It was a beautiful, sunny and warm day, when we debarked from the ship to get a look at Riga! We have a full day ahead so let’s get started! The bus is going to take us around the streets of Riga first, so we can get a feeling for the city and it’s Art Nouveau look and then we will be taking a walking tour the rest of the day through the medieval lanes and cobblestone streets, that are pedestrian only. Riga, the capital of Latvia, is home to 634,000 people, which is one third of Latvia’s population! The city lies on the Gulf of Riga and the Daugava River runs through the city. This made the area ripe for trading and transportation, being first settled by the Vikings. The Catholic Church sent many envoys here to “Christianize the pagans,” but eventually it was German traders and merchants, who settled into the city. Then, as with the other countries in the Baltics it was back and forth between Russia and Germany and finally after WWI, on November 18th , 1918, Latvia gained its independence from Russia, the first time…… There is more to this story, that I will hold for another post, but since it such a beautiful day let’s get out there and see Riga today!
Now, a note about taking photographs from a bus. I was in Rome, Italy with my daughter and on a big, open aired, RED tour bus. You know the ones. And, I was complaining about seeing the city this way, because I thought I could not get any good photos from a bus. My daughter looked at me emphatically and said, “Mother just hold up your camera and click away, there are bound to be some good photos from it!” And, I was so surprised when there were……….So, I have learned when on a bus to not sit by the window, there will be glare from the window. I sit in the middle row seat and just click away with my IPhone, and do not worry too much about what I am photographing. At the end of the day I remove the blurred photos and and am happily surprised at the good photos I get. My hubby is even better at it than I am! And, always get a map of the city you are in……we get one before we ever leave the ship. That way you can go back and look to see exactly what you took a photo of! It is also good because we always have some time to explore on our own and you will want to know where you are on the map. You don’t want to get lost and not make it back to the ship! Take a seat, and fasten your seatbelt…….this is a must in the Baltic countries, because the tour bus companies are heavily fined if we are stopped and checked to make sure we have them clicked! Now on to the streets of Riga!
I am still surprised by the wide, wide boulevards…………..
Here is the Corner House, as it was called, Home of the KGB in Riga………In 1940 The Soviet’s moved into Latvia and with a rigged election, the new Soviet government brought the KBG secret police with them. The secret headquarters were located in a large building in the middle of the city. “Undesirable Elements” could be picked up for small crimes such as having “anti-Soviet conversations.” Those with leadership in Riga or highly educated were also picked up. People crammed into cells died of thirst or went mad because their cells were kept above 85 degrees and little water was given out. To say life was grim here would be an understatement. There were also massive deportations of Latvian citizens, many women and children. When the Nazis drove the Soviets out of Riga in WWII, they opened the prison to show the people of Riga the horrors the Soviets had created. However, the Nazis began mass deportations of the Jewish community to the Riga Ghetto and a Nazi concentration center in Kaiserwald, near Riga. By 1941, most of Latvia’s Jews had been killed. But, after the war the Soviets returned and continued with their secret police practices and brought an influx of laborers, administers, military personnel and other dependents from Russia, setting up micro-districts or large multi-storied housing blocks, built to house immigrant workers. Latvia finally gained independence in 1991, when the USSR fell. In 2012, some of the prison was re-opened as a museum. The documents of what went on here have still not been released.
This was one of the first billboards that I had seen in any of the countries in the Baltics. I’m not sure what they are advertising, but it’s wrapped in a bow!
Have you noticed all the building and repairs going on in the city? Tourism is very popular, because flights from Europe are not that expensive and Latvia has been part of the European Union since 2004. Today, Riga’s historical center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is noted for its Art Nouveau architecture and its 19th century wooden architecture. In 2014, Riga was chosen as the European Capital of Culture! They have come a long way!
On cannot miss the Monument of Freedom, The Latvian’s are very proud of it, as they should be! I’ll talk more about that in a future post……….
and from another view…….
This was my favorite little building……….it’s a news stand and convenience store……
This is the National Opera House and Ballet………which was constructed in 1863 by a St Petersburg architect, Ludwig Bohnstedt, for the then German-speaking, City Theatre. A Latvian National Opera was attempted in 1893, but like everything else went back and forth from the Russians to the Germans and back to the Russians from WWI and beyond. The building was rebuilt and refurbished after WWI and WWII……….
A canal made from an old moat, that once surrounded the medieval village, snakes through a beautiful park ….I hope to get a chance to walk in that park!
There must be a reason for the ribbons on the tree……..one thought was the celebration of the summer solstice earlier …… If you know what they represent, let me know!
This photo is a good example that some of my photos come out with peoples heads in them! But, it was a good photo of the building too!
In the late 1920’s, there was a competition to replace the market stalls. Farmers, fishermen and merchants had been trading goods along the river from the 1600’s. The design that won, included five tops of WWI German Zeppelin hangers that were moved here from a nearby airbase and put on rock and concrete foundations to make the city’s Central Market. Today in this World UNESCO Site, you can find a complex of stalls selling just about anything you would ever want from fruits and vegetables to makeshift bars and fried fish shacks. These five zeppelin hangers are part of the ten remaining in the World!
and then there is the Modern Art………….or is that something left from the War?
What a mixture of architecture can be found here, all in one block…….
The newest and very modern buildings can be seen on the other side of the river.
Now this is a street light!
Just off Town Hall Square is the Latvian Riflemen Monument. You can’t miss it…….. This hulk of red granite stone was a symbol of the former communist regime and was built in 1970 to honor the Red Latvian Riflemen’s support for the Bolsheviks during the Russian Civil War. In the beginning, Latvian Riflemen were allowed to establish themselves in Latvia under Latvian military leaders, even though they were under the control of the Tzar. In 1917, the majority of the Latvian Riflemen transferred their allegiance to the Bolsheviks and became known as the Red Latvian Riflemen. Later, many of the Red Riflemen were selected for duty with Lenin’s personal bodyguard detail. During the Latvian War of Independence (1918-1920) the Red Riflemen were supporters of the Soviet rule of Latvia, and considered traitors by the majority of Latvian people. For this reason, many of the Red Riflemen remained in the Soviet Union after Latvia gained independence. A small number of the Latvian Riflemen joined forces and decided against the Bolsheviks and they were known as the White Latvian Riflemen. The monument is still a very controversial subject. Rather than tear down the monument, like many wanted to do after the country’s independence, again from the Soviet Union in 1991, it was decided to keep the monument and honor all Latvian Riflemen, since they had also fought against German forces in WWI. The original eight regiments, formed in 1915, as part of the Russian Imperial Army, fought valiantly and suffered heavy casualties. What torment Latvia has been through!
Town Hall Square has been completely rebuilt since the square and all its buildings were destroyed during WWII. There are many buildings to see here now and learn about!
Well we’ll stop here and get off the bus. I hope you enjoyed our quick bus tour. Now, why don’t you join us on foot to see more of this vibrant, beautiful city? See You soon!