Thursday, July 5, 2007
HELLO! OLD TOWN RIGA
31 June 2007, I woke up in the morning, having light breakfast and then started to discover the old town of Riga. The oldest part of Riga (or Old Riga) is the historical and geographical centre of Riga Situated on the right hand side of the river Daugava. It embraces a relatively small territory inside the 13th-18th century fortification walls. Although in the course of years the old town has gone through a number of transformations, yet, as I take this walk, I still be able to see and feel the Riga of the past centuries in the old fragments of the fortification wall, the ancient warehouse buildings, the cathedrals and churches, the narrow streets of old Riga which have retained their Medieval look.
I started walking from 'Ratslaukums' or the City Council Square and admire the splendid gothic 'House of Blackheads. Since the 15th century it was used by the Blackheads' Society, whose patron was St. Mauritius. The name "Blackheads' House" was introduced as late as in 1687, while only in 1713 the Blackheads themselves won full ownership of the building. Only trademan who were not married could enter the fraternity. The building was completely destroy during World War Two in 1941 but it was rebuilt again or 'reincarnated' from the ashes in 1999.
I walked around it and bumped into the St. Peter's Church, one of the most dominant landmarks of Riga. This is the biggest church in Latvia and has been first mentioned in historical documents in 1209. Since then, it has gone through a number of renovations and reconstructions; it was destroyed during World War Two. The church was renovated between 1967 and 1977, when it was turned into an exhibition hall and tourist attraction offering the possibility to see a panoramic view of Riga from its high steeple. Since 1991 church service has been renewed.
From St. Peter's church i took Skarnu (Butcher's) street, its historical and architectural diversity is quite interesting. The building of whitewashed bricks is the oldest stone building in Riga. It is the former St. George's Church and built around 1207 as the castle of the Livonian Brothers of the Sword and partly destroyed by the people of Riga in 1297 fighting against the Order. During reformation it was turned into a warehouse. As a warehouse building it exited until the 20th century, when it bacame the Museum of Applied Arts. The visitors of the museum may also see fragments of the old building.
A few buildings further up the street is the St. John's Lutheran Church. I really admire the baroque-style altar, stained glass windows and statutes of John the Baptist and Salome in the altar niches. The church started as a Dominican cloister and church, established in 1234 and named after John the Baptist. On the other side of the Skarnu street, high up in the church wall there is a profile of a Dominican monk's face cut in limestone, testifying to the origin of the church as part of the ancient Dominican cloister.
I waked through the small door and enter the small maze of the 'Convent's Courtyard' which is now a hotel complex. This is actually the location of the first residence of Bishop Albert, the founder of Riga. A fragment of the Riga fortification wall shows how the medieval fortification may have looked. From the side of Kaleju Street over entrance, there is the old emblem of Riga.
On the Kaleju Street is the Courtyard of the Holy Ghost. Initially this was the location of a castele of Livonian Brothers of the Sword. The Castle was destroyed in 1298. A new castle was built on the banks of the river Daugava in the place where the Holy Ghost Hospital had once been located. The latter was then transferred to the location of the remnants of the former castle. The Convent was founded in 1297 to support the disabled. I walked through to Kaleju (Black smith's) street, turned right, walked up the small Gleznotaju (painters) street and turned left to Vagnera street, named after Richard Wagner, the famous German composer, who worked in Riga for two years. On the right side is where the Wagner Concert Hall situated.
Then I reached the Liv Square (Livu laukums) from where I can see the merchants' Guilds or The great Guild, founded by the Riga tradesmen in 1354. Its patron saint is St. Mary. The building houses the oldest meeting hall in Riga dating back to the 14th century. Today the building is the home of the Latvian Philharmonic Orchestra. Just opposite, is the Small Guild where the craftsmen of Riga, as elswhere in Europe, formed corporations to protect their interests. In the middle of the 14th century these corporations founded the Small Guild (also called the St. John's Guild. The present building was built between 1864 and 1866 in the British Neo-Gothic style. The beautiful interiors were restored in 2000.
Across from Livu Iaukums, I saw a building with two towers on which two cats are perched. This is the Cat's House and the building was constructed in 1909. The name 'Cats' House' derives from the wrought iron figures of cats on the towers of the building. By putting up these figures, the owner of the house who had been admitted to the Tradesmen's (Great) Guild tried to show his superiority to the guildsmen.
From Amatu street I turned left onto Skunu street to go to the Doma Iaukums (Doma Square), the heart of the Old Town and where the hostel that I was staying is located. I went to the middle of the square and observed the beautiful Riga Dome Cathedral that has been built in the place of an ancient Liiv settlement, which was situated there more than 800 years ago. The Dome Cathedral is one of the largest cathedrals in the Baltic States. The corner stone of the Dome Cathedral was laid down in 1211. The church has been reconstructed a number of times and reveals traces of all historical styles. The Gothic Cross Gallery is an outstanding sample of Baltic medieval architecture. The Doma organ with more than 6700 pipes and 124 registers (1883 - 1884) was once the biggest organ in the world. Today the Riga Dome is home to a Lutheran parish, the Riga History and Shipping Museum and functions as a concert hall.
After having visited the Dome square I took Smilsu (Sand) street and walked up to the Pulvera (Gunpowder) Tower. The only tower of the old fortification system that is still standing, initially called the Sand Tower dating back to 1330. The tower has undergone a number of reconstructions. Its name goes back to the 17th century when it was used for storing gunpowder. Now it houses the Museum of War since 1919.
I turned to the left to Torna (Tower) Street and arrive at the Jacob's Barracks (Jekaba Kazarmas) stretch along the right side. The barracks are the longest building in Riga and where recently restored to their original glory. The building is unique since it is one of the latest 16th - 19th century depots around Old Riga. Reconstruction took place in 1997. The building now houses shops, offices and cafes.
Then I walked through the Swedish Gate (Zviedru Varti), which were 'carved through' an already existing dwelling house in 1698. This is the only gate remaining of the Riga City Wall. In 1698 a passage through a dwelling house was made to connect the structures adjacent to the City Wall to the inner city. Since the 20-ies of the 20th century this building is home of the Architects' Association.
I walk down Aldaru (Brewer's) Street and turned right into Troksnu (Noise) street, occupied mainly by dwelling houses and warehouses of the 16th and 17th century. After I've crossed Jekaba street, on my right is the Saeima Knights' House (the Parliament of Latvia, constructed in in eclectic Renaissance style. The building was built between 1863 and 1867 in the style of Florentine renaissance as the Knights' House of the German landlords. Its authors were Janis Fridrihs Baumanis (1834-1901) who was the first Latvian professional architect and Roberts Pflugs. From the time when Latvia regained its independence, it has been the home of the Saeima (the Parliament).
Just opposite the the Parliament building is the only Riga church with a 'balcony bell' in the cupola - St. Jacob's Church. The church was first mentioned in 1225 as a building outside the Riga City Wall. it was the first church to preach reformation and the first Lutheran services for the Latvian congregation took place here. Today St. Jacob's Church is the cathedral of the Arch-Bishop of the Latvian Catholic Church.
Then I walked further past the entrance until I arrived at Maza Pils (Small Castle)street just opposite to one of the Riga symbols, the three medieval dwelling houses christened 'Three Brothers'. This is the oldest brick dwelling house in Riga. Its distinctive chimney has been preserved. The interior yard of the structure contains the oldest known city emblem of Riga along with some ancient stone portals. The oldest building of the 'Three Brethren' houses the Museum of Architecture.
Well... actually there are a lot more historical sites could be discovered in Riga but I end my discovery until here....