Old Riga

Mentzendorff House today houses a museum that shows the life of a rich Riga merchant, his house and its interior. Mentzendorff House has been restored and you can observe impressive six-pane Windows from outside. For almost 200 years one of the oldest drugstores of Riga – Brieža drugstore – was located there, founded on 1678. From 1834 to 1837 the famous pharmacologist K. Fredkering worked there.
Today Mentzendorff’s House is a branch of the Museum of Riga History and Navigation. In the museum you can get the impression of the dwelling and shop-rooms of a rich Riga merchant. After extensive restoration this ancient house was reborn almost to its initial form with its big hall with a clay floor that was the most important room in the merchant’s house, the open fireplace – a symbol of warmth and wellbeing, a kitchen with copper and tin dishes, as well as shop rooms with a famous cash collegiate desk. The wall and ceiling paintings were also restored during the 17th and 18th centuries and the interior is arranged with authentic furniture, dishes, musical instruments, paintings and other everyday things.

Town Hall Square is a construction that did not survive World War II and in its original desing can now be seen only on postcards. It is being rebuilt today.
Town Hall Square formed during the middle of the 13th century’s was initially a marketplace with a weigh station with stands for bread and meat and crafts shops. The main function of the Square, though, was the administration of the city. The rules and orders of the Town Council were read out there; various celebrations, dances, games, tournaments, carnivals, guards’ parades and performances of mysteries were performed there. The pillory where violators of rules were pilloried and scaffold for executions was also situated there. There during the Calendar Unrests in 1589 the executioner severed the heads of City Chancellor Welling and Council Secretary Tasty, as well as those of the leaders of the Unrests- M. Gieze and J. Brinken.
The Town Hall Square is now being restored in its historical appearance. In the centre of the square the statue of Roland is placed, the original of which can now be seen in St. Peter’s Church. This statue symbolized the power of the court of this medieval city and the safety of the market. The first version of the statue was made of wood and has not survived to our day, but in 1894 the sculptor A. Voltz made the sculpture of Silesian limestone after the sketch of V. Neimanis. The statue was put on a postament of Finnish granite.

The Melngalvju or the House of Blackheads Brotherhood building was the richest and most splendorous building in the Town Hall Square. Blackheads was an organization of unmarried foreign merchants, existing in several medieval Baltic towns. The Brotherhood of Blackheads was created from the Brotherhood of Sv. Juris (St. George), existing in the 13th century. It was entered by young, unmarried foreign tradesmen, who were living in Riga, but were not house owners. Initially the patron of the Brotherhood was St. George – the patron of knights and soldiers, but later also St. Mauritius whose symbol – the head of a Moor was pictured in the emblem of the Blackheads’ organization. The Statues of the Blackheads’ organization have come to us from 1416.
The Blackheads’ house as the new house of the Riga Guild is first mentioned in 1334. It was used for meetings of citizens. In 1477 the Parade Hall on the upper floor was let out to the Blackheads by the Riga City Council. In 1713 the whole house became the property of the Blackheads and, accordingly, adopted their name – the House of Blackheads.
The building was constructed in gothic style and reminded of a medieval dwelling house with a steep gabled roof, the ridge of which was 27 meters high. At the turn of the 16th-17th centuries the facade of the Blackheads’ House acquired its present Renaissance silhouette. The beautiful astronomic clock was installed in the 20s of the 17th century. The building obtained its final design during the reconstruction in 1896, when the Hanseatic Town emblems and allegoric figures of Neptune, Mercury, Unity and Peace were placed in the Gothic alcolves. The process of restoration of the Blackheads’ House has been completed. It has become a part of the old Town Hall Square by the 800th anniversary of Riga.

St. Peter’s Church is one of the dominants of Riga. Almost since the very beginning of Riga it has drawn people’s glances, being the tallest building in Riga. The name of St. Peter’s Church is first mentioned in 1209. It was the chief sacred building of medieval Riga, where one of the oldest schools in Riga was located, too. The history of St. Peter’s Church is closely linked with the history of Riga. In the “policy” of development of Riga three major forces were involved: the ideologic power – the Bishop, the military power – the Order, and the citizens – crafts- and tradesmen. In the early days of Riga the castle of the Bishop, as well as that of the Order of Knights of Sword and the main church of the town parish were located closely together. All three forces competed and engaged in armed conflicts in the course of history. St. Peter’s Church has also been a weapon emplacement in the clashes between the citizens and the Order, where in 1297, after pulling down the steeple of the church, the citizens with the help of a catapult bombarded the fortifications of the Order from the platform of the church. The yard of St. Peter’s Church was also a place for social events. There, for instance, Visvaldis, the king of the Selian state Yersika, gave his lands over to Bishop Albert after a fight, lost in 1209, and got them back as a feoff.
Three stages have been pointed out in the construction and reconstruction of St. Peter’s Church. During the first stage during the 13th century the middle part of the church was constructed, from which some parts of the outer walls and some interior pilasters have survived to our day. It is thought that the church had a separately standing belfry.
The City Council of Riga hired two guards who kept watch in the belfry around the clock. One of their duties was to announce any kind of danger by sounds of trumpets. There were two bells in the belfry – one was called the Work Bell, because it was sounded in the beginning and at the end of the working day, but the other was called the Long Bell which was sounded on religious occasions. During the second stage from 1408 to 1409 a new altar part was constructed with a semi-circle passage and 5 chapels; later in 1456-1491 – the 136 meters high steeple was built. It collapsed in 1666, but was immediately rebuilt. In the Big Fire of 1667 the steeple burned down together with St. John’s Church. The reconstruction was guided by the Architect Johann Rumeshotel specially invited for this purpose from Rostock. The construction had been quite thorough for the accounts of building show that 52 barrels of beer were consumed, 1 mark spent for food and 8 eres and 1 artava spent for drinking parties. In Whitsuntide the architect got the present of 6 barrels of beer for 6,5 vērdiņi, which he emptied together with his workmen.
During the third stage of reconstruction from 1671 to 1690 under the guidance of the builders, J. Jostens and R. Bindenshu, the western façade of the church was reconstructed and a new steeple erected. Its 64,5 meters high belfry was then the tallest wooden structure in Europe. Its total height was 120,7 meters. The main façade of the church was also improves, giving it a baroque outlook and embellishing its portal by limestone sculptures. It is noteworthy that for the construction of the façade a unique stone – a special sort of dolomite (Platyschisma kircholmiensis Keys.) found only in Latvia in the surroundings of Salaspils, near the railway station of Saulkalne – was used.
In 1721 lightning struck the belfry of St. Peter’s Church and it burnt down despite the personal help of Peter the Great who was visiting Riga at that time. From 1743 to 1746 the steeple was rebuilt in its previous shape. During World War II the steeple was destroyed together with a great part of the church and its interior. The church was rebuilt in metallic constructions in 1968 – 1973. Now it is 123,5 meters high. In 1984 the reconstruction of the interior was completed. Today exhibitions and concerts are performed there. There are 2 viewing platforms in the belfry at the heights of 57 and 71 meters. A lift brings you to a beautiful panorama of Riga and you can see the borders of Old and New Riga. There are church services held in St. Peter’s Church every Sunday.

The Museum of Applied Arts was opened on July 6, 1989, but historically it was the former St. George’s Church. The church was a part of the castle of the Knights of the Sword and later of the Livonian Order.
Information about this church, whose foundations were laid already in 1204, can be found in the Livonian Indriķis Chronicle of 1209. This building served as a church up to 1525 when, as a result of the Reformation movement, it was destroyed together with other Catholic churches. Until the early 17th century it was a warehouse by the administration of the Holy Ghost Hospital. After the fire of 1689 the 5 meters high and 2 meters wide windows of the church were bricked up, the church itself was separated into several storeys and lifting equipment was installed in the attic. In the reconstruction both the features of the 13th century church as well as those of the warehouses of the 16th – 17th centuries were kept.
There are 3 exhibition halls in the Museum now. On the 2nd and 3rd floor you may view the permanent expositions: “Latvian Professional Applied Art. Late 19th century – the 60ies of the 20th century” and “Latvian Profession Applied Art. 70s and 80s of the 20th century”.

The Latvian Occupation Museum was founded in 1993 to document the period of occupation in Latvia from 1940 to 1991. The permanent collection includes international treaties, laws, publications, official and personal documents, memorabilia, maps and photographs. On loan from other museums are art works reflecting the obligatory style of the post-war period. The Reading Room contains eye-witness accounts and recollections by politically repressed individuals. A striking reminder of the mass deportations on June 14, 1941 is located outside the Museum at Torņakalna Station: a restored railway car. Cars, like this one, normally used for livestock, forcibly transported 15,000 Latvian citizens to remote parts of the Soviet Union.

The building of St. George Church is constructed of yellowish-grey limestone and whitewashed burned bricks, that’s why people called it the “White Castle”. The St. George Church has one peculiar feature: its altar part is situated on the crosspoint of seven most powerful bioenergetic spots of Riga.
This was the castle of the Order of the Knights of Sword with its yard, built in 1202. As it was fortress-like building, which were usually called convent-type buildings, so the name “Convent Yard” has come to our days as well. The castle was destroyed at the end of the 13th century in the fights between the Order and the town Riga. A chronicle of the 14th century tells us laconically: “In 1297 in the time if the ordermaster Bruno the citizens of Riga began their war against the Order for the first time. In a communion with Lithuanians they destroyed the yard, i.e. the castle arranged for 60 brothers of the Order and convent, as well as the other buildings and two strongly fortified towers.”
The initial success of Riga citizens ended in failure in 1330 when the city surrendered to the Order and was forced to build a new palace in other territory – on the bank of the Daugava where the Holy Ghost Hospital moved to the old castle-yard which later was called the Holy Ghost Convent Yard. In 1488 the town gave its permission to form a monastery there. After the Reformation the monastery was closed and the buildings of the Convent Yard were turned into old people’s homes, warehouses and dwelling houses. Considerable reconstruction of the buildings was made in the course of time. Still it is notable that the houses and warehouses of the convent yard kept the symbol of the Holy Ghost – the pigeon. The reliefs with pigeons of different colors still stood on the walls of the warehouses thus giving them names: “Blue Pigeon”, “Yellow Pigeon”, “Black Pigeon”, “White Pigeon”, “Brown Pigeon”, etc.
After the reconstruction a branch of the “Hotel de Rome”, – the hotel “Convent Yard” – there also kept the traditional “Pigeon” names for different buildings.

St. John’s Church is another striking edifice on Skārņu street 24. It grew out of the former chapel of the Riga Bishop’s castle. In 1234 a Dominican monastery was founded near the castle and it, in turn, founded the St. John’s Church in honour of John the Baptist. The church is mentioned in chronicles for the first time in 1297, when the city dwellers in their struggle against the Order used the church as a weapon emplacement for bombarding the Order’s castle. In the 15th century during the fights between the city and the Order the church was destroyed, but around 1500 it was rebuilt in the style of Early Gothic. On the east end of the parish room a small belfry was erected. When the Reformation movement started the city Council with its order of 1523 closed down both the Dominican monastery and the church. The buildings were used for various practical purposes and the church was used for some time as storerooms for firearms.
In 1582, John’s Church was passed over to the Latvian parish of St. Jacob’s Church and since then John’s Church had been at the disposal of Riga Latvians and could be considered the first Latvian church in Riga.
The church was too small for the large parish and in 1582 – 1589 it was widened to John’s street, building at annex in the style of Mannerism in place of the old altar. The belfry was reconstructed several times: in 1763 a new belfry was built but in 1849 after the project of the architect J.D. Felsko the present-day Pseudo-gothic belfry was built.
There are several valuable masterpieces in the interior of the church – the baroque-style altar (1769), stained glass windows, statues of John the Baptist and Salome in the altar niches, J. Rozentals’ painting “The Crucified” (1912) in the sacristy. There are also original lanterns in the style of Mannerism and interesting paintings of the organ.
Since the 16th century, St. John’s Church housed a church school where both sacral and secular subjects were taught.

Through the monastery gate you can go into the John’s Yard every part of which gives you a medieval impression. Just opposite the gateway there is a fragment of a fortification wall and on the left you can notice a small gate. Legends tell that the gate had been a passageway from the monastery to the castle yard. If the terms were acceptable, the gate stood open and the knights could visit the monastery.
After the Reformation the monastery was closed down and the rooms were used by the Town Council. Until 1783 there was a reformatory, from 1794 to 1803 a sanctuary for the poor, from 1828 to 1902 – police barracks.
At John’s Yard 6 there was the already mentioned St. John’s Church School.

From Liv Square a scene opens on the Great and Small Guilds. Guilds or brotherhoods of craftsmen and merchants were founded in Riga after 1221. The aim of the brotherhoods was to help the empoverished and ill members, to take care of funerals and other social needs. Around the middle of the 14th century separate tradesmen’s and craftsmen’s were formed. In 1354 from the already existing St. Cross and Trinity Guild Riga merchants slit off, forming the Guild of St. Mary, after the name of their patroness. Trade was one of the most profitable occupations and, accordingly, the building of the tradesmen guild was larger than that of craftsmen. The political influence of tradesmen was also much stronger and quite logically their guild got the name of the Great Guild. In 1330 the Great Guild built a meeting house with an assembly hall on the first floor that was named Muenster Room. Some people say this name is associated with the fact that the building was constructed on the foundations of the building that belonged to the Franciscan monastery and this name is derived from the Latin ‘monasterium’. Another version is that this name might be connected with the name of the German city Muenster with which Riga had close trade ties. This version is supported by the fact that just next to the Muenster Room there was also Zost room, and Zost was a city that had close relationship with Riga. The Muenster Room was the most splendid room at the Great Guild and was widened and adorned even more in the course of time. During the first half of the 15th century the so-called Bride’s Chamber was built and some more essential reconstructions were made in 1691-1697.
The building got its present appearance in 1854 – 1857 after capital reconstruction according to the project of architect K. Beine, preserving and including in the new building the chief part of the old building with the Muenster Room and the restored Bridal Chamber. The building has a form of the English Gothic and Monumental Eclecticism and a very skilfully restored interior part. IN 1963 the interior part of the building was destroyed by fire and was restored, simultaneously adding a new hall and adapting it for needs of a concert hall. Today a concert hall of the Riga Philharmonic is located here.
Just opposite the Great Guild is the Small Guild. The small or John’s Guild formed very much like the Large Guild. The Small Guild united all the craftsmen and set its own rules of craftsmanship in Riga. The Statues of the Small Guild or the “shragas” were mentioned for the first time in 1352 and revised in later years. The first version of the building of the Small Guild was constructed in the middle of the 14th century and later reconstructed. The present building was constructed after pulling down the old one in 1864 – 1866 after the project of architect J.D. Felsko in the Eclectic English Gothic style. The interior of the building has rich embellishments including the Meeting Hall, decorated in wooden panels on the first floor. The building has stained glass windows with the emblems of various crafts and portraits of the chiefs of the Guilds. The interior walls are decorated by paintings picturing the scenes of Riga partnertowns – Bremen, Hamburg, Luebeck, Rostock, and others.

When you return to the Liv Square, you can enjoy refreshments at one of the open-air cafes and have a look at the Artists’ Market where you can find both amateur and professional works of art. Gathering of young people and tunes of street musicians heard endows the place with an especially attractive air. The square itself was created after the World War II after the ruins of the destroyed buildings were cleaned away.

Jacob’s Barracks stretch along the right side of Torna Street. The Barracks are newly restored and house various offices, agencies and shops. On the facade of the Barracks the emblem of Riga can be seen. Jekaba Barracks is the longest building in Old Riga.
Torna Street developed in the 17th, 18th century between the newly built fortifications and the old fortification wall. In 1987 a fragment of the fortification wall was restored where Ramer Tower stood. The tower was built in the 13th century together with the northern wall of the town fortifications. Initially it was relatively small tower of a rectangle form. Ramer Tower is located about 70 meters from Gunpowder Tower, which corresponds to the rules of fortification construction at that time, the distance between towers is that of an arrow shot. The foundations of the tower are built of dolomite stone and the overground part of burnt red brick. It is said that the builders encapsuled three horses’ skulls in the wall a sacrifice to mystic powers to ensure the durability of the tower.
If you continue your walk along Torna Street, you can observe a fragment of the defence wall behind which a number of houses are built. This is an example of what happened to the old defence wall when it lost its military significance. It was used as a back wall for the construction of other buildings. It economized on building materials. In the present Architects’ House the remnants of one more tower were found (the Jirgens Tower).
Next to the Architects’ House is the Swedish Gate which was broken through an already constructed dwelling house in 1689. A legend tells that even the Russian Czar Peter the Great was forced to stay behind the Swedish Gate, because he had arrived too late to find the gate closed and the guards refused to open it.

Walking along Smilsu Street you can get to Dom Square. Everyone knows the saying that all roads lead to Rome, but in Riga they lead to the Dom. The Square started to form from the 1860 to 1880, when the surrounding medieval construction was pulled down, to reveal the entrance portals of the Dom Church. However, the present size was achieves in 1936, when the buildings on the northern and north-eastern side of the Dom were pulled down. The Dom Church is still of the dominants of Riga.
On the Square just opposite the Dom, three noteworthy buildings are situated: the buildings that houses the Stock Exchange, constructed in 1852 – 1855 after the project designed by architect H. Bosse in the style of 15th century Italian Palazzo, the original building of Latvia Radio; and the building of the Universal Bank of Latvia on the corner of Pils Street.
On the opposite side of Dom Square a smaller square is situated where the emblems of Riga partner towns are exhibited. There are lots of cafes and restaurants on Dom Square.
The Dom Church, the cathedral of Archibishop of the Latvian Lutheran Evangelical Church, is a superb architectural and artistic landmark of the period 13th century to 20th century.
Initially a Catholic parish ( Bishop Albert blessed the site of its eventual construction in 1211), the Dom became a Lutheran church after the Reformation in the 16th century.
The massive edifice has undergone multiple changes over the centuries. The church’s oldest sections, the altar room and east wing crossing, are examples of its original Romanesque style: enormous walls, a crosswise vaulted ceiling and rows of half-circle windows. The Gothic-style additions brought a simpler construction: pointed arches, large windows and stellar vaults. The eastern pediment and the steeple were reconstructed in the 18th century in the Baroque style. The portal was redone in the latter part of the 19th century and, at the beginning of the 20th century, a new vestibule was completed in the Art Nouveau style. The many stained-glass windows, depicting various Biblical and local historical themes, were prepared at the end of the 19th and early 20th century in workshops in Riga, Munch and Dresden.
The pulpit and the organ both feature exquisite woodwork. The pulpit was received as a gift in 1641 and believed to be designed by Tobias Heinz. The oldest decorative portion of the organ, drawn by Jacob Raab in 1601 in the Mannerism style, was embellished with Baroque and Rococo motifs in the 17th and 18th centuries. The renowned organ itself, completed by the Ludwigsburg (Germany) company “Walcker and Co.” in 1884, has 124 pitches, 6,718 wood and metal pipes, two consoles with four manuals and a pediclavier. The organ is utilized regularly during services and concerts.

The Riga Dom complex houses the oldest museum in the Baltics, the Museum of History and Navigation, founded in 1773. The museum was established after the private collection of physician Nicholas fon Himsel was donated to the Riga Town Council. The museum’s repository contains over 500,000 articles reflecting the istory of Riga and navigation in Latvia.
The permanent collection, on display in five halls, encompasses the time from 9000 B.C. to 1200 A.D., in the area of the mouth of the Daugava River, and the history of Riga from the 12th century to the 17th century (charting the development of the city into an important member of the Hanseatic League). Items found in archeological digs, preserved or arquired include: ancient Latvian jewelry, weapons, coins and medals, scales and measuring devices, arts and crafts.
Two halls are devoted to the history of navigation in Latvia from ancient times to the present. Of interest are models and drawings of ships and various instruments.
The museum regularly features special exhibitions culled from its vast resources or otherwise.

The building of Saeima, the Parliament of Latvia, which is constructed in the form of Edectic Renaissance after the project of R. Pflug and J. Baumanis. Initially it was the House of the Vidzeme Knighthood. It slightly reminds one of the houses of Florentine noblemen.
Just opposite the Saeima building is the only Riga church with a “bell on the balcony” – St. Jacob’s Church. It is already mentioned in 1225 when it was still situated behind the defence wall of the town. The church consists of a choir room, a parish hall and a 80 m high steeple that, more than any other Riga steeple, reflects its Gothic origins. In the 15th century, on the southern side of the octagonal steeple, a cupola for the clock bell ( the famous “ balcony bell” ) was constructed. In the 17th century the lower part of the Baroqual tower was added.
At St. Jacob’s Church a lyceum founded by the Swedish King Charles IX, operated from 1675.
St. Jacob’s Church bears more evidence characterizing the religiosity of Medieval people. In 1774, at the northern wall of the Church, when pulling down a family vault, a hollow about 1,5 m high pilaster was found in the niche where an encapsuled human skeleton stood. The remnants of clothing shoved that the person might have been a representative of higher social standing.
That is not the only discovery of this type. A document was found in the city archives, shoving that on May 15, 1445 an honored and well-known man named Indrikis arrived at Riga City Council. He wanted to be worshipped in this and the next world and therefore asked to be immured alive and end his life in the honor of God living on “ the charity of good people”. Brothers of the Franciscan Monastery agreed to immure Indrikis in the wall of the church of their monastery.

“The Three Brothers” are “brothers” only because they are standing next to each other. They were dwelling houses built in the period from the 15th to the 17th centuries and in these “ brothers” you can observe various stages of construction of the history of Riga.
The oldest stone dwelling house that has survived in Riga is situated at M. Pils Street 17. It was built in the 15th century and is decorated by stepped a pediment and gothic niches. In this building there had been only one large room with an open fireplace, the attic was used for keeping goods. In front of the house there is a porch with cornerstones.
The building at M. Pils Street 19 got its final outlook in 1646. Its façade is created in the style of Dutch Mannerism. The planning of the house is very much like the one previously mentioned, only living rooms are situated also on the yard-side if the second floor. The attic still served as store-rooms. In 1746 a stone portal was added to the building.
The third building was constructed in the late 17th century. Here you can already see a Baroqual pediment of curved forms, therea are small flats on each floor where you can get to by climbing a wooden stair. The yards of all three houses were united during the reconstruction from 1955 to 1957 and stone portals and the emblem of Riga were added to their walls.
“ The Three Brothers” reflect the principles of Medieval construction in Riga – narrow buildings with their ends facing the street, built side-by-side, truly reminding one of friendly brothers.
The Museum of Architecture is located in “ The Three Brothers”.

“Arsenals” Art Museum is located in Riga’s Old Town at Torna iela 1.
The building itself, designed by St. Petersburg architects I. Lukini and A. Nellinger, dates back to 1832.
The museum’s vast collection contains 14,000 units representing contemporary (after 1945) Latvian and foreign painting, graphic design, sculpture and decorative art.
Thematically and stylistically diverse solo, group and retrospective shows are regularly featured in two large exhibition halls.

The Gunpowder Tower is the only tower of the old fortification system that still stands. It was also the biggest tower that guarded the chief entrance to the city – the gate of Smilšu Street until the 17th century. The Tower is mentioned in the Chronicles for the first time in 1330. It was known as the Sand Tower. In the 15th century, the Tower was reconstructed for the use of firearms, and was the best-armed tower in Riga. In 1515 the Tower was armed with thirteen cannons, four stone guns and four hook guns. In 1621, during the encirclement by the troops of Gustavus Adolphus the Tower was destroyed and in the 17th century restored again. The diameter of the tower is 19.8 meters, height – 26 meters above the present level of the street, thickness of the walls at basement level – 2.75 meters. Originally, the Tower had been a semi-circle, turned with the flat side toward the city. The Tower was named Gunpowder Tower in the 17th century, when gunpowder was stored there. The Tower was reconstructed in 1892. In 1919, the War Museum was opened there, and in 1937 – 1939 one more new building for the museum was constructed next to the Tower. Now the Tower houses the Latvian War Museum.
The Tower still preserves relics of ancient times: rings for securing a cannon in the windows, walls 2.5 meters thick which gave protection from cannon-shot, and vaulted chamber where defenders of the city gathered during emergencies. The Tower became a museum in 1919, when it housed the Latvian Riflemen’s Museum, established in 1916. In 1937, work began on a new building for the Warfare Museum. At the time, it was the most modern museum building in the Baltics. The construction ended in 1940, but that summer Latvia was occupied of the Soviet army. Museum construction ended. The struggle, for Latvian independence, the Latvian state and those who fought for it, was considered undesirable by the occupying regime. At the end of the year the museum was abolished.