Thursday, June 29, 2017

Backpacking through the Baltics - Latvia

Rachel and I took the bus between Vilnius and Riga.  It was a beautifully sunny afternoon when we arrived and after finding our AirB&B (in a cellar!) we decided to have a walk around the Art Nouveau area looking at the architecture.


Art Nouveau architecture in Riga makes up roughly one third of all buildings in the centre of Riga, making the Latvian capital the city with the highest concentration of Art Nouveau architecture anywhere in the world. Built during a period of rapid economic growth, most of the Art Nouveau buildings of Riga date from between 1904 and 1914, when Riga was the 5th largest city in the Russian Empire and starting to expand beyond the boundaries of the Old Town.

From the Art Nouveau area we walked into the centre of the Old Town.  The Old Town was built in medieval times when Riga was a part of the Hanseatic League.  The buildings are often very Dutch in style, showing the close ties between Riga and the Netherlands.  In fact during the Dutch Golden Age the Baltics were referred to as the "Mother Trade" and Latvia was one of the most important trading hubs for Europe during the Renaissance era.  On our way to the Old Town we walked past the Freedom Monument which honours soldiers killed during the Latvian War of Independence from Russia 1918-1920. The monument is a copper figure of Liberty lifting 3 golden stars. During the Stalinist era there were first plans to demolish it, but then there was a reinterpretation of this monument, where the 3 stars were said to represent the 3 newly created Baltic Soviet republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania being held aloft by Mother Russia!

We wandered through many Old Town squares and stopped for eating and drinking in several of them.  I thought one of the most beautiful squares was by the House of the Blackheads, where free musical concerts were taking place.

Rachel wanted to buy some artwork and eventually settled on some postcards showing images of cats.  These are based on the copper cats on the corner turrets of one of the old buildings.


It was a lovely evening so we continued wandering after dinner - out to the Opera House where we stopped for cakes, and then through a park back to our "cellar".  


The following morning we set off again for a walk through the streets of Riga.  We wandered up to Riga Castle, which is now the residence of the President of Latvia, and to a set of houses known as the Three Brothers.  

The Three Brothers are some of the oldest houses in Riga- each built in a different century from 15th - 17th.  Today they are part of the Latvian Museum of Architecture.

As it looked like rain in the afternoon we decided we would visit some museums and galleries.  The first one we went to was the Latvian War Museum in the Powder Tower.   It was much more interesting that I'd imagined.  Next to it was another amazingly decorated building.

On our way to the National Art Museum we also called into the Orthodox church, the Nativity Cathedral.   It is the largest Orthodox cathedral in the Baltic provinces built with the blessing of the Russian Tsar Alexander II  In the early 1960s, Soviet authorities closed down the cathedral and converted its building into a planetarium. The cathedral has been restored since Latvia regained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.  The cathedral has five gilded cupolas and an unusual central altar, many beautiful icons and of course painted murals on the walls and ceilings.

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