Riga Off The Beaten Path

  • Off The Beaten Path
    by wabat
  • The
    The "ruins"
    by toonsarah
  • Off The Beaten Path
    by wabat

Most Recent Off The Beaten Path in Riga

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    Ulugh Beg Monument

    by wabat Updated Apr 8, 2016

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    Having established that this intricately carved monument, tucked away in the north western part of Kronvalda Park, is of medieval ruler, scientist, mathematician, and astronomer Mīrzā Muhammad Tāraghay bin Shāhrukh (1394-1449), better known as Ulugh Beg, from Central Asia I got to wondering what links he had with Riga to be honoured here.

    From what I can tell he had absolutely no connection with Riga and this monument was a 2004 diplomatic gift from the Government of Uzbekistan.

    For the record, Ulugh Beg, a Timured ruler, is recognised as a founder of modern astronomy whose main achievements were a star catalogue and astronomical maps which were once widely used by European seafarers.

    This worthy gentleman, who has a crater on the moon named after him, was a grandson of Timur, the conqueror of Western, South and Central Asia and destroyer of Golden Horde.

    Location: Kronvalda Park


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    Ulugh Beg Monument Ulugh Beg Monument Ulugh Beg Monument
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    ‘Graffiti’ in the Old City

    by wabat Updated Feb 23, 2016

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    Of late I have taken a liking to street art – aka graffiti. Lest my Reader think that I have developed anti-social tendencies in my advancing years, please have a look at this review on another of my pages - Paint the town any colour you like!

    Back to Riga, I actually only recall seeing one piece of graffiti and a quite nice piece at that, on an underpass, from a tram I was taking to the Moscow District / former Jewish Ghetto areas of the city. Had I had more time to explore further away from the Old City area I imagine I would have found lots more. I can’t imagine Riga being very different from other larger cities anywhere in the world in this regard.

    Given the first three images attached, the title of this review is a bit of an exaggeration. Irrespective of that, I came across these opportunistic pieces on a building within a few metres of the Swedish Gate and loved them.

    I imagine that by the time you make it to Riga they will have been painted over. You are however likely to see the more permanent display in picture 4, also on Trokšnu Iela, and lots of colourful window boxes as in image 5.

    I do love coming across little side attractions when I travel and Riga certainly did not disappoint in this regard.

    Location: Trokšnu Iela and many other places for those with open eyes!


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    From Soviet Union to European Union

    by wabat Updated Feb 23, 2016

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    In 1991 Latvia shook off the shackles of the Soviet Union, ending 51 years of forced occupation and rule of the country by Nazi Germany (1941-44) and the Soviet Union (1940-41 and 1944 -1991).

    In 2003 the people of Latvia (or 73% of them) turned out at polling stations to take part in a referendum on joining the European Union. Opponents of membership argued that Latvia should not give up the sovereignty it had so recently gained from the Soviet Union while supporters, among other arguments, put forward to view that membership would actually protect Latvia from any future Russian pressure.

    Over two thirds of those who cast a vote voted in favour of membership and Latvia duly joined the European Union in May 2004, along with seven other former Communist countries: the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia..

    I came across this small, particularly ugly, sculpture less than 100 metres from the bank of the Daugava River en-route from the Big Christopher statue to Riga Castle and Our Lady of Sorrows Church. Not being an expert in Latvian but seeing the blue stars I surmised that it had something to do with commemorating Latvia joining of the European Union in 2004.

    Well, no not directly it didn’t but indirectly it did. On subsequent research I have ascertained that Eiropiade or Europeade is an organisation which runs an annual folk festival in European Union countries. As it happened, the festival was held in Riga in the year it joined the European Union and the sculpture is a gift from Europeade to Riga to commemorate the city's hosting of the event in 2004.

    I can find no information as to who is responsible for this piece of art but I imagine their mother knows and still loves them all the same!

    Location: Close to the intersection of Daugava Gatve and 11 Novembra Krastmala


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    Gift from Europeade
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    Peter I Was Here – And Still Is, Secretly!

    by wabat Updated Feb 23, 2016

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    1940 was not the first time that Latvia played enforced host to the Russia/ Soviet bear. In 1710 Russia, under Tsar Peter I (Peter the Great) defeated Sweden in the Great Northern War and took control of both Latvia and Estonia from Sweden. Peter is reputed to have personally launched the first shells in the siege of Riga, in November 1709. Russia held onto Latvia for over two hundred years, until WWI.

    Peter the Great visited Riga on a number of occasions, and indeed legend tells us that he first visited it secretly in 1691 when he was almost shot by the Swedes as he examined Swedish fortifications.

    On later visits (as Tsar) he stayed at 9 Palasta Street, not in the house depicted here which was built in 1869 but rather an earlier palace, from which the street derived its name - Palasta (Palace), at this address. A plaque lets the visitor know of Peter the Great’s association with the site.

    This is the only existing reminder of Peter the Great that I believe is on public display in Riga. At least it is the only one I am aware of. St Peter’s Church is named after Christ’s disciple and not Peter the Great.

    By way of digression, though an interesting one, I am aware of one reminder of Peter the Grear which is in Riga though not on public display.

    Unsurprisingly, Riga used to have a large statue of Peter the Great. It was erected on 4 July, 1910, where the Freedom Monument stands today, in honor of the bicentennial of the taking of Latvia from Sweden (picture 2 – public domain picture). Five years later it was put on a ship bound for St Petersburg, where it would be melted down and converted into munitions for WWI efforts.

    En-route, the ship was torpedoed and sunk by a German submarine. In 1934 the statue was recovered and returned to Latvia. Then independent Latvia had no need for Peter who was consigned, in pieces, to a warehouse. Since independence (1991) there have been various attempts to have the, since restored, statue put back on public display.

    In the dead of night on 17 August 2001, at the time of Riga's 800th anniversary celebrations, Eugene Gomberg, the businessmen who had restored the statue, secretly put in on display in Kronvalda Park. The Council went into meltdown and it was removed, three days later, to a private parking lot behind Gomberg's office, where it has remained ever since. Picture 3 attached (copyright Aleksandr Galiullin – 2013) shows the restored statue of Peter I on private property in Riga.

    While Peter liberated Latvia from Sweden, his three month siege of the city resulted in the deaths of more than 60,000 people through war, starvation and disease. Should he be honoured or not?

    Life would have been a lot easier had Russia taken the statue when offered it in early 2001.

    It remains to be seen what happens next.

    Location (of plaque in Picture 1 - not statue): 9 Palasta Street


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    Peter I Was Here Peter I Here In 1910 Peter I - Still in Riga, Secretly
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    The Ethnographic Open-Air museum of Latvia

    by Inguuna Updated Jul 6, 2014

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    The Ethnographic Open-Air museum of Latvia, which is the largest and the oldest of that kind of museums in Europe, in more than 80 hectares shows the life what it was many years, even some centuries ago. You can see there more than 100 houses from different regions of Latvia, the fishermen, farmer villages, windmills, churches. Do enter them, they houses the exhibitions with that time objects, tools, furnitures and art objects.
    The museum is very popular for its' applied folk art and craft fair which is held every year on the first weekend of June when there come more than 500 craftsmen. Read my tip about the fair.
    The event celebration in traditional form is very popular there, on Christmas, Easter and Midsummer day.

    How to get there:
    By bus:
    take the bus #1 (departure stop: Abrenes iela) to Brīvdabas muzejs stop.

    By tram:
    take the tram #6 to the last departure stop Jugla. You need to walk by foot away from city centre, pass by fuel station, cross lake and turn right. There will be sign Brīvdabas muzejs.

    By bicycle:
    there is bike path which lead to museum. You can't enter with it in museum but lock and leave it at the entrance.
    Company SIXT offers bike hire at many places around Riga.

    GPS coordinates:
    56.995834,24.264141

    Notice:
    If you're coming by car, leave it only at place where it's allowed. Usually when the fair is held everyone leave car on the road side and gets notice by police.

    During summer, museum is open from 10 to 20. During winter season, museum is open to 17.
    The entrance fee is ~2.13 Euros. (2014)

    Phone: +37167994106

    Website: http://www.brivdabasmuzejs.lv

    The Ethnographic Open-Air museum of Latvia The Ethnographic Open-Air museum of Latvia Applied folk art and craft fair Applied folk art and craft fair
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    Outdoor Museum of Soviet Aircraft - Riga Airport

    by DAO Updated Jun 17, 2014

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    During the daytime you can go and see the outdoor museum of Soviet Aircraft at the airport. There are dozens of jets and helicopters. The ‘Curator’ comes to the gate when you sound the bell and will negotiate a price for entry. I think I told him I only had 5 Euros. He restores the aircraft and I watch him working on a jet. You can actually see the development of soviet planes to jets and also helicopters. You also can see some of the Cold War adventures of the USSR. Signs are in Russian and English. It’s not cheap to get in, but almost no museum in the world has this collection of aircraft. Besides, the owner restores the aircraft.

    In the largest Hind helicopter he has different uniforms and aircrew gear on display. It is really impressive if you are an aviation or cold war enthusiast. It is amazing how many troops they can get into one and how big it really is.

    Please note: The white haired man in the photo is the curator and founder, Mr Talpa Viktor .

    Open 09:00 - 18:00, Sat, Sun by appointment only. I rang the bell and he let me in anyway!

    Phone: +371 2686 2707

    Website: http://aviamuseum.org/

    The Curator restoring planes
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    Take a stroll on Riga left bank - Kipsala island

    by Inguuna Updated Jun 14, 2014

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    Kipsala is one of river Daugava islands where to have a nice and relaxing walk. The island is more than 300 hundred years old and its' name comes from inhabitants' surname who once lived here. Historic inhabitants of the island were fishermen and wood rafts-men. The ancient architecture was wooden fishermen villages, sawmill, gypsum factory. Nowadays you can see there the same wooden architecture only renovated, renovated gypsum factory which is converted into apartment house, the modern architecture and soviet time architecture.

    I've made travelogue with my route in Kipsala, you are welcome to enjoy it.

    How to get to Kipsala island from Old city, read here.
    To see more photos of Kipsala, click here.

    In Kipsala is located Riga City Camping.
    You can have a good meal here.

    Wooden architecture
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    Lighthouse in City centre

    by Inguuna Written Jun 14, 2014

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    Strolling around one of many parks in Riga - Kronvalda park you can notice not large lighthouse near the city canal. It is the former lighthouse which functioned till 1998 at Riga east mole. By Riga east mole passes all the ships which enter in the city.
    This was the first lighthouse in territory of Riga port which was built in 1861. It was lit on night and switched off in daytime. This lighthouse was restored in 1918 because of damage which Russian army made during WWI.

    Lighthouse
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    Laci bread factory

    by toonsarah Written Jun 11, 2014

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    On one of the afternoons of our meeting a group of VTers boarded a coach and set off out of Riga to visit the Laci bread factory. Although this was an organised excursion it is perfectly possible to visit the factory independently so I include a review here.

    Our tour, like several of those available, included both learning about the bread-making and participating in some activities. First, we were introduced to the company and its ethos through a short film. We learned that Laci means “bear” and the name comes from an old farmhouse belonging to the founder’s father, where he first learned the skills of baking traditional bread. Then we donned appropriate clothing – thin white paper coats, hats into which every strand of hair must be tucked, and plastic “slippers” pulled over our shoes. The factory must be kept immaculately clean, of course.

    In the factory we saw the bread ovens and watched bakers shaping loaves and feeding them into these ovens on large wooden paddles. We learned about the different loaf sizes, about cooking times and temperatures, and the importance of quality control to ensure that no loaf leaves the factory if not up to the required standard. All of this was very interesting. But the most fun was making our own giant sweet pretzel! We were divided into two teams, given some dough already made to stretch and flatten, shown how to fill it with sweet things (coloured sugar crystals, dried apricots etc), to roll and plait it, and finally to cover it with beaten egg and sweet crumble. Our efforts were then taken away for baking while we saw more of the factory and were given samples to taste as we went – four different sorts of bread (I liked the traditional and the fruit loaves best), and also some delicious so-called toasts – little strips of bread deep-fried and dusted with cheese or rubbed with garlic – yummy!

    Then it was time to head for the café, having first removed all our baking attire. We were given delicious herbal tea to drink, and to eat – our own pretzels! We were amazed at how well these had turned out, with some even suspecting that others had been substituted for our efforts, but I was sure that these were ours, based on size and shape. We also received vouchers for a small discount in the attached shop, although only for bread and not for the other products they sell (a wide selection of those toasts (I bought a pack of herb-flavoured ones), sweets and chocolates, jam and other goodies).

    If you visit privately you can choose between a variety of tours, although it’s not clear (to me at least) whether you need to book in advance. Certainly there would be no need to book to visit the café to try the bread and to buy some in the shop. As this is, despite the presence of a factory, still very much a traditional operation, and the bread definitely better than that I tasted elsewhere in Riga, this is well worth doing. I think though that you would need to have your own car to do so. Failing that, you can buy Laci bread in the Central Market in Riga.

    By the way, it is not permitted to take any photos that show the faces of those working in the factory.

    Next tip: Sigulda Castle

    Website: http://www.laci.lv/index.php/eng/izklaide/ekskursijas/

    Samples Finished loaves Shaping a loaf Ready to bake! Our pretzel

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    Sigulda Castle

    by toonsarah Written Jun 11, 2014

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    Our other “organised excursion” from Riga took us north, to visit a couple of castles and other sights. Our first stop on this trip was here at Sigulda Castle. In fact, there are two castles here – the ruins of an old 13th century one and “new” Sigulda castle which was built in 1881. This latter building si today occupied by the local town council (what a fabulous council office this is!) so it was the ruins of the old castle that we had come to see. These consist of the main gate tower and the south western portion, plus a few odd fragments. It was built originally in 1207 by the Livonian Brothers of the Sword, officially known as The Militia of Christ of Livonia, a military order comprised of German "warrior monks”. The castle’s main purpose was to monitor and control the waterways of the Gauja River and to deter invasion attempts from the nearby castle in Turaida which was located on the river’s west bank. You can get great views of Turaida from here so it is clear that it would have been a very strategic location.

    Of course the castle changed over the centuries, with destruction in battle and rebuilding going in cycles. You can read a full history on the website if interested. Since the 16th century it seems to have been largely left as a ruin, but this has been somewhat restored in recent years. I’m not sure that I agree with this, by the way, as it creates a somewhat artificial structure, neither useful building nor genuinely historical structure, but it seems to be the norm in some countries and does offer the visitor perhaps a greater sense of the past.

    You can climb the towers if you want (although the views even at ground level are great) and poke around the ruins, but for most of the time there isn’t a huge amount to do here. That must all change during the summer festival season, when Sigulda is host to a renowned opera festival as well as blues and jazz ones. It’s a great setting for what must be rather special evenings.

    Next tip: Gutmanis Cave

    Website: http://www.tourism.sigulda.lv/

    The The new castle VTers enjoying the setting
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    Turaida Castle

    by toonsarah Updated Jun 11, 2014

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    Turaida Castle lies on the opposite side of the Gauja river from Sigulda, where we had been previously. It is a medieval castle that has been recently reconstructed, making it look quite striking but maybe a little “too new”. It dates originally from 1214, and was expanded upon and improved over the following centuries, built largely in the typical red bricks of this region. In the 17th century it began to lose its strategic importance and following a fire in the 18th was left in ruins. By the start of the 20th century only a few fragments remained, but from the 1970s onwards, archaeological excavations were carried out here and based on their findings, the castle rebuilt. As I mentioned in my Sigulda tip, my own preference is for a ruined castle to be saved but perhaps not so thoroughly rebuilt, as it loses some of its sense of the past, but others may disagree, and this is certainly an impressive setting for this castle. You can climb the tower for views of the surrounding countryside but I opted out of this, preferring to sit for a while at its base, chatting with friends and soaking up the peaceful atmosphere - not what the castle was intended for!

    The castle is set in attractive parkland dotted with some interesting sculptural pieces which I rather liked (see photos three and four). It reminded me a little of Hakone’s Open Air Museum which we visited last year in Japan, though on a much less extensive scale, naturally. This area is known as the Folk Song Hill and Folk Song Garden and was where, in the 1980s, the Latvian Singing Revolution emerged and continued until the restoration of Latvia’s independence in 1991. It became a site where Latvians could express themselves through song, music and dance, and it helped to strengthen the nation’s identity. The idea behind the sculptures is that “stone breathes and has ideas which become part of the surrounding environment”.

    There are several other buildings in the grounds – I liked the pretty church in photo five, which is, I have since learned, one of the oldest wooden churches in Latvia, built in 1750. It would have been interesting to see inside but I didn’t try to see if it was open. And nearby you can see the grave of Maija, the Rose of Turaida, whose story I have told in my previous tip about Gutmanis Cave.

    The website linked below has a lot more interesting information not only about the castle but also its surroundings. There is also a map and driving instructions, as well as for public transport (bus or train to Sigulda, then another bus or taxi). The castle is open every day 10.00-17.00 in the winter (November-April), 10.00-19.00 in October, and 9.00-20.00 from May-September, although indoor exhibitions (e.g. about the history of the castle) are open only 10.00-18.00. Pricing is among the most complicated I have seen, depending on which parts you want to see (castle alone, exhibitions etc), whether you need to park a car or motorbike, time of year (winter is cheaper than summer), size of the family for a family ticket and so on. So check the relevant page of the website before going.

    Next tip: a typical Latvian evening with friends

    Website: http://www.turaida-muzejs.lv/?lang=en

    Turaida from Sigulda Turaida Castle In the grounds Turaida Church
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    Gutmanis Cave

    by toonsarah Updated Jun 11, 2014

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    While on our excursion we made a brief but interesting stop at Gutmanis Cave. Leaving our coach we strolled for five minutes or so through a pretty landscape, part of the Gauja National Park. The path brought us to the cave, set in a rocky hillside. It is a fair size - 18.8 metres deep, 12 metres wide and 10 metres high. It is also over 10,000 years old and is considered “the oldest tourist attraction in Latvia”. Those tourists of the past were not as respectful as we would hope present-day ones to be, for they carved their names and other messages all over the cave. They did so very thoroughly too, with ornate writing and ornamentation in places. It struck me that yesterday’s vandalism (for so it is, when you think about it) has become today’s history lesson.

    This is a place of ancient worship and of many tales. One tells that the spring flowing here is water from the tears of the wife of a Liv chief, Rindaugs. When she was unfaithful to him, he buried her near this spot on the sandy banks of the Gauja river. She was distressed by her guilty conscience and she cried so hard that her tears flowed out of the cave. This is why, to this day, that the spring’s waters are said to have healing properties. Some of us put this to the test by kneeling to splash our faces in its waters but I have not yet heard any reports of miracle cures!

    Another story explains how the cave got its name. A long time ago there was a man living in the cave who used the spring water to heal people. For this reason he was called "Gut Mann" which in German means "good man".

    But the most famous story is that of the Rose of Turaida. This is a classic story of ill-fated lovers. I have adapted my version below from that told on the Turaida Castle website:
    ”In 1601 Swedish troops captured Turaida Castle. After the battle a clerk of the castle, Mr Greif, found among the dead a small girl. He undertook to bring up the orphan and named her Maija.

    The years passed by and Maija grew up so beautiful, that people named her the Rose of Turaida. She met and fell in love with a gardener from Sigulda Castle, Victor Heil, and they became engaged to marry.

    But someone else wanted to marry Maija - Adam Jakubovsky, who then was in service in Turaida castle. Maija rejected him and Jakubovsky decided to get her by deceit. He wrote a note, as if it were from Victor, and invited her to meet at Gūtmanis cave. When Maija arrived, she understood that she was deceived. The girl decided better to die and remain faithful to her fiancé than succumb to Jakubovsky’s advances. She had a red silk scarf around her neck and she told Jakubovsky that it would protect her from any sword cut and asked him to test it. Jakubovsky tried and Maija fell down lifeless at his feet.

    Victor Heil found the murdered girl and he rushed in despair to Turaida for help. At the cave there was found a gardener’s axe, lost in a hurry, and therefore suspicion about Maija`s murder fell on Victor. He was arrested and tried. Skudritz, a comrade-in-arms of Jakubovsky, came to the court and told the truth, so Victor was cleared. Maija was buried at the edge of Turaida graveyard, where Victor planted a linden tree on her grave.”

    You can still see her grave when you visit Turaida Castle, as we did next.

    Next tip: Turaida Castle

    VT group in the cave
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    The Museum of Latvia's Jews

    by leics Written Aug 31, 2013

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    This is a very small museum and I suspect it may easily be overlooked, which is why I placed it in the 'off-the-beaten-path' section.

    The museum is based on the (largely) document collection of Zalman Eleson and Margers Vestermanis, both Holocaust survivors and both based in Riga. it has been open since 1989.

    Before the war, 11% of Riga's population were Jewish. The photographs and mementos on display show a thriving community....photos of football teams, school classes, picnics, family portraits, holiday snaps...

    When the Nazis arrived in 1941 Riga's Jews were rounded up, taken to ghetto areas and...mostly...taken into the woods and shot, their bodies buried in mass graves (you can visit these, and their memorial, although the site is some way outside the city).

    The museum lies inside what was once a Jewish theatre, itself a magnificent piece of architecture, with marble stairs and floors and chandeliers. The museum uses three large rooms; the rest of the building is now a Jewish community centre.

    There is no charge to enter although donations are requested (and, in my case, very freely given) and there is a guest book to sign. Displays are labelled in English, so it is easy to work one's way through...but one could not avoid being greatly moved even if there were no labels at all.

    I didn't take photos inside the museum area; it did not feel right to do so.

    You'll find the museum at Skolas 6, in Centrs. It is open from 1200-1700 on Sunday to Thursday...and it is a visit worth making.

    Phone: +371 67283484

    Website: http://www.jewishmuseum.lv/

    Museum entrance Museum entrance on the left Museum entrance
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    A particularly twiddly bit of Art Nouveau/whatever

    by leics Written Aug 31, 2013

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    I was very impressed by this particular building which, I suspect, will be missed by many who visit Centrs to look at the Art Nouveau/Deco/Jugendstil architecture because it's some way away from the streets where most of that interest lies.

    It's a building used for offices and i think it's always been a business building. It dates from 1901 and has the most wonderful array of creatures on its exterior. There are dragons on the battlements and bats on the first floor, eagles and demons and screaming faces and goodness knows what else!

    The architect's imagination certainly had free rein with this building! :-)

    Unfortunately, a large leafy tree stands right outside, so it's not possible (in summer) to photograph the building in its full glory. But it's definitely worth a look if you happen to be in the area.

    You'll find it at the junction of K Barona Iela and Blaumana iela.

    Bats.... Battlements and dragons Corner view Rooftop dragon Face and ?pig?
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    Wooden houses

    by leics Written Aug 31, 2013

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    Although Riga's Art Deco/Nouveau/Jugendstil buildings are well-known and well-promoted (especially those in the Centrs area) I was, if I'm frank, at least equally taken with the wooden buildings I came across whilst wandering that district.

    There are older wooden buildings, mostly houses, dotted about in other areas of Riga too. I passed quite a lot on the other side of the Daugava, on the bus to and from the airport. But if you're walking Centrs to see the Art Deco/etc buildings mentioned above do keep your eyes open for wooden ones.

    I don't know how old each one is but I'd guess most date from the late 1800s/early 1900s. Some are in lovely condition, obviously restored and renovated, most are ok but some are in very poor condition indeed. It would be sad to see them all disappear, so I hope the desire and money is found to ensure their survival.

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Riga Off The Beaten Path

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