And, reminders of Soviet times…
Old Town Riga has many memorable and well preserved medieval buildings, cobbled squares and churches – a few with stunning views from atop their stone towers. Old Town is home to some of Riga’s best museums, including a fine arts museum and the impressive Museum of History and Navigation with an extensive collection of artifacts, paintings and documents.
The Swedish Gate from 1698 is the only remaining stone portal of eight that once allowed entry into the walled city, and the 1650 cylindrical Powder Tower now houses the Latvian War Museum. During summer evenings, Old Town restaurants come to life with people cramming outdoor cafes that serve both traditional and eclectic cuisine.
Yet amidst the medieval infrastructure, reminders remain of the city’s World War II destruction and subsequent Soviet occupation. One clear example of this juxtaposition is perhaps the city’s most noted pair of architectural marvels: the 16th century Dutch-gable Renaissance-styled House of Blackheads, named for a medieval merchants guild, and adjacent Schwab House. The buildings were finally reconstructed in 1999 after bombing during the war. And in the adjacent square, the stoic Latvian Riflemen Monument pays tribute to soldiers supporting the 1917 Russian Revolution, but is seen by many today as a reminder of Soviet oppression.
On the outskirts of the Old Town lies the so-called Moscow Suburb, now home to the Riga Ghetto Museum and Riga’s Soviet-style skyscraper referred to as “Stalin’s Birthday Cake,” similar to Moscow’s Seven Sisters buildings with their layered top levels and pointed spires. And next to a leafy park and peaceful canal, the 42-meter Freedom Monument built in 1935 is a symbol of Latvian independence. Yet during the Soviet era, people were forbidden to place flowers at its base.
Riga’s Art Nouveau Architecture
Goddess-like figurines stand atop curved arches next to elaborate carvings of faces and other decorations adorning building facades, doorways and portals. On some buildings, such carved decorations stretch all the way up to the roof. Others have stern figures seemingly supporting balconies with castle emblems and flower petals adorning the tops of windows. This grand Art Nouveau architecture began at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, and it seemingly exploded with growth in Riga.
Today, it’s found in many neighborhoods with some streets in particular showcasing beautiful designs – enough so that they are recognized by UNESCO as the most extensive such display worldwide. Examples are also found in Old Town.