The small historical center of Riga which is located on the right bank of the Daugava river, preserves the oldest city monuments dating back to the Middle Ages. The medieval part of the city is one of Riga tourist attractions. This area develops around the Lutheran Church of St. Peter (Sv.Pētera luterāņu baznīca). This church was built in the 13th century, and is one of the oldest examples of medieval Baltic church. During the Middle Ages it was the cathedral of the city. Especially notable is its bell tower 123 meters high, while the interior of the church contains ancient tombstones.
In the same square there are also the Porcelain Museum, the Museum of Design and Decorative Arts (Dekoratīvās mākslas un dizaina muzejs). The latter is located inside the ex-church of St. George (1204), which is the oldest stone building in the city. The nearby Lutheran Church of Saint John (Sv.Jāņa luterāņu baznīca), built in 1234 as a chapel for the Dominican Monastery, was elevated to a church in the 13th century.
THE HOUSE OF THE BLACKHEADS
Between the square of the Church of San Pietro and that of the Town Hall (Rātslaukums) there is the famous House of the Blackheads (Melngalvju nams). This is among the best known tourist attractions in Riga. The building was built in the 14th century and was used as the seat of the guilds of merchants in Riga. It then became the seat of the guild of merchants and ship captains, young or not yet married, called “Blackheads society” because they had St. Maurice as their patron (a black with dark hair, hence the name “Blackheads”). The original building was destroyed during the Second World War. The current structure was rebuilt in the late nineties of the twentieth century.
Just south is the Dannenstern House (Danenšterna nams), it is one of the most interesting examples of Baroque architecture in the city. Erected in 1696, it was one of the largest private houses in the city. The building was owned by the wealthy Dutch merchant Ernest Metsu, to whom the king of Sweden (at the time Riga was under Swedish control), granted the title of “von Dannenstern”. The author of the baroque portals of the house was the sculptor Dietrich Valter.
The other important area of the medieval city center is that around the Riga Cathedral (Doma baznīca). This religious building dedicated to Saint Mary, is a harmonious construction that encompasses different styles ranging from Gothic to Baroque. This is also the largest church in Latvia. Its construction was started in 1211 as an archiepiscopal chapel, then a monastery was annexed to it. Over the centuries the building has undergone many fires and significant changes up to its current shape. Inside the Cathedral, the organ is remarkable, which was built between 1882 and 1883 by the German factory EF Walcker & Sons, and was inaugurated on January 31, 1884. At the time of its construction it was the largest and most modern organ in the world.
From the Cathedral square (Doma lauk.) taking the Pils ila street, you reach the Riga Castle (Rīgas pils). This building built in 1330, along the bank of the Daugava river, was the seat of the Sword Knights of the Teutonic Order. Originally the castle had a square base consisting of three buildings placed around an internal courtyard and with four towers on the sides. Remarkably modified in the following centuries, it has lost its original medieval aspect. While today the structure is the official residence of the President of Latvia. The complex also houses some museums and cultural institutions.
Several other buildings are located a short distance from the Cathedral, among them: the residential complex “The Three Brothers” (Trīs brāļi), are three ancient buildings, therefore called three “brothers”, dating back to the 15th and 17th centuries. The Catholic Church of St. James (Sv.Jēkaba katoļu baznīca), built from 1226 in the Gothic style. The Powder Tower (Pulvertornis), one of the towers of the ancient city walls, it was built in 1330 and became the seat of the powder magazine in the seventeenth century. Today it houses the Latvian War Museum (Latvijas Kara Muzejs) dedicated to the country’s military history.
The Small Guild Palace (Mazā Ģilde), was the seat of the guild that brought together the craftsmen of the city. The guild as well as its headquarters was founded in the 14th century. The current palace was built between 1864 and 1866 in a neo-Gothic style. The Palace of the Great Guild (Lielā Ģilde), it is the palace of the guild of merchants founded in Riga in 1354. The current building, now home to the Latvian Philharmonic Orchestra, was built between 1854 and 1857.
A RICH HERITAGE OF BUILDINGS IN ART NOUVEAU
From the nineteenth century the new city developed which extended, with modern neighborhoods, on the left bank of the river. Characteristic of this part of the city are the Art Nouveau buildings built between the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Thanks to these constructions, Riga is universally recognized as the city with the most beautiful and rich collection of Art Nouveau buildings in Europe. The city’s Art Nouveau buildings are among the tourist attractions of Riga.
Alberta Iela and Elizabetes Iela are among the streets with the highest concentration of Art Nouveau buildings in the city. Among the Latvian architects who designed Art Nouveau buildings in Riga, we can mention above all E. Laube, K. Pēkšēns, A. Vanags, M. Eizenšteins. The buildings at numbers 2, 2a, 4, 6, 8, 11, 12 and 13 of Alberta iela have been recognized as National Architectural Monuments. Other interesting buildings can be found in Elizabetes iela at number 33 and in Strēlnieku iela at number 4A.
AN EQUALLY RICH HERITAGE OF WOOD BUILDINGS
Another interesting type of architecture in Riga is that of the architecture of wooden buildings. The wooden buildings of the city are also among the tourist attractions of Riga. This type of construction was used until the Second World War. In recent years some buildings have been restored. Among these are noteworthy examples the mid-eighteenth-century buildings, located in Daugavgrīvas iela 28, and the residential buildings of Šepmuižiņa, Borherts, Kleistu, Hartmaņa, Nordeķu and Depkina.
Among the somewhat more recent neo-classical buildings we can mention those of Daugavgrīvas iela 67. Some buildings are located in the center of the city in the old district of Maskavas, Sarkandaugava and in Ķīpsala. Many wooden buildings date back to the late 19th century while others are from the early 20th century. In this case they are Eclectic and Art Nouveau (Jugendstil). The most interesting buildings are located in: Balasta dambis 38/40 (1907, J. Alksnis), in O. Vācieša iela 5 (1872, O. Bars), in Brīvības iela 100 (in the courtyard, 1899, K. Felsko), in Matrožu iela 4/6 (A. Vanags).