A Day in Old Riga

As an important port city in the Hanseatic League, Riga has a small but lovely historic centre that is just waiting to be explored. With medieval buildings lining the cobblestone streets and squares, you’ll love spending a day in Old Riga.  

The most notable building in Vecrīga (Old Riga) is The House of Blackheads. The original building was erected in 1334 to house banquets and meetings of the Brotherhood of the Blackheads. We can only image what those banquets would have looked like given that the Brotherhood of Blackheads was a society of unmarried merchants and shipowners in medieval Riga.

What we see today is a reconstruction of the original structure that was destroyed during World War II. Even knowing that it is not the original, its difficult to take your eyes off this magnificent building. Its interesting roofline is covered in delicate carvings and statues. Ornate figures decorate the colourful red brick façade. The building is quite beautiful, but is even more so when the final rays of the setting sun make the building glow.

The oldest residential complex in the historic centre is affectionately referred to as ‘The Three Brothers’. The white Gothic building on the right is the oldest, built in 1490. Apparently when it was built, there was a ‘window tax’ for new construction. The owner replied by using very small windows to keep his taxes down. The middle brother is more grand with an ornamental door pediment and large windows. The skinny building on the left is the youngest of the three was built in the late 1600s in Baroque architectural style. They are said to represent typical architecture in the Hanseatic Region for each of their times.

Let yourself get lost in the maze of cobblestone streets that are bordered by pretty rowhouses painted in pastel shades. Old street lights added even more charm to the area. Stop in at one of the many restaurants and stores that occupy the main level of the buildings.

As we walked it seemed as if there was a church tower at the end of every street. Most of these churches were surrounded by their own square. An interesting statue we came across outside St. Peter’s Church was the Bremen Town Musicians. It’s a replica of the original statue in Bremen and was gift to Riga because of their shared Hanseatic history.

On the edge of Old Town, along the Daugava River, a small 14th century castle with round towers almost looks as if its from a fairytale. Today it houses a small museum, but is also the President’s residence so is mostly off limits.

Only a small portion of the city’s original wall is still standing including Powder Tower which stored gun powder. In front of the tower are the long yellow row houses of Jacob’s Barracks, built in the 18th century for troops. Opposite to the barracks is an old city gate commonly called Swedish Gate. The gate has a legend attached to it of a love between a local girl and a Swedish soldier. Girls were not allowed to have relationships with soldiers at that time and tragedy struck one day when she waited for him at the gate. When he didn’t arrive, she began to weep. Others knew of this forbidden love so to punish her, they built the girl into the walls of the gate. The legend says that at certain times, you can still hear the young girl crying.

On our walk to Old Riga, we noticed a familiar site. Similar to the Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw, the Latvian Academy of Sciences building was also a gift from the Soviets.

We only had a short time to visit Riga. It was an overnight layover on our trip between visiting Richard’s family in Poland and our next stop, Uzbekistan. It gave us a good introduction to the city’s Old Town though, and increased our desire to return.

Away from the historic downtown, you can see that Riga has still not recovered economically like other former Soviet Republics. Many buildings are in disrepair, roads are in poor condition, cars and even some of the trams are old and worn. Hopefully over the coming years it will be more prosperous and can rebuild the city’s infrastructure.

Coming Next – Elaborate Metro Stations of Tashkent, Uzbekistan

For pictures from other blogs go to Gallery at monkeystale.ca

To read about more of our adventures go to Destinations.

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