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Home » HISTORIC CENTRE OF RIGA

HISTORIC CENTRE OF RIGA (HCR) is a World Heritage Site 852, inscribed in UNESCO’s World Heritage List on 4 December 1997. World Culture and Nature Heritage Commission has recognised the unique universal value of Riga Historic Centre, its medieval and later urban fabric, which consists of numerous high quality medieval and Art Noveau architecture, unparalleled 19th century wooden buildings. HCR occupies an area of 435 hectares or 1.4% of urban territory, encompassing the total of 4’000 buildings.

The main elements of cultural heritage include:
Urban fabric, consisting mainly of buildings, streets, squares, parks and water reservoirs. HCR incorporates three different urban landscapes: Old Riga, Boulevard Circle and Art Noveau buildings in the centre, each having different open space and building block ratios.

Archaeological heritage.
Architectural heritage.
Public space


Old Riga
has evolved from ancient Liivian settlements and German port facilities around the River Rīdzene. Fragments of ancient fortification walls and street networks in Old Riga were defined by the location of the river. Later developments were driven by three rivalling forces: clergy, Knights of Livonian Order and Riga citizens, namely merchants and craftsmen.
Church towers are the main features of urban landscape. Layout of fortification walls, spiritual, political and economic development traits encouraged formation of medieval urban fabric – narrow and winding streets, low and closely-attached buildings, miniature squares with volatile view points and accents.

Boulevard Circle and its key element, channel, embrace the Old Riga from three sides, enclosed by the Daugava River from the remaining side. Ensemble of parks, created after 1856, became the first stage of fortification system reconstruction commenced in the 17th century by Swedish military engineers. Extensive parks with few loosely scattered buildings and residential blocks have become a wonderful counterpoint to the Old Riga. Boulevard Circle separates the Old Riga from Art Noveau blocks in the centre.

Art Noveau/Jugendstil centre with its perimetral blocks was created during renovation after 1812 fire that fully destroyed the suburbs of the city, restoring former streets and roads. This is why right angle street network is at times having an irregular shape. Majority or 40% of these buildings refer to Art Noveau, Eclectism and number of other 20th century architecture schools. As a rule, these are five storey tenements limited in height by Riga Construction Regulation in force before WW2, restricting the height of eave to 21.3m. 19th century wooden architecture has managed to squeeze in between of tenements in some places.
Perimetral wall of multi-storey buildings often hides a different world - second and third line of buildings. One can also find old factories, workshops and warehouses behind these walls, sometimes discovering nice green yards, passages or partially public space.

Archaeological discoveries
on the territory of the Old Riga have revealed 12th century settlements, villages built by merchants, warriors and priests as seasonal dwelling. When German merchants tried to settle in the Baltics, their efforts were supported by crusaders. Extensive archaeological explorations in the Old Riga began in 1938 due to intense reconstruction of the Old Town and building of new city blocks.

Riga architectural heritage combines a variety of styles. Romanesque includes outstanding constructions like old churches of Riga Dome and St. Jacob altar. Gothic style includes characteristic arches of St. Peter’s Church and St. John’s first three travees. The gothic step-shaped gable may be seen in the Northern faēade of St. John’s Church and oldest residential house of the Three Brothers. Riga Castle, built between the 12th and the 14th century, is a merger of almost all architectural styles, hosting the top public administration staff for ages, thus accumulating significant cultural values. Enlightenment has not left a ‘burning mark’ in the history of buildings in Riga, because it saw its rise only in the 16th century. Livonian life feebly encouraged construction developments. Blackhead’s house gables are made in the style of 16th century Mannerism. Baroque came to Latvia in the 17th century and left its mark with towers of St. Peter’s Church and Riga Dome, as well as Western portal of St. Peter's Church. The largest residential houses in the Old Riga, the merchant Reitern’s House and Dannerstein’s House built in Baroque style by Strasbourg architect Rupert Bindenshu. Rococo style portal graces the residential house (now a museum) on 13 R. Wagner Street. Arsenal building in the Old Riga, Alexander Nevsky Church on 56 Brīvības Street and Christ’s Church on 18 Elijas Street are typical examples of Classicism. Classicism guidelines approved by the Russian Empire in the 19th century and providing for posh decorations on facades have not been at the focus of Riga Chief Architect Christopher Haberland, who constructed buildings on 17 and 19 Šķūņu Street and 6 Theatre Street in civil classicism style. Eclecticism developed in Riga along with industrial revolution and rapid urban development. Boulevard Circle structure is an exceptional ensemble, consisting mainly of buildings designed by the first professional Latvian architect Jānis Fridrihs Baumanis. Architects unique style is best reflected in Neo-Gothic building of Latvian Arts Museum and its Neo-Baroque building, as well as National Opera and University of Latvia. 19th and 20th century brink made change to Art Noveau with all its multitude of expressive means. Vivid example of eclectic decorativism of Art Noveau is available in Alberta Street buildings designed by M. Eisenstein. Neo-Classicism is a predominant style in banks constructed after WW1, creating the balance with untamed Art Noveau decorativism. End of WW2 marked the spread of Bauhaus style and Functionalism with its ascetic art of linearism.

Age of modern architecture set in with the help of a pioneer in the field T. Hermanovskis, who constructed the first building in 1926 on 8 Marijas Street. However, the most visible examples of the style are A. Kara and K. Begte designed buildings: Latvian Joint-Stock Bank on 13 Kaļķu Street, House of Nation on 29/31 and others. Some buildings of that period are influenced by Art Deco, especially blockhouse on 3 Ausekļa Street constructed by P. Dreijmanis. In late 30-ies, during the reign of Soviet dictatorship, architects returned to monumental and classic means of expression, particularly when construction public buildings. Palace of Justice, now the Cabinet of Ministers, was built by architect F. Skujiņš and Ministry of Finance by A. Klinklāvs was designed in Neo-Eclectic style. After WW2 Neo-Eclecticism transformed into social realism - typical Soviet architecture, best characterised by the high-rise designed by O. Tīlmanis, Ministry of Agriculture and other buildings. In 1960-ies, during political ‘thaw’, architects returned to functionalism and some outstanding international style buildings, e.g. Daile Theatre, were constructed by an architect M. Stanis and others. Occupation Museum was work of Dz. Driba, G. Lūsis-Grīnbergs. In 1980-ies Riga started to follow international trends by pursuing Postmodernism path, artistic expression that is balanced and having regional identity. Architects like M. Ģelzis landmarked this period with, for example, an office building on 54 Brīvības Street.

Public space is outdoor area owned either by a municipality or state and accessible to all inhabitants and guests of Riga. Part of private property that can be accessed by everyone is also considered public space. Public space includes parks, squares, sidewalks and pedestrian lanes, city streets connecting different parts of the city. This space allows Rigans enjoy the beauty of the city or its downsides, history and current developments. Public space enhances enjoyment of the city and serves the purpose of meeting each other, becoming the venue for celebrations and grief to all. Guests of Riga can use the public space to get a peak into the life of the city, allowing them form own attitude towards Riga, Rigans and Latvia. Therefore, public space is one of the key elements in shaping the environment of the city.