Riga, the capital of Latvia, was officially founded in 1201. Riga is divided into six administrative districts: Centra, Kurzeme, Ziemeļu, Latgale, Vidzeme and Zemgale districts.
Riga is located along the Baltic Sea at the southern coast of the Gulf of Riga, on the Rigava coastal plain. The historical core ofRiga is situated on the right bank of the Daugava River, about 10 kilometers from where the Daugava flows into the Gulf of Riga. The natural terrain of this area is a flat and sandy plain, about 1 to 10 meters above the sea level.
Climate in Riga is influenced by its proximity to the sea; therefore it is moderately warm and humid. Summers are comparatively cool and cloudy (average temperature in July +16.9 C; average precipitation (rainfall) – 85 mm). Winters are comparatively warm with frequent thaws (average temperature in January – 4,7 C, thaw days are about 10 days a month). Snow cover forms in the middle of December and remain through the middle of March. About 40% of the days in a year are cloudy (overcast), average precipitation – 700-720 mm a year.
Riga in Figures
The area of Riga covers 307.17 km2, including:
- Residential areas 67.00 km2 (21.8%)
- Industrial areas 52.45 km2 (17.0%)
- Streets and roads 24.64 km2 (8.0%)
- Parks 57.54 km2 (19.0%)
- Water 48.50 km2 (15.8%)
There are 747,2 thousand inhabitants residing in Riga. The density of the population is 2434 per 1 km2.
Riga’s Architecture and Environment
In the architecture of the historic center of Riga examples of all architectural styles characteristic for the Northern Europe, from Gothic to Modernism, are found.
The regular building of the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries is characteristic for the planning of the historic center, oriented towards the direction of main streets in the Old City, which emerged approximately in the 14th century. Dismantling ofoutdated defense systems (ramparts, dams, constructions) in 1857 – 1863 was an important impetus for the development of the city construction.
As a result, the picturesque Boulevard Circle was designed and in the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, with the rapid development of high-rise dwelling construction, unique Art Nouveau examples were created. In some districts of Riga, for various reasons, complex wooden constructions of that time have still been preserved, and that is an amazing phenomenon in the 21st century. In 1997 the historic center of Riga due to this valued architecture was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Old Riga is the historical and geographical center of Riga, located on the right bank of the Daugava River. O ld Riga comprises a fairly small interior fortification system area (built during XIII-XVIII centuries), where unique middle-aged architectural monuments are concentrated.
St. Peter’s Cathedral
Peter’s Cathedral used to be the main cathedral during the middle ages for the inhabitants of Riga, and it has belonged to the citizens of Riga since the very beginning. The church congregation mainly consisted of privileged large guild merchants and craftsmen of smaller guilds. The first time St. Peter’s cathedral was mentioned in 1209. Its oldest section, currently the central area, which used to be the altar area, built in 1408–1409 – conforms to Gothic style. The cathedral has been rebuilt and enlarged several times. In 1491 the tower was built upon the cathedral, and although it collapsed several times, it was always rebuilt. In 1666 the tower collapsed, in 1677 it was recovered, but in the same year it was destroyed by fire. In 1690 it was rebuilt again. At that time the 64.5 m high steeple was the highest wooden structure in the world. In 1721 lightning hit the tower and it was destroyed again. This time the renewed tower stayed intact by 1746. During World War II on 29 June 1941 artillery projectiles, which hit the cathedral, inflamed it, and as the cathedral burned the tower collapsed. The tower was resurrected in 1973, but the cathedral’s restoration was completed in 1984. Now there is an elevator built in the tower, which takes visitors to tower’s second gallery located on 72 m height to enjoy the city panorama.
The building of St. Mary’s Cathedral or Riga Dome and Monastery for Riga’s Order of Monks, was started in 1211, as Riga’s Archbishop’s Chapel. By 1270 the main construction was finished. At first the cathedral was in the shape of a cross, the earliest section (the altar) was made of precisely arranged, broached, Roman-style limestone blocks, later the construction was changed into Gothic style. A monastery wasbuilt to the cathedral’s southern wall as a residence for Riga’s Order of Monks. Between the church and monastery a square courtyard was formed with crosswalks. In the beginning the courtyard was used as a graveyard, but later it was used also as a market area. During the period from 1888 till 1891, over the crosswalks were built premises for Riga’s museum and archives (now known as the Museum of History and Navigation of Riga). The cathedral’s first tower was destroyed by fire in 1547, and in 1595 a new tower was constructed. In 1775 when wooden parts of the building staled and became jeopardous, the tower’s steeple was removed and thepresent baroque dome replaced it. In 1884 the German organ producing company “E. F. Walker&Co” constructed the celebrated Dome organ, which at that time was the largest organ in the entire world. In 1856 the old main portal vestibule was rebuilt; in 19th century many annexations were removed around the cathedral. From 1989 until 1990 a wide alcove was formed by the cathedral’s walls made 3 m deep down into archaeological strata of many centuries allowing to detect the Dome Cathedral’s original size and to view the primary foundation of the cathedral.
Riga castle is the symbol and home of Latvian secular authority. The Castle’s construction began in 1330 as the construction of the residence for Master of Livonian Order. Inner dissents resulted in the degradation of the previous residence, White Stone Castle, belonging to the Master of the Livonian Order, and the inhabitants of Riga were forced to build a new one. When the Master’s residence moved to Cesis in 1484, the citizens of Riga raised the castle again, and after some time it was rebuilt once again. Originally the castle was fortress-like 3 story building with an inner courtyard and four towers. During the renovation of the castle in 1495–1515 two towers were altered, the interior was wrapped with cellule and stellar arches, above the gates were placed sculptural relief of the order’s patroness, St. Mary, and the order’s master, Valter von Pletenberg. The largest rebuilding took place in XVIII and XIX centuries. In 1783 the main structure of the castle was rebuilt, a three story construction, to serve the needs of Riga Province’s authority. In 1818 at the castle’s front the premises for the general province’s representation were erected for governor-general of Vidzeme. In 1938 the castle’s front premises was renovated and furnished to the needs of the president of Latvia. Since 1995 the President of Latvia is using the restored government’s premises. Some parts of the castle house museums and other cultural institutions.
St. George’s Cathedral (White Stone Castle)
It was built from white dolomite around 1207 to become castle for the Master of the Knights of Sword Order, which was destroyed by the citizens of Riga in 1297 while struggling against the Order.
One area of the castle remained unscathed where St. George’s Cathedral was located (later the Convent Yard of the Holy Ghost), which during the Reformation was used as a storage area. Without any significant changes the structure was used as a storage area until the end of XXth century when in 1989 the Museum of Applied Arts was established there. Thus, this is the place where the oldest fragment of the building constructed in Riga can be seen.
St. John’s Cathedral
In 1234 Bishop Nicholas transferred the ownership of the bishop’s castle, which was located in the oldest part of the city, as well as several portions of land to the Dominican Monastery. Dominicans established there a monastery and a church, which was named after John the Baptist. This structure is located with an arching walkway girding the convent’s courtyard in the southern corner. To this day there have been preserved two través (space between two pillars). The first information about the church in this area is in 1297.
In the beginning of the XIVth century the entrance side of the church was extended by chopping a portal in white stone. During the cathedral renovation period, in the 15th and 16th century, the interior was covered with fine, webbed vaults, but on the exterior on the main obverse, almost contrary to the solid, compact, mass, out of which a thin, mounting pediment raises. St. John’s Cathedral is the last cultic building where it is possible to trace the influence of late Gothic architecture.
House of Blackheads
This important centre for public life, which was first mentioned by sources in 1334 as the New House of the Large Guild, is located near the Town Hall Square (Rātslaukums). The building was erected by the city itself, and originally it was rented to the merchants of the Large Guild and the unmarried merchants, the Brotherhood of Blackheads, who later, in 1713, purchased the building and became its proprietors.
The House of Blackheads was reconstructed and expanded for a number of times, however both pediments have been preserved many elements from the first and the 15th century’s periods. The entire second floor was built as a celebration hall. The biggest changes to the architecture of the house were made at the end of 18th century, when a new two-storey wing was added to the building. In 1816 one more wing was added to it. The addition was made to the wall on the side of the Daugava River. The open stairs, which lead directly into the hall on the second floor, were covered with oblong canopy. The last significant changes to the façade’s pediments were made in 1886, when all the gothic pediments had new additional profiles of concrete casting worked in. The celebration hall was also upgraded and adornedduring renovations and expansions. The adornment of 6.68 m high hall was exceedingly extravagant.
The long-standing and posh cultural monument was destroyed during World War II in 1941. Due to an explosion the slate covered roof was torn off revealing the wooden constructions beneath, which were destroyed by the fires of burning houses nearby.
During the Soviet occupation in 1948 the burned out walls were blown up. After the Republic of Latvia regained its independence, the restoration of the House of Blackheads started, which was completed in 2000.
Convent Yard of the Holy Ghost
The Convent Yard is located in Old Riga between Kalēju and Skārņu Streets, covering an area of 260 m2. Originally there was the Castle of Knights of Sword Order, which was destroyed in 1297. The castle was rebuilt on the embankment of the Daugava in the former site of the Holy Ghost Hospital. After some time this place was renamed as the Convent Yard of the Holy Ghost.
The Convent is the foundation of 1220 by Bishop Albert for supporting the disabled and feeble persons of all nationalities and layers. In the 15th century this was Kampenhauzen’s House for the poor or “Non-German Asylum” in which widows from the poorest and lowest social class lived. The Convent Yard included also “Asylum of the Grey Sisters”, a hospital and nursery home for the ill. The hospital was built in 1488 and rebuilt in 1860. The name “Asylum of the Grey Sisters” originated from gray cloaks the nuns there were wearing. In the end of the 17th century a road was made in the Convent Yard between Kalēju and Skārņu streets.
House of Dannenstern
House of Dannenstern is one of the most impressive examples of the baroque style architecture. It consists of three mutually connected blocks – the main block at the street and two others bending at the courtyard, all connected by a driving passage. The main block is a two-storey building with an attic, a basement, and five attic floors built into the roof.
The author of baroque style portals is sculptor Dietrich Valter. The house was built in 1696 and used to be the largest private house in Riga. The owner of the house was the merchant from Holland, Ernest Metsu, who owned more than 150 ships and who was granted the title: “von Dannenstern” by the King of Sweden.
Complex of residential buildings “Three Brothers”
The building on Mazā Pils Street 17 is the oldest existing residential building in Riga. It was built at the end of the 15th century, when Riga had established good trade relations with merchants from the Netherlands, and architecture from there started to influence the architecture of Riga. The two adjacent buildings are more recent. Altogether they are called “Three brothers” and represent the medieval dwelling homes during different development stages when houses were built on small pieces of land. In front of the oldest house there is still a small space for a porch with stone benches and stone entryway. The other two houses do not have such additions due to lack of space.
In the middle of the 19th century fortification systems of Riga became morally obsolete and prevented the city development. In 1856 the Russian authorities annulled the fortress status for the inside Riga and dismantling of cumbersome buildings was started. In the result of dismantling ramparts in 1857–1863 vacant area appeared. Architects J. Felsko and O. Dīce developed the design for its improvement
Approximately 300 - 300 m wide area with decorative greenery, lawns and parks and with the city channel in the center was established there. Later the area was extended by adding Vērmanes Garden, formed in 1817, and by establishing boulevards lined with planted lindens. Buildings of public importance were also constructed in this area, in the result of which the so-called Boulevard Circle was created, which at present has become a real oasis in the 21st century metropolis.
The first public building, which was built in the park area, was the 1st city theatre (German theatre) (presently the opera and ballet theatre). It was designed (1822-1885) by professor L.Bonstedt from Petersburg Art Academy and was built from 1860 to 1863 under the supervision of architects F. Hess and H. Šēls. The semi-round hall with 1240 seats and 150 standing places, with the three balconies, has good acoustics and appropriate proportions.
Among the many Eclectic buildings constructed at that time, the compact, balanced theatre building with its six columned ionic portico is as if a delayed echo from the Classicism period of the beginning of the 19th century.
The University of Latvia
The Riga Polytechnic (later the Polytechnic Institute and now the University of Latvia) building played an important role in the city landscape of Riga. The buildings with its calm, monumental look and with certain Roman and Byzantine architecture style elements was designed by the first Dean of Architecture professor Gustav Hilbig (1822-1883). The first part of the building was built during 1866-1869.
The building was constructed as the second theatre (Russian) for the city (nowadays - the National Theatre), architect A. Reinberg (1860-1908). The theatre was made in the spirit of “Classicism of Riga burghers”. The theatre building had a well-arranged stage, high quality engineering and technical communications, well-illuminated, stately front staircase and lobby. The figures of Atlantis near the entrance were created by the famous sculptor A. Voltz.
Academy of Arts
The Esplanade - a former military training area beyond the city ramparts - was partly built over at the beginning of XXth century. The building of Stock-exchange Commercial School was erected (now the Academy of Arts), architect V. Bockslaff. The Commercial School was designed in pseudo-gothic style following the so-called “brick-gothic” forms, and with its free functionally grounded, asymmetrical planning perfectly fits into the city landscape.
National Art Museum
The building (architect V. Neimanis) was constructed simultaneously with the Stock-exchange Commercial School; it as if finishes the Boulevard Circle’s representative building area. The museum was built as an imposing structure in Baroque style, with majestic lobby and stately front staircase, as well as with convenient exhibition halls having skylight on the second floor, and the ceiling in some places has been made of reinforced concrete constructions.
Monument of Freedom
A symbol of freedom for the Latvian people, built largely on public donations and was officially unveiled on 18 November 1935 - the day when in 1918 the independent Republic of Latvia was founded. The monument is made of light gray and rubicund Finnish granite and Italian travertine, while the statue of Freedom was cast on bronze in Sweden.
During the Soviet occupation gatherings of people and laying flowers at the monument were forbidden.
With the national awakening, despite of possible repressions, there were meetings taking place at the monument, people gathered together to commemorate the most significant events for the Latvian nation - proclamation of the Republic of Latvia, struggles for freedom, occupations and repressions. Members of “Helsinki-86”, the human rights protection group, were the first who did it openly on 14 June 1987. After Latvia regained its independence, the guard of honor was resumed at the monument.
This style, which at the end of the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th century referred both to architecture and other fields of art, dominated in Riga for a short time, however, it left behind extraordinary colorful architectural examples. This coincided with the period when construction of high-rise residential buildings boomed in Riga and organically found a place in the architecture of Riga. Art Nouveau emerged in response to previous styles, especially to Eclectics, which required following particular historical styles. In contrast, Art Nouveau stresses a complete creative freedom, an expressive flight of fantasy with a tendency to show all utilitarian construction elements as artistic value. Characteristic features of Art Nouveau - sinuous lines, geometrical ornaments – divided into two main directions in Riga: decorative and romantic nationalistic Art Nouveau. Latvian architects, representatives of romantic nationalism, were E.Laube, K.Pēkšēns, A.Vanags, who created unique examples of national architecture. Most characteristic examples of decorative Art Nouveau are buildings in Alberta Street constructed by M.Eizenšteins.
Buildings in Alberta Street
Alberta Street is considered as the epitome of Art Nouveau in Riga. Each house is a different and unique construction achievement from the beginning of 20th century. Nowhere else in Riga will youobserve so expressive and concentrated flights of architectural fantasy. Buildings No. 2, 2a, 4, 6, 8, 11, 12 and 13 in Alberta Street are recognized as National Architectural Monuments. Excellent buildings are on Elizabetes Street 33 and on Strēlnieku Street 4A, which in addition has been perfectly renovated.
Other Objects of City Environment
Dismantling of the fortifications in the middle of the 19th century, rapid development of the city and growth of the population determined changes also in building construction. Apart from representative buildings and prestigious tenement houses, construction of public buildings, tenement houses for middle class and working districts developed. The development of the city environment at the beginning of the 20th century was marked by rationalism, particularly obviously that was expressed in the architecture of cultural and educational institutions.
Special attention in Riga has always been devoted to trade and the buildings linked with it. The first marketplace in Riga was the area near Skārņu Street, because at end of marketplaces of feudal cities usually there was the church standing, built and maintained by the residents of the city.
Berga Bazar is the complex of buildings between Elizabetes, Dzirnavu and Marijas streets, built by the design of K. Pēkšēns for the Latvian manufacturer and public figure K. Bergs. The complex includes 3 – 4 storey tenement houses; on the ground floors of the buildings there are shops with facades made in the Neo-renaissance style. The main component of the Berga Bazar is the group of buildings constructed inside the square with passageway on the ground floor.
Originally Berga Bazar included a total of 131 shops, various workshops, a printing house and restaurant. In the last quarter of 20th century the premises of shops in the passage have been partly renovated.
The Central Market in Riga is a grandiose complex, which includes five pavilions with the total area of 16000 m2.
It was one of the most significant constructions in the 20-ies. The market pavilion is founded on the constructions of hangars for zeppelins, which after World War I came into the ownership of the city. The planning and functional disposition of the market complex, which is included in the city landscape, is successful. Four pavilions are located in a row, and the fifth is perpendicular to them. The last was planned for wholesale trade. The idea about leading a railway branch-line to the pavilions has not been realized, unfortunately, completely. Under the pavilions there were spacious cellars built with tunnel exits leading to the city canal. Thereby, delivery of goods was organized on the underground level and would not disturb the trade and traffic. In the architecture of the market a rationalistic manner of decoration, as well as influence of the neoclassicism are felt. The design, of course, largely determined the form of the construction, but only the most significant parts, considering the economic character of the building, could be thoroughly emphasized by interpreting the Art-Deco forms.
Architecture of Wooden Buildings
Architecture of wooden buildings plays a significant role in the urban environment. In Riga, unlike many other countries of Europe, the wooden architecture continued developing almost until World War II. In turn, after the war Latvia did not encounter the wave of Modernism, which passed over the Western Europe in the 60s and 70s, largely because of the deficiency in housing caused by the Soviet system of management. As time progressed, the wooden architecture of Riga accumulated certain load of social and cultural environment – up till now more prosperous people have tried to avoid of wooden buildings. However, lately, there has been a rise of fans of wooden architecture in Riga, who are trying to restore the ancient and most beautiful buildings.
Many of the Latvian architects also started their practices at this time; their works together with accomplishments by architects of other nationalities in Riga have defined the visual image of the city. Frequently amazing staircase and apartment interiors have been preserved in the wooden buildings. Unfortunately, with few exceptions, all wooden buildings are in a very poor technical condition. Nevertheless, the wooden construction of Riga is a unique phenomenon on the European scale. Preservation of wooden buildings as a unified ensemble, without tearing particular constructions out of environmental context, is a topical issue.