Top Historic Sites in Riga

Riga Old Town

Riga Old Town (Vecrīga) is the historical center of Riga, Latvia, located on the east side of Daugava River. Vecrīga is famous for its old churches and cathedrals, such as Riga Cathedral and St. Peter's church. Vecrīga is the original area of Riga and consists of the historic city limits before the city was greatly expanded over the years. In the old days, Vecrīga was protected by a surrounding wall e ...
Founded: 13th century | Location: Riga, Latvia

House of Blackheads

House of the Blackheads (Melngalvju nams) is a building situated in the old town of Riga. The original building was erected during the first third of the 14th century for the Brotherhood of Blackheads, a guild for unmarried German merchants in Riga. Major works were done in the years 1580 and 1886, adding most of the ornaments. The structure was bombed to a ruin by the Germans June 28, 1941 and the remains demolished by ...
Founded: ca. 1334 | Location: Riga, Latvia

St. Peter's Church

First record of the St. Peter's Church dates back to 1209. The church was a masonry construction and therefore undamaged by a city fire in Riga that year. The history of the church can be divided into three distinct periods: two associated with Gothic and Romanesque building styles, the third with the early Baroque period. The middle section of the church was built during the 13th century, which encompasses the first peri ...
Founded: 1209 | Location: Riga, Latvia

Museum of the Occupation of Latvia

Museum of the Occupation of Latvia 1940-1991 (Latvijas okupācijas muzejs) is an historic educational institution. It was established in 1993 to exhibit artifacts, archive documents, and educate the public about the 51-year period in the 20th century when Latvia was successively occupied by the USSR in 1940, then by Nazi Germany in 1941, and then again by the USSR in 1944. The museum's stated mission is to show what ...
Founded: 1971 | Location: Riga, Latvia

Riga Cathedral

Riga Cathedral is the Protestant cathedral in Riga, Latvia. Built near the River Daugava in 1211 by Livonian Bishop Albert of Riga, it is considered the largest medieval church in the Baltic states. It has undergone many modifications in the course of its history. Certainly one of the most recognisable landmarks in Latvia, the Cathedral is featured in or the subject of paintings, photographs and television travelogues. A ...
Founded: 1211 | Location: Riga, Latvia

St. John's Church

St. John's Church was built in the 13th century, probably between 1234-1297. It was originally home of the Dominican monks, but over the centuries fell into the possession of the Lutherans. It has also served as an arsenal for the city. The most notable features of this unheralded church are the impressive 15th century sculptures of St. Peter and St. Paul which adorn the the 18th century altar. According the legend two m ...
Founded: 13th century | Location: Riga, Latvia

St. James's Cathedral

St. James's Cathedral, or the Cathedral Basilica of St. James is dedicated to Saint James the Greater. It is frequently referred to by the name St. Jacob because Latvian, like many other languages, uses the same name for James and Jacob. The church building was dedicated in 1225. It was not originally a cathedral since the Rīgas Doms served that function. At the beginning of the 15th century the Holy Cross Chapel wa ...
Founded: 1225 | Location: Riga, Latvia

The Freedom Monument

The Freedom Monument if a symbol of independent Latvia. From the moment Latvia acquires its independence a search for a suitable artistic solution started and donations were gathered. The monument was built in 1931-35, its author was a well-known latvian architect Karlis Zale. The statue of Liberty (sculpturer R. Mirsmeden) holds three stars - the symbols of historical areas in Latvia: Kurzeme, Vidzeme, Latgale. The pede ...
Founded: 1931-1935 | Location: Riga, Latvia

Riga Castle

Riga Castle (Rīgas pils) is a castle on the banks of River Daugava. The castle was founded in 1330. This structure was thoroughly rebuilt between 1497 and 1515. Upon the castle's seizure by the Swedes, they constructed spacious annexes in 1641. The fortress was continually augmented and reconstructed between the 17th and 19th centuries. Sometime in the 1930s, some renovation work was done by architect Eižens Laube. ...
Founded: 1497-1515 | Location: Riga, Latvia

Nativity of Christ Cathedral

The Nativity of Christ Cathedral (Kristus Piedzimšanas pareizticīgo katedrāle) was built to a design by Nikolai Chagin in a Neo-Byzantine style between 1876 and 1883, during the period when the country was part of the Russian Empire. It is the largest Orthodox cathedral in the Baltic provinces built with the blessing of the Russian Tsar Alexander II on the initiative of local governor-general Pyotr Bagration and bishop ...
Founded: 1876-1883 | Location: Riga, Latvia

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte

The Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte is a baroque French château built between 1658-1661 for Nicolas Fouquet. It was made for Marquis de Belle Île, Viscount of Melun and Vaux, the superintendent of finances of Louis XIV, the château was an influential work of architecture in mid-17th century Europe. At Vaux-le-Vicomte, the architect Louis Le Vau, the landscape architect André le Nôtre, and the painter-decorator Charles Le Brun worked together on a large-scale project for the first time. Their collaboration marked the beginning of the 'Louis XIV style' combining architecture, interior design and landscape design. The garden's pronounced visual axis is an example of this style.

To secure the necessary grounds for the elaborate plans for Vaux-le-Vicomte’s garden and castle, Fouquet purchased and demolished three villages. The displaced villagers were then employed in the upkeep and maintenance of the gardens. It was said to have employed eighteen thousand workers and cost as much as 16 million livres. The château and its patron became for a short time a focus for fine feasts, literature and arts. The poet La Fontaine and the playwright Molière were among the artists close to Fouquet. At the inauguration of Vaux-le-Vicomte, a Molière play was performed, along with a dinner event organized by François Vatel, and an impressive firework show.

After Fouquet was arrested and imprisoned for life, and his wife exiled, Vaux-le-Vicomte was placed under sequestration. The king seized, confiscated or purchased 120 tapestries, the statues, and all the orange trees from Vaux-le-Vicomte. He then sent the team of artists (Le Vau, Le Nôtre and Le Brun) to design what would be a much larger project than Vaux-le-Vicomte, the palace and gardens of Versailles.

The Marshal Villars became the new owner without first seeing the chateau. In 1764, the Marshal's son sold the estate to the Duke of Praslin, whose descendants would maintain the property for over a century. It is sometimes mistakenly reported that the château was the scene of a murder in 1847, when duke Charles de Choiseul-Praslin, killed his wife in her bedroom, but this did not happen at Vaux-le-Vicomte but at the Paris residence of the Duke.

In 1875, after thirty years of neglect, the estate was sold to Alfred Sommier in a public auction. The château was empty, some of the outbuildings had fallen into ruin, and the famous gardens were totally overgrown. The huge task of restoration and refurbishment began under the direction of the architect Gabriel-Hippolyte Destailleur, assisted by the landscape architect Elie Lainé. When Sommier died in 1908, the château and the gardens had recovered their original appearance. His son, Edme Sommier, and his daughter-in-law completed the task. Today, his descendants continue to preserve the château, which remains privately owned by Patrice and Cristina de Vogüé, the Count and Countess de Vogüé. It is now administered by their three sons Alexandre, Jean-Charles and Ascanio de Vogüé. Recognized by the state as a monument historique, it is open to the public regularly.

Architecture

The chateau is situated near the northern end of a 1.5-km long north-south axis with the entrance front facing north. Its elevations are perfectly symmetrical to either side of this axis. Somewhat surprisingly the interior plan is also nearly completely symmetrical with few differences between the eastern and western halves. The two rooms in the center, the entrance vestibule to the north and the oval salon to the south, were originally an open-air loggia, dividing the chateau into two distinct sections. The interior decoration of these two rooms was therefore more typical of an outdoor setting. Three sets of three arches, those on the entrance front, three more between the vestibule and the salon, and the three leading from the salon to the garden are all aligned and permitted the arriving visitor to see through to the central axis of the garden even before entering the chateau. The exterior arches could be closed with iron gates, and only later were they filled in with glass doors and the interior arches with mirrored doors. Since the loggia divided the building into two halves, there are two symmetrical staircases on either side of it, rather than a single staircase. The rooms in the eastern half of the house were intended for the use of the king, those in the western were for Fouquet. The provision of a suite of rooms for the king was normal practice in aristocratic houses of the time, since the king travelled frequently.

Another surprising feature of the plan is the thickness of the main body of the building (corps de logis), which consists of two rows of rooms running east and west. Traditionally the middle of the corps de logis of French chateaux consisted of a single row of rooms. Double-thick corps de logis had already been used in hôtels particuliers in Paris, including Le Vau's Hôtel Tambonneau, but Vaux was the first chateau to incorporate this change. Even more unusual, the main rooms are all on the ground floor rather than the first floor (the traditional piano nobile). This accounts for the lack of a grand staircase or a gallery, standard elements of most contemporary chateaux. Also noteworthy are corridors in the basement and on the first floor which run the length of house providing privacy to the rooms they access. Up to the middle of the 17th century, corridors were essentially unknown. Another feature of the plan, the four pavilions, one at each corner of the building, is more conventional.

Vaux-le-Vicomte was originally planned to be constructed in brick and stone, but after the mid-century, as the middle classes began to imitate this style, aristocratic circles began using stone exclusively. Rather late in the design process, Fouquet and Le Vau switched to stone, a decision that may have been influenced by the use of stone at François Mansart's Château de Maisons. The service buildings flanking the large avant-cour to the north of the house remained in brick and stone, and other structures preceding them were in rubble-stone and plaster, a social ranking of building materials that would be common in France for a considerable length of time thereafter.

The main chateau is constructed entirely on a moated platform, reached via two bridges, both aligned with the central axis and placed on the north and south sides. The moat is a picturesque holdover from medieval fortified residences, and is again a feature that Le Vau may have borrowed from Maisons. The moat at Vaux may also have been inspired by the previous chateau on the site, which Le Vau's work replaced.

Gardens

The château rises on an elevated platform in the middle of the woods and marks the border between unequal spaces, each treated in a different way. This effect is more distinctive today, as the woodlands are mature, than it was in the seventeenth century when the site had been farmland, and the plantations were new.

Le Nôtre's garden was the dominant structure of the great complex, stretching nearly a mile and a half (3 km), with a balanced composition of water basins and canals contained in stone curbs, fountains, gravel walks, and patterned parterres that remains more coherent than the vast display Le Nôtre was to create at Versailles.

Le Nôtre created a magnificent scene to be viewed from the house, using the laws of perspective. Le Notre used the natural terrain to his advantage. He placed the canal at the lowest part of the complex, thus hiding it from the main perspectival point of view. Past the canal, the garden ascends a large open lawn and ends with the Hercules column added in the 19th century. Shrubberies provided a picture frame to the garden that also served as a stage for royal fêtes.

From the top of the grand staircase, this gives the impression that the entire garden is revealed in one single glance. Initially, the view consists of symmetrical rows of shrubbery, avenues, fountains, statues, flowers and other pieces developed to imitate nature – these elements exemplify the Baroque desire to mold nature to fit its wishes, thus using nature to imitate nature. The centerpiece is a large reflecting pool flanked by grottos holding statues in their many niches. The grand sloping lawn is not visible until one begins to explore the garden, when the viewer is made aware of the optical elements involved and discovers that the garden is much larger than it looks.