apollo, the Greek god of poetry. The roof is crowned by a lyre and two female figures symbolising tragedy and comedy. The building was gutted by fire in 1882, but was subsequently rebuilt to its original design. Just over a hundred years later, the National Opera House was carefully restored and fitted with modern technology at the same time. Now it once again lives up to the name by which Rigans know their opera: "the White House".more
St. John's is a lovely example of red-brick Gothic architecture and is the only church in the city with... a stepped gable. It was originally the chapel of the Dominican monastery founded in 1234. The church only attained its present, mainly late-Gothic, appearance towards the end of the 15th century.
The Dominican order was dissolved during the Reformation and the church became Lutheran. All that remains of the original Dominican monastery is the entrance gate leading into St. John's Yard. The inside of the church contains a unique star-shaped vault, although the Baroque altar, with its figures of the apostles Peter and Paul, is also noteworthy. Two open-mouthed heads can be seen high up on the outer wall facing Skarnu Street. It is believed that monks used to sit and preach behind these mouths. Several skeletons were discovered during work to restore the church walls. It is assumed that these probably belong to people buried alive in the walls because popular superstition had it that this protected the church from being harmed.more
From the 14th century onwards, the craftsmen and merchants of Riga organized themselves into guilds.... These were only dissolved in 1935. The splendid guildhalls on Amatu Street can still be admired to this day.
The handicraft guild was initially based in the chapel of the former Franciscan monastery. Because it was smaller than the house of the merchants, it was known as the "Small Guildhall". The present guildhall was erected between 1864 and 1866 in the English late Gothic style to match the style of the Large Guildhall. Artistic stained glass was later added to nearly all the windows of the Small Guildhall and the interior was richly decorated. Although they were subsequently whitewashed over, renovation work in the year 2000 managed to bring most of these paintings to light again.
The merchants' guild also organized itself around the middle of the 14th century. It gathered in the former refectory of the Franciscan monastery. Reconstruction of their guildhall between 1852 and 1860 saw the addition of a splendid hall with a Gothic vaulted ceiling. Today, the philharmonic orchestra plays in the Large Guildhall, while the Small Guildhall is used as a venue for conferences and cultural events.more
Wide, cobbled Cathedral Square is one of the most popular meeting points for locals and tourists alike.... In the summer, its street cafés and bars are always busy. St. Mary's Cathedral, which dominates the square, is the largest sacred building in the Baltic region. The square faces directly onto the wonderful north portal of the cathedral.
The foundation stone of the three-nave red-brick church was laid by Bishop Albert in 1211. Nowadays you have to go down a few steps to get to the cathedral from the square because the height of the road has been raised by about 6 ft (2 m) over the course of the centuries. The square only attained its present appearance in 1935 when many buildings were demolished to create more space. To get an idea of how cramped life in Riga used to be within the city's restricting walls, take a walk down nearby Rozena Street, which is barely 10 ft (3 m) wide. Cathedral Square is lined by a number of imposing buildings, the most important of these being the stock exchange, which was designed to resemble a Venetian Renaissance palace. Next to this stands the no less glorious former commercial bank building, which now houses Radio Latvia.more
City: Ģaujas Nacionālais Parks in/near Riga Category: Sightseeing
Among nature lovers and active vacationists, Gauja National Park, located a total of 30 mi (50 km)... northeast of Rīga, is among the most beautiful destinations. The largest villages in the national park are Cēsis, Sigulda und Ligatne; the landscape is characterized by the Gauja River winding through deeply carved glacial valleys for miles. The river bed is lined with colorful sand stone rocks and richly wooded hills, which harbor many caves. A three-day canoe tour from Valmiera to Sigulda, which almost exclusively leads through the national park, is among the favorite activities. With smooth paddle strokes you can float downstream past red and yellow sand stone rocks, watch water birds and stop at many resting places. The stately fortresses built by crusading military orders in Cēsis und Turaida not far from the river are a worthwhile destination as well.more
The church of St. Peter, the patron saint of Riga, is mentioned in documents dating back as far as 1209.... Since then, the church has been repeatedly rebuilt and expanded. The church spire also had to be renewed several times because of structural damage and fires. On 29 June 1941, the spire was hit by a shell, causing it to collapse completely.
It was not until 1973 that the last of the Second World War damage to St. Peter's was repaired. After the work was completed, tradition dictated that a glass be thrown from the top of the spire. The glass smashed into smithereens on the ground below, which was considered a good omen. The more pieces into which the glass smashed, the longer the church was believed to remain standing. To this day, the silhouette of the slender spire, which is crowned by a golden weathercock, dominates the cityscape. The outside of the church shows many similarities to northern German Gothic brick structures. The 80 metre (265 ft) long and 30 metre (100 ft) high central area of the three-nave basilica is almost empty today, yet it is still used for church services. St. Peter's also stages exhibitions.more
Riga once had a city wall with 28 towers of various heights and shapes. Twenty-five gates, which were... locked from sunset to sunrise, provided the only access to the city. Today, only a few remnants of these fortifications remain. The most impressive of these is the Powder Tower, erected in the 14th century.
This round red-brick tower with its 3-metre (10-ft) thick walls and arrow slits loomed over the largest access road, forming one of the city's most strategic defence points. It was almost completely destroyed during an attack by Swedish forces in 1621, but was soon rebuilt again. The walls still contain canon balls that apparently date back to an attack on Riga by Peter the Great in 1710. Today the Powder Tower houses the War Museum, which documents the Latvian's struggle for independence. A few steps further on there is a four-sided tower that has been reconstructed along with a small section of the city wall. A little further along the road there is the Swedish Gate, the only fully-preserved gate into the city, which was built straight through a house along the city wall in the late 17th century.more
The Mentzendorf House once belonged to one of the rich merchant families and gives a good insight into... the life of wealthy Rigan burghers in the 17th century. Opened in 1992, the Metzendorf House is the only museum that addresses social and cultural aspects of the upper echelons of the city at the time.
A terrible fire destroyed large parts of the city in 1677. The Mentzendorf House was erected in 1695 on one of the sites opened up by the fire. The Mentzendorfs bought the house in 1884 and continued to live there until 1939 when the family followed Hitler's call to return "Home to the Reich". The kitchen on the ground floor contains an interesting fireplace. Music recitals were given in the music room on the upper floor. Of note are the Jean-Antoine Watteau-inspired murals that adorn a large proportion of the walls of the house. A few well-chosen antiques complete this snapshot of the life of rich Rigan merchants in a bygone era.more
The Swedish Gate is situated at the end of Aldaru iela and marks the border between the historical city... center and the straight Torņa iela street. It remains as the only one of the former 25 gates of the city wall. It was erected in 1698 when the Swedes reigned in Rīga. Since the occupying troops wanted to have direct access from the barracks to the old part of town, they knocked down a wall of a residential house. Later, this hole in the city wall was extended and turned into the Swedish Gate. The hangman of the city once lived in the house next to the Swedish Gate. According to a legend, a pair of lovers was walled in in the gate alive during the Swedish era and has been haunting the building ever since.more
The motor museum, a ten minutes’ drive north of the city center, is the largest of its kind in the... entire Baltic states. Altogether, the collection comprises more than 200 historic vehicles; most of them are Soviet productions. The wax figure of Leonid Breschnew behind the wheel of his Rolls Royce “Silver Shadow” after the accident is especially popular among the visitors. Breschnew, just like Stalin, was a lover of expensive and luxurious cars, which he got as a present from foreign statesmen for the most part. In the 1990s, the garages of the Kremlin harbored more than 20 luxury limousines; three of which – a Rolls Royce Silver Shadow, a Lincoln Continental and a Mercedes Benz 280 SEL – can be admired in the car museum of Rīga.more
City: Salaspils in/near Riga Category: Sightseeing
Salaspils is a city with about 20,000 residents located at Daugava River less than 12 mi (20 km) southeast... of Rīga. The place gained notoriety during the Second World War because of its local police prison and labor camp. Probably more than 3,000 of 12,000 inmates of the camp - which was similar to a German concentration camp - lost their lives. Since the mid-1960s, there is a memorial at the place of the former Salaspils camp. On the site where the barracks once stood seven monumental concrete sculptures remind of the dead today. The muffled sound of a metronome continuously reminds of the victims’ heartbeats.more
The "three brothers" huddle together so closely that it seems as if they have always stood side-by-side.... And yet the three houses were erected separately over the course of several centuries. Although they are often associated with the "three sisters" in the Estonian capital Tallinn, the latter were built at the same time by a businessman for his daughters.
The house slightly further back (no. 17) dates back to the 15th century and is the city's oldest stone building. Of particular note are its tiny windows since houses were taxed according to the size of their windows at the time. When it was first built, it served as both a home and a warehouse, although it only had a very small bedsit on the ground floor. Today it houses the Latvian architecture museum. Apart from the entrance, which was added at a later date, the middle house (no. 19) acquired its current appearance in the mid-17th century. The narrow, left-most house (no. 21) is the youngest element in this ensemble and was built at the end of the 17th century.more
The oldest open-air museum in the Baltic occupies an idyllic spot on Lake Juglas, some 8 kilometres (5... miles) east of Riga. The museum, which spans an area of more than 100 hectares (250 acres), provides a complete overview of the historic settlement structures of Latvia.
Up to the Second World War, the museum was still relatively small, and it was not until the 1970s and 1980s that the number of houses was increased to its current figure of about 100. Most of the buildings date back to the 18th and 19th century, but some are even older. The site is divided into four areas corresponding to the four historical regions of Latvia: Kurzeme, Latgale, Vidzeme and Zemgale. On display are farms with completely furnished houses, a fishing village from Kurzeme and a craftsman's courtyard from Vidzeme. There are also windmills and a Lutheran church from Kurzeme in which services are still held on Sundays. The museum is especially interesting at the weekend when various craftsmen display their skills. The number 1 bus goes straight from Riga to the museum.more
The wonderful facade of the House of Blackheads has given back Town Hall Square its historical appearance.... Only the building on the western side of the square, which now houses the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia, serves as a reminder of the Soviet era. The dark, unadorned, box-like building not only blocks the view of the river. It is also by far the ugliest structure in the entire city.
Officially opened on 22 April 1970 to mark the 100th anniversary of Lenin's birth, the Museum of the Red Latvian Riflemen, as it was known, was primarily a tool for communist propaganda. The red-granite riverside memorial to Soviet riflemen is another relic from this era. The Museum of the Red Latvian Riflemen was closed when Latvia gained its independence and subsequently used to house the Occupation Museum, which conveys a very graphic and moving impression of the country's occupation by Germany and the Soviet Union.more
The Latvian National Museum of Art contains a large collection of paintings, drawings and sculptures... by Latvian artists and Russians living in Latvia. Its archives contain more than 50,000 works of art, which together document the development of art in the Baltic region from the mid-18th century to the present day.
The museum is housed in two buildings. The main building, at Kri?jana Valdemâra 10a, was designed in 1905 by the German architect Wilhelm Neumann, who was also the first director of the museum. The building is considered one of the city's most beautiful historical structures, and was the first building anywhere in the Baltics to be erected purely as a museum. Some of the exhibits are on display at the Arsenal, a classic Russian-style hall built in the early 19th century. In addition to staging numerous special exhibitions, the museum also has three permanent exhibitions. One is dedicated to Latvian art from the 19th to mid-20th century, a second focuses on Baltic art from the late 18th to the late 19th century, while the third contains Russian art from the 18th century to the first half of the 20th century.more
If you stand between the two guildhalls, your eyes settle on a lovely renovated Art Nouveau house with... two towers, each of which is topped by a black cat. Because of this rooftop feature, everyone knows the building as "the Cat House".
The following story is associated with these two cats. About 100 years ago, the house belonged to a rich German businessman who was a member of the "small guild", but was keen to be accepted into the "large guild". This led to a dispute in the course of which the businessman had two cats made and placed on his roof. However, both of the cats faced away from their respective guildhall, a gesture seen as an incredible affront by the guild members. There are various versions of the conclusion of the story. Some say that the rebellious businessman agreed to turn the cats around and was therefore admitted to the large guild. Others claim that the First World War put an end to the dispute. At any rate, the cats now face in the "right" direction.more
In the year 1211, Bishop Albert laid the foundation stone for what would eventually become the largest... religious building in the Baltic: St. Mary's Cathedral. The three-nave brick church was repeatedly rebuilt over the years, a fact reflected by the different architectural styles apparent in the edifice. The main elements are late Romanesque, early Gothic and Baroque. The spire, which today measures 300 ft (90 m), is topped by a traditional weathercock and has been hit by lightening and destroyed no fewer than four times.
Inside, St. Mary's Cathedral has space to seat up to 5,000 people. Most of the original fittings of the church were destroyed during the Reformation. Nonetheless, the interior has quite a few interesting aspects, such as the richly-decorated pulpit and its lovely stained glass windows. However, the jewel in the crown is the organ, which has a total of 6,768 pipes and four stops, making it one of Europe's largest. The organ was made in Ludwigsburg in 1884 by Walcker & Co., considered one of the best organ-building firms of the time. The richness and purity of the organ's sounds are so impressive that the regular recitals held in the cathedral are truly an extraordinary experience.more
The 104-ft (42-m) Freedom Monument stands on Brīvības bulvāris, one of the main arteries through the... city. This slender pillar was unveiled on 18 November 1935, the 17th anniversary of the declaration of the Latvian Republic. At its tip stands Milda, a 30-ft (9 m) female figure holding three golden stars to the heavens. Milda's stars represent Kurzeme, Latgale and Vidzeme, the three historical regions of Latvia.
Because the bronze figure has symbolized the Latvian desire for independence ever since, many a drama has been played out at Milda's feet. She was a constant thorn in the eye of the city's Russian occupiers, and they tried everything to get rid of her. First they wanted to tear her down, then the pillar was allegedly in such poor condition that it threatened the passing traffic. Even a last-ditch attempt to convert Milda into Mother Russia holding the three Baltic states in her hands was doomed to failure. Milda stood her ground and protected the demonstrators demanding perestroika and glasnost below her. That is why many Latvians are still grateful to her and regularly lay flowers at the foot of her column.more
The more than 800 Art Nouveau buildings in Riga, which together form a globally unique ensemble, are... largely the reason why the city has been named a Unesco World Cultural Heritage site. At the start of the 20th century, Riga experienced a real building boom, during which time most of these splendid buildings were erected. Fortunately for Riga, the Art Nouveau movement was at its peak as the city built entire streets of new apartment blocks.
After years of neglect, most of the Art Nouveau buildings have been renovated and are now resplendent again. A stroll through the streets of Riga admiring the artistic facades is a veritable feast for the eyes. Often enough, the buildings are decorated from the ground floor right to the roof with sumptuous ornaments, delicately carved faces or animal and flower motifs. One of the nicest streets is Alberta, which was named after the founder of the city, Bishop Albert. Many of the buildings erected between 1901 and 1908 were planned by Michail Eisenstein, the father of the famous film director Sergei Eisenstein. Of particular note in Alberta are houses numbers 2, 2a, 6, 8 and 13. If you want to discover even more of Riga's richly decorated Art Nouveau facades, we recommend you head for Elisabetes, Audeju, Smilsu and Klaku streets.more
The Krisjanis Barons Museum is dedicated to the father of Latvia's folk songs, so-called "dainas". It... is situated in the flat in which Barons (1835-1923) lived in the last four years of his life.
The small museum may not be one of the first ports of call for foreign visitors to the city, but Barons is something of a national hero for the Latvians. With indefatigable patience, he collected more than 200,000 dainas. These mostly four-line folk songs provide multifaceted insight into the history, ethics, language and daily lives of the Latvians. Barons was the first person to write them down, systematically categorise them and publish them in a series of volumes. Because the Latvians continued Barons' work after his death, there are now 1.5 million dainas, so you could say that there's one daina for every member of the population. The centrepiece of the exhibition is a copy of the chest of drawers in which Barons kept his dainas. The original chest of drawers is stored in a vault at the Academy of Science and is revered as a national treasure.more
Even from afar, you can make out the striking halls of the Rīga Central Market. Five huge halls have... been part of one of the largest and most interesting European markets since its opening in 1930. After the First World War, two huge zeppelin hangars in Wainoden were passed to Latvia, which were converted into five market halls in Rīga in the following period. Since then, the locals have been provided with one of the best and cheapest shopping facilities of the capital. Today the market comprises an area of almost 15 acres (6 ha), about a quarter of which is roofed. Even those who only want to look around will be fascinated by the overwhelming variety of fish, meat, fruit and vegetables on offer.more