I’ve never been a big fan of Riga, Latvia. I just never really felt this city. I could easily spend few days in Vilnius or Tallinn without being bored but it was a different story with Riga. But I’ve decided to give the city another chance and guess what – I loved it! This time I focused on just about every other place but the Old Town and it was the key to enjoying the capital of Latvia. And everywhere I went I could admire the incredible architecture built in Riga art nouveau style! I was literally falling for every second building, they were just too beautiful! Funny how our (travel) interests change – I hadn’t paid that much attention to art nouveau during my previous visits, this time however it was the highlight of my stay in Riga!
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The short history of art nouveau
The art nouveau style took over (mostly) European architecture and decorative arts at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. It was a perfect transition between the revival style (such as Neoclassicism) and Modernism (another style among my favorites, by the way) and the main aim in creating this style was for buildings/art/jewelry to be just esthetic, without any historical influences. Art nouveau architecture’s most distinctive features include rich ornaments (especially floral patterns), kind of abstract style and sleek and curvy lines. Most famous art nouveau buildings can be found in Barcelona (Gaudi’s works), Berlin (Hackesche Höfe) or Subotica – a small Serbian city that looks like from a fairy tale!
The overview of Riga art nouveau
Can you imagine that there’re over 800 art nouveau buildings in Riga, 40% of the center is build in this style? That’s pretty incredible, if you ask me. I don’t think there’s any other city that have such a huge densification of art nouveau architecture in such a little space. This and an extreme beauty of the buildings were the reasons why the center of Riga have been designated an UNESCO World Heritage List. It might be surprising that the capital of Latvia is simply overload with this style but the explanation is easy. The era of art nouveau blooming happened at the peak of the financial prosperity of Riga and rich inhabitants needed to show off their wealth. What’s significant about Riga art nouveau is that the majority of buildings were designed by local architects. The most famous one – Mikhail Eisenstein – was the precursor of introducing mythological and human ornaments. It was also his way to deal with the difficult relationship he had with his wife therefore he tried to make the buildings look like they’re crying and most of the faces seen on the facades are screaming. He was considered an eccentric but soon his work became really pricey and even now a flat in the building designed by Eisenstein is among the most expensive ones in Riga!
Where to look for Riga art nouveau
Riga is one of those cities when it’s worth looking up as true gems can be seen there. The majority of art nouveau buildings can be found just outside the Riga Old Town, still in the center of the city. In the so-called Quiet Center, especially on Alberta Iela and Elizabetes Iela, every second building takes your breath away. The richness of ornaments is just outstanding and you simply don’t know where to look! But everywhere I went I stumble across some interesting examples of art nouveau and what I found the most fascinating is how the buildings showed the various interpretations of the same style. I actually preferred more raw ornaments that could be found closer to the train station but I honestly eulogizing over every single building I’ve seen!
At the tourist info point at the airport I found a really good map of Riga that showed the most important art nouveau buildings – you should look for it too. Also this and this website can give you some addresses and more info about Riga art nouveau!
Riga art nouveau – photo gallery
When I was wandering around the streets of Riga I could easily picture myself living in one of the stunning buildings. They made the city look so unique and different than any other capital I’ve visited. That actually could have been the reason why I finally felt for Riga and enjoyed my stay there so much. Here’s a little photo gallery for you to see what I’m talking about!
Do you also like art nouveau architecture? Where else have you seen it? Would you like to visit Riga?
In Riga I stayed in Hotel Skanste and while the place itself was ok the service was really terrible and for that reason I’d suggest avoiding it (they tried to overcharge me and Booking had to get involved – kudos for their customer service). However there’re many other accommodation options in Riga, you can book a place for yourself here!
I haven’t written all that much about Latvia yet but you might be interested in other destinations I’ve covered on this blog. If you’re looking for articles about any place in particular this map with posts might be useful for you.
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