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  • Writer's pictureErin

The Unexpected Architecture Capital of Europe

Updated: Mar 3, 2023

Riga is the capital city of Latvia and one of the most stunning cities in Europe. There are many remarkable aspects to this lesser-known town that make it a spectacular destination. From the incredible history that lines every street to the deep-rooted culture, there is a place for every traveler in this amazing city.

Medieval Street Riga, Latvia
Medieval Street Riga

Latvia dates its roots back to the Middle Ages as a trading center for the Vikings, largely thanks to the river Daugava. Over the centuries, the Daugava river continued to play a massive part in the development of Latvia, and it opened the doors for German merchants to take root in the country. While under German rule, the city joined the Hanseatic League, which played a significant role in the continued economic roots of Latvia and the city of Riga. From the early 14th century till the early 16th century, Latvia faced multiple attacks from surrounding countries but remained largely part of the Swedish empire from 1629 to 1721. Latvia then became part of the Russian Empire and later the Soviet Union. In 1990 it was the first of the Soviet states to declare independence from the Soviet Union. All of this history has led to some amazingly different styles of architecture, from Art Nouveau to the Medieval Gothic Revival Style.

Town Hall Square, Riga, Latvia
Town Hall Square

Medieval Gothic Revival

The Medieval Gothic Revival architecture that lines the pedestrian-only streets is full of varied history and influence, making for a fantastic experience. The stunning spectacles of Old Town include Town Hall Square, House of Blackheads, and St. Peter's Church. The House of Blackheads was originally built in 1344 and was continually expanded until the 19th century. It was home to many public meetings and gatherings and hosted banquets for public organizations. Directly across from the House of Blackheads is the Town Hall Square. This three-story building is home to the iconic clock tower of Town Hall Squares. St. Peter's Church is the oldest in Riga and one of the most iconic in the Baltic States. St. Peter's Church was the main place of worship for all who lived in Riga for most of its existence. When you visit it today, you can climb the observation tower to gain stunning views of the city. Many buildings, including The House of Blackheads and St. Peter's Church, have been rebuilt due to bombings during the many wars. These rebuilds were modeled after the original blueprints, and travelers cannot tell the difference.

Building on Elizabetes Street, Riga, Latvia
Building on Elizabetes Street

Art Nouveau

Europe was the birthplace of Art Nouveau's art and architecture movement. The economic boom of the 19th and 20th centuries led to Riga having the highest concentration of Art Nouveau architecture in all of Europe, with over 800 buildings. These buildings are typically multi-story apartments with large square windows and ornate features. The feature in Riga were almost always locally sourced sculptures, stained glass, and majolica stoves. These buildings often brought beautiful color to the streets and life to everyone that encountered it. Some of the most incredible destinations to see include Alberta Street and Elizabetes Street. The ornate features of the buildings along these streets are picturesque and are full of history. The best way to experience the architecture of these streets is by wandering along them and transporting yourself back to the 20th century when Riga was becoming the heart of the region.

Now that you know a little bit more about the history, culture, and architecture, it is time to plan the most stunning trip to Latvia. Schedule a consultation to ensure that all of your destinations are on your perfect itinerary.

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