Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Riga: Architecture Through The Ages

The Latvian capital of Riga has gained popularity in recent years as a destination for tourists seeking a cultural European city break. It is no surprise, as the city hosts many fine buildings and a range of architectural styles from the Medieval period through to the modern day. Built by German crusaders the city’s earlier buildings, including its churches, were constructed in Romanesque and Gothic styles, examples of which you can find throughout Riga. However, there are also over 800 buildings in the city built in an Art Nouveau style.

Religious Architecture of Riga

St. Peter's Lutheran Church
by Arian Zwegers
Riga's skyline dominated by three steeples. If you don’t have time to visit all three churches, be sure to see St Peter’s, arguably one of the most beautiful Gothic churches in the Baltic region. This church is thought to be around 800 years old and its main facade took on a Baroque appearance in the late 17th century. Although the church tower has been destroyed on a number of occasions, it was last restored in 1973. Take the lift up 72m to an observation platform for excellent views of the city below.

The Dome Cathedral is also well worth a visit. Construction commenced in 1211, but changing architectural styles over the centuries have molded the cathedral to its present appearance – Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque features are part of the building's architecture today.  St George’s Church is also worth a visit; the church, the oldest building in Riga, was founded in 1202 and is the only Romanesque monument in the city.

Defensive Architecture of Riga

Riga’s castle was built in 1330 on the banks of the River Daugava. It housed the ruling power and its position was important to oversee ships entering the port. The castle is a square building with a tower in each corner; it has twice been rebuilt with a third floor added in the 19th century. Latvia’s current President has his residence in one of the wings of the castle.

The Architecture of Dwellings in Riga

The oldest dwelling houses in Riga, known as the Three Brothers, are located on Backer Street, with the oldest built at the end of the 15th century and the other two in the 17th century; their building style is typically Medieval. Built in 1685 by the famous Bindenschuh, the Reitern House – not far from St Peter’s Church - was Riga’s first new style of house. It was a revolution in building traditions, as it was the first time that the longest side of a building had been along the street or that high ceilings and large windows had been used in a living dwelling in the city. The facade made by a stone cutter is also of note. It is a fine example of a merchant’s house and of Baroque architecture.

Art Nouveau Architecture in Riga

Detail on one of the Art Nouveau
buildings on Alberta by upyernoz
The city has often been called Europe’s capital of Art Nouveau and this is best displayed in Alberta Street, where the buildings are exclusively designed and decorated in an Art Nouveau style. Built between 1901 and 1908 from designs by Eisenstein, Mandelstam and Pekshens, Alberta Street – named after the city’s founder – is one of the most splendid streets in Riga. While here visit the Riga Art Nouveau Museum at number 12, which was home to one of the architects; see for yourself the interior design and learn more about this style of architecture.

This is merely a taste of what this remarkable city has to offer. To truly appreciate Riga it is best to explore on foot, though there are a number of walking tours that you can join to see the architectural highlights of the city and find out more about its history.

Julia writes finance and travel articles for a number of UK websites including one of the biggest landlord advice portals.