Husband was working in Riga (Latvia) so I had tagged along for the ride, and we spent the second day exploring the Old Town (clue in the name!) It is full of pretty squares and interesting buildings, and although much of it was rebuilt after the war, they have preserved the historical feel of the city. It’s a nice place to be. We walked through the park which runs alongside the river, and into the pedestrianised zone. We passed Powder Tower (see yesterday’s blog) and saw The Swedish Gate, which is the only remaining gate from the old city wall, and was built below someone’s house — not sure if they were pleased, somewhat inconvenient to have people traipsing below your house I would have thought.
We arrived at St. Jacob’s Cathedral, which has a monument outside to remember the people who died in the 1991 barricades (more about this in a later blog). St. Jacob’s Cathedral is a red brick building, built outside of the original city wall. It has a cupola on the south side, which once held a bell—not to summon people to prayer, but to let them know that an execution was taking place in the city. The bell is no longer there. I am assuming the executions are also a thing of the past.
Opposite the cathedral is the Parliament building (some discussion with Husband about Riga’s flag—I can tell you that it’s red with a white stripe down the middle, and he was wrong. Just saying.)
During World War II, the building was the headquarters for the SS officer responsible for killing the Latvian Jews, gays and Roma. Later it was used by the Supreme Soviet of Latvia. This is an example, repeated around the city, of buildings which were built to look pretty, and later used for a variety of horrible things, and have now returned to simply being buildings. Latvia has a tangled history, and there are traces left wherever you go. I wonder if it’s better to not read any guidebooks or visit any museums, and to simply enjoy the beauty of the place in the sunshine and leave the ghosts in the past.
Around the corner from St. Jacob’s Cathedral is a hidden cafe in a courtyard, which claims to be the most romantic cafe in the world (good marketing strategy!) It offers free hugs at the counter (so I’m guessing it’s run by the church). There was also a Christian bookshop, and I bought my mother a scarf. Riga has lots of linen goods and knitted goods, probably because in the winter it’s usually snowy. This is the city to visit if you want to buy a warm hat that your family will mock.
There are three houses, known as The Three Brothers because they each have a distinct architectural style. Two men busk outside, playing music that the locals recognise and sing along to (I saw them there on several occasions). This means everyone has very confusing photographs, as they are of “The Three Brothers” but they show only two men.
Next on our tour was Dome Square. (To be honest, it wasn’t a very good ‘tour’ as it was simply Husband following a route on a map, regularly waving towards interesting buildings and informing me: “There’s a thing!”) Dome Cathedral has a cockerel on the spire, and the building is lower than the square, as they have raised the land since it was built, to stop the area flooding. (Not sure if this means the cathedral now floods instead—hopefully not.) There was a young girl playing a violin outside. She was very young, and played extremely well, and was receiving a lot of money, as almost everyone passing threw something into her violin case. There are a lot of buskers in Riga, many of them young, most of them excellent musicians. It’s rather lovely to wander around, looking at interesting buildings while accompanied by music.
Riga has several squares, and many churches/cathedrals. The next square on our tour had a very interesting building: the House of Blackheads—so named because it was a guild for foreign merchants, and their patron was St. Maurice (who was black). I began to realise that many of the buildings, built in the 1500s and 1600s, show how affluent Riga had once been. It was an important trading port, full of rich merchants, and the architecture reflects this. Further from the centre, the buildings were once beautiful, but are now faded, and sometimes derelict, whereas the ones in the centre of the old town have been rebuilt since the war. It must have been a magnificent place a few hundred years ago, and it is still pretty today. You should visit before it becomes too busy. It’s up to you whether you take a guide book and learn about the past, or simply enjoy what you see today.
Tomorrow I will show you some more pretty buildings which have rather nasty history (like the old KGB headquarters)—why not sign up to follow my blog so you don’t miss it?
Hope you have an interesting day.
Love, Anne x
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