The Old Town in Riga, the capital of Latvia, is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Its narrow streets are full of history and architectural wonder.
Town Hall Square has had the most changes throughout history. In the 1930s all the buildings along the streets from Town Hall Square to the Daugava River were knocked down to begin major reconstruction. This was all interrupted by WWII. Torna or Tower Street leads on past what has been left of the city wall.
Town Hall Square
Jacob’s Barracks to The Swedish Gate which was a passage opened in the city wall to give people and their animals easy access to the fields outside of the city for grazing.
The Swedish Gate
Kalku or Chalk Street has the lovely Livu Square. WWII did a lot of damage to the Old Town but it also left space to form this square. At first, it was called Philharmonic Square because it was not far from the Philharmonic Concert Hall. It was renamed Livu Square in the 1980s. It is a place tourists enjoy because it gives one postcard views all around.
Rampart Street is the banking center of Riga. On all four corners of Valnu and Kalku Streets are banks. The corner where Valnu Street, Aspazijas, and Basteja Boulevards come together is a popular meeting place. Here since the 1930s stands the Riga chocolate factory “Laima” clock and people tend to wait for each other here.
Gunpowder Tower is a reminder left behind that Riga was once a fortress. This tower was built from the 13th-17th centuries. Its walls are three meters thick. It protected the eastern entrance to the city along Smilsu or Sand Road and was once called Sand Tower.
In 1919 it was used as the Latvian War Museum with a museum building constructed alongside in 1938. On Skarnu or Butchers’ Street, there are several art galleries, cafes, restaurants, and a tea house. Here you can also see the gift to Riga from Bremen, Germany—a bronze statue of the “Bremen Musicians.”
Little Castle Street there are several churches and pastor residences. The Three Brothers are the oldest residential complex in Riga. These are three buildings on Little Castle Street. The Latvian Museum of Architecture is located here.
The Three Brothers
Castle Square at the Riga Castle was used as a place for military maneuvers. Riga Castle is now the residence of Latvia’s presidents. Latvian Riflemen Squarethis square was once called Old Town Square but was renamed when a memorial to Latvia’s Red Riflemen was built in the 1970s.
Dom Square is the largest square in the Old Town. Eight streets radiate out from the square. Looming over it is Riga Dom Cathedral. Other prominent buildings near the square are the Ministry of Finance, Latvian Radio Building, and SEB Bank. The construction of Riga Dom Cathedral began in 1211. The eastern end of the cathedral is in Romanesque style and the north end in Gothic. Along with the cathedral a cloister was built around whose courtyard stretches the Cross Gallery. The cathedral was built on a hill but today its foundations are several meters under street level. The 13th-century Gothic portal which is the main entrance appears to be sunk into the earth. Here in the cathedral is the final resting place of Bishops Albert and Meinhard as well as many leaders of the Baltic landed gentry, who gave donations in order to gain immortality for their names and their coats of arms. All of the lovely stained glass windows were donated by the Guilds, the Town Council or private individuals.
Along the Riga City Canal are many prominent buildings and its banks are a popular place for city people to relax. The canal starts at the Daugava River near the Central Market.
The Latvian National Theater at Kronvalda Boulevard 2 was built as the Riga City’s II or Russian Theater in 1901. It was constructed similarly to other European theaters. Here on November 18, 1919, Latvia declared her independence.
The Latvian National Theater
The World Trade Center was built in 1974 and at that time was known as Latvia’s Communist Party Central Committee building. It was built to resemble the UNESCO building in Paris.
World Trade Center
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs was built in 1913 in the neo-Classical style. It is located at K. Valdemara Street 3. On the building are written the words Concordia, res parvae crescent (Work together to accomplish more).
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Andrejsala is a territory to the north of Riga’s center which at one time was an industrial port. Among the buildings now found here are a youth hostel called “Sing Along” and many different exhibition halls. There is also the Innocent Art Museum which is located in the former port’s building.
The most famous landmark in Riga is The Freedom Monument in the center of Riga on Freedom) Boulevard. It was erected in the place where during WWI once stood a sculpture of Peter I. The monument’s sculptor was Karlis Zale and the architect Ernests Stalberg. They constructed it from 1930 – 1935 and it is made of granite, travertine, copper, and gold. On the very front of the monument which faces toward the Old Town is engraved For Fatherland and Freedom. There are separate sculptures and bas-reliefs all around the monument which depict Latvian culture and history. On the topmost block the high monolithic travertine column on which stands the copper figure of a woman who has been called “Milda” by the Latvian people looking toward the east, her arms raised and holding three gilded with gold stars symbolizing Courland or Kurzeme, Vidzeme, and Latgale. She is 43 m high.
The large plaza in front of the Freedom Monument is used for public gatherings and official ceremonies. At the foot of the monument there stands the guard of honor–soldiers (working in shifts) from The Company of Guard of Honor of the Headquarters Battalion of the National Armed Forces.
The Freedom Monument
The Latvian National Art Museum on K. Valdemara Street was built in the Baroque style. Here one can view a great collection of paintings by Latvians, Baltic Germans, and Russians.
The Latvian National Art Museum
The Central Market and the surrounding area. The Central Market has five main pavilions: meat, dairy, gastronomy, fruits, and vegetables, and fish. Outside in the large market area are many tables from which are also sold fruit and vegetables which come from farms among other items like plants, seeds and such.
The Central Market
An impressive sight is the Railroad Bridge crossing the Daugava River which was built in 1872.