Old Town, Riga
Historically Riga's Town Hall Square was the city's administrative centre where, obviously, its Town Hall was located. The square was used for markets, local events and public executions.
It was pretty much destroyed by German bombing during World War II and what was left behind afterwards was demolished by the Soviets after they had retaken the city.
The strikingly ornate building now known as the "House of Blackheads" was originally built in 1334 as a relatively plain townhouse. In the 17th century it was taken over by a predominantly German group of unmarried merchants called the Brotherhood of Blackheads and many of its decorative features added then.
On its gates is the inscription, “Should I ever crumble to dust, rebuild my walls you must”, which could almost be the Latvian national motto.
After Latvia regained its independence in 1991 the square was redeveloped and the House of Blackheads lovingly restored to its former glory. The Town Hall has been rebuilt and the modern Museum of the Latvian Occupation is another noteworthy building. In the square's centre is a copy of a statue of the legendary Frankish military leader Roland, who was a mediaeval symbol of independence for the Hanseatic towns. The original statue was a relatively recent addition, having been unveiled in 1896, and was another victim of the WWII destruction.
The old town in Riga seems to consist of a series of open squares linked by its cobbled streets, one of the largest and the most striking of which is the Town Hall Square or Ratslaukums. The Town Hall itself dominates the north side, and opposite this is the dramatic facade of the House of the Blackheads. The other two sides are less attractive, with the somewhat brutalist block of the Occupation Museum on the west and some rather nicer and (mostly) older buildings housing shops and an art gallery on the east. Apart from the obviously newer museum (which dates from the early 1970s) the buildings are all faithful reproductions of older ones that were destroyed during the air raids of World War Two.
In the centre of the square stands a statue of St Roland, the patron saint of Riga. Like the square's buildings, this is a replica of an older statue erected here in 1897 which was pulled down by the Soviet powers in 1945. Damaged by the air raids it now sits in nearby St Peter's Church. This new version was erected in 2000. Roland was a nephew of Charlemagne and considered to represent justice and freedom, so his statue is deliberately situated so that he faces the town hall where just decisions must be taken. Traditionally this statue marks the city's centre and distances in Riga and Latvia are measured from here.
This is the heart of the city, the centre of its residents' lives from the Middle Ages onwards, where markets and feasts were held, proclamations made and public executions enacted. Today it is a natural magnet for visitors and I came to know it very well in my short time in Riga as it was the designated meeting place for all of our VT gatherings.
Next tip: the Town Hall
We love history and architecture, especially old architecture. So the Old Town of Riga was very special and beautiful to our eyes.
Riga is on the banks of the Daugava River.
There are places of worship of various faiths and denominations, including Jewish, Catholic, Russian Orthodox.
Many of the old buildings in Riga were built by various guilds. The origins of Riga start in the 13th Century. Thankfully the Old Town has survived wars, invasions and occupations.
Riga is UNESCO Heritage listed.
In 2014, Riga is a "European Capital of Culture", and Latvia has commenced using the Euro.
Riga's old town dates back to medieval times, but little remains of that, unlike Tallinn. What the old town does have in abundance, however, is wonderful mix of towering Art Nouveau and gabled Hanseatic, with the odd reminder of the middle ages dotted in between. The whole place can be encompassed in an afternoon, but you'll want to walk around it several times to soak it all up.
The highlight for me is St. Peter's church, and it's a good place to start from, as its distinctive spire is easily visible from all over the old town. You'll be able to navigate your way back to there from pretty much anywhere. It also overlooks Ratslauskums, the main square, where you'll find the Blackhead's Guild and the tourist office within it.
The old town is also tourist ground zero, for both sightseeing and partying. You'll find a good mix of people looking up at the wonderful architecture, and others looking down at the sick that they've just vomited up. This is where you'll find most of the best bars, hotels and restaurants.
As is the case with the historical centres of all European cities, it is very easy indeed to miss the smaller details and to be sucked into the larger whole picture.
But looking closely...and looking up..pays dividends.
The lower part of a building may look modern but the upper floors may well be pretty much as they were 300 or more years ago. Some of Riga's merchants' houses still have their hoists, used not only to lift goods into and out of the storage ares but also..as in Amsterdam..to lift new furniture into the upper rooms.
It's been common for centuries to place decorative fiddles and twiddles at roof-level or above. I don't know why, because no-one would ever be able to see its detail. I suppose it was just another way of expressing one's great power and wealth.
Check doorways too. This is where put markers of your importance (elaborate sculptures, your own shield or trademark) so any and all visitors will gets the message.
Until very recent times, illiteracy was the norm everywhere. Only the well-off could read and write. So.....how to find your way...how to find an address..how to make that delivery? Look for plaques or markers which probably served that function, like the well-worn eagle in the photos.
Rigans have also re-used cannon as bollards in at least two locations. See if you can sport where. :-)
Riga's old town buildings are increasingly (and well) restored and there are some lovely, and historical, buildings to see. It's well worth wandering the back streets and side-alleys too, not just the main 'drags'...you'll see much more. And you'll also see buildings which are awaiting restoration, giving an idea of what more of this part of Riga was like not so very long ago.
Some buildings are, of course, be on many people's 'must-see' lists (and tour group lists): the 'Three Brothers', the 'Cat House', the completely..and painstakingly....re-built 'House of the Blackheads'. But there are many more, including the oldest building in old town Riga ...the 13th-century chapel of St George, very easily missed and part of the Museum of Decorative and Applied Arts at Skarnu iela 10.
I particularly liked the painted Art Deco building on the corner of Janja iela and Kaleju iela..but just walking the streets is a joy. More photos in my travelogue
The Historic Centre of Riga ia a UNESCO World Heritage Site. it's not hard to see why. The city is most noted for its extensive Jugendstil (German Art Nouveau) architecture UNESCO says unparalleled anywhere in the world. The lack of traffic in the old town (due to the congestion charge) helps to create a pedestrian and tourist friendly ambiance. It would be fair to say that there are some absolute 'must see' buildings (with the possible exception of the house of the Blackheads) in the old town. It's more of an 'ensemble piece' - just wander about and enjoy.
We enjoyed Riga Old City, great for a walk, to enjoy its’ sights. Nice restaurants with great price and choice offers, tourists can find in old town.
One of the evenings, after pre booked meal in Victory pub, we had pub crawling with local guide from Travel2riga Company. We visited couple bars and pubs, tried local drinks and listen local musicians.
The old Town of Riga is one of many World Heritage Sites in Europe. If you want to stepped back in time and explore the medieval this is the place you want to hang around. There are many buildings with amazing architectural design like the Art Nouveau, medieval cathedrals and churches, museums, town hall, monuments, statues, cobbled street. Many of the buildings have been restored or are being restored. Feeling hungry no problem you can find restaurants, café all over Riga old town, be careful you might gain weight. Still bored no worries go and park your bum in one of the many bars and get yourself slosh, while you’re at it go and ask for Riga Black Balsam. I think you’ll find everything you need at the Old Town so without further rambling on go and visit Riga Old Town.
Stretching along Jacob's barracks is a reconstructed fragment of the original city walls. The wall and tower were built in the 13th century and the reconstruction finished in 1987. The walls formed a defensive structure along with the gunpowder tower 70 meters further down the street.
The Old Town in Riga is also a beautiful place to visit. Sights here include the great and small guild halls, the cat's house, (a house facing the guild halls. It has cat statues on its roof with their bottoms facing the guild halls as a sign of disrespect.) the beautifully restored house of the blackheads, the three brothers (three houses next to each other which each show a different style and period of architecture) and the Riga Museum of Occupation. There are also many churches and a beautiful cathedral.
There are also lots of places to eat and drink. There is a beautiful park separating the old and new towns. When we visited, it was a very popular place for people to have their wedding photos taken. The Independence Monument also known as Milda is located on the parkland. It used to face a statue of Lenin, but that is long gone.
The House of Dannenstern actually consists of three connected blocks, one in the main street, and others in the courtyard, all connected by a road.
The main block is a two-storey building with an attic, a basement, and five attic floors built into the roof. This House isn't built in Art Nouveau style, but in Baroque style in 1696. It was once the largest private house in Riga, belonging to a merchant from Holland who owned more than 150 ships! The King of Sweden gave him the title
The beautiful building in my photo, is Mikhail Chekhov Riga Russian Theatre, the world’s oldest Russian theatre outside of Russia.
It was built in 1883, and has enjoyed a solid international reputation for excellence in drama, and is in partnership with the Edinburgh International Festival.
Modern classics, as well as Russian works are adapted and interpreted by the theatre. Children's theatre, musicals, and international tours are also included in the theatre's standard programme of up to seven productions per year.
In 1685, Reitern House was called a "new style of living" house!
The House is named after the person who lived here, an important Town Hall member and merchant named "Johann Reitern."
It is beautiful from the outside, and is said to be the most beautiful merchant house in Riga.
Painted pink and decorated in baroque style, it has lots of beautifully done sculptures above the main entrance. It is believed it was built like this to show the owner's power.
The house had many firsts, like it was situated with its long side along the street, it had high ceilings, which was not the norm for somebodys home, and there were large windows.
It is now owned by a Latvian Journalist and is and exhibition site and has a cafe.
The Wagner street is where the famous German composer and conductor, Richard Wagner's house is. He was the Director of Riga Opera House during (1837-18399
His business was not good and ended up with debts. He and his wife fled to Paris!