May 16

Riga Castle (Castelul din Riga)

The Riga Castle, which is situated on the Banks of the Daugava River, is the official residence of the President of the Republic of Latvia. The foundation of the castle was set back in 1330, when the construction work was initiated, but the castle underwent a complex rebuilding process between 1497 and 1515.

The edifice fell to the hands of the Swedish and as a consequence, annexes were added in 1641. But these were not the only additions done to the castle. More so, the castle was thoroughly reconstructed and enlarged between the 17th and the 19th centuries.

http://foto.sanne.lv

 

Riga Castle, as it is today, is the result of the architectural design conveyed to the edifice in the 1960s.

The Riga Castle did not follow an impressive architectural plan. The structure of the edifice was rather plain as it had a quadrilateral shape, it enclosed a yard within its walls and it comprised 4 towers: the main ones were roundly shaped and they faced each other diagonally – these were the Tower of the Holy Ghost (situated in the northwestern part of the edifice) and the Lead Tower (in the southeastern side), while the other two were rectangular and included stairways.

http://blog.travelpod.com

 

The edifice was divided into a downstairs, where the rooms were especially created so as to meet the household needs and to offer protection (the guard rooms), the first floor comprised the living apartments, the dining hall, the bedrooms of the knights, a chapel and a hall where meetings occurred. The second floor was designed for defense purposes, thus there is no ceiling to this storey and the spaces are divided by partitions and have narrow windows from where the guards were able to keep an eye on the surroundings and open fire against a potential enemy.

http://www.cosmopolis.ch

 

If we are to take into account the fact that the castle was a defense fortification, it is no wonder that the structure is simplistic in nature. The only works of art which have survived the passage of time are the statues of the Virgin Mary and the Master of the Livonian Order Walter von Plettenberg (this sculpture reflects who was the founders of the castle – the Livonian Order). The statues which have been created in the 16th century, still look down on tourists as they enter the Riga Castle.

The archeological discoveries reveal that the cellars of the castle led to underground passages and it is safe to conclude that these were created for military purposes – either in order to bring in armament or to flee from the castle in case of a siege. The tunnels were quite complex in nature and sometimes made the connection between secretive shelters and storage rooms. But the passages did not survive to this day as they were covered up during 1857-1862 as a result of the demolishing work conducted to the defensive walls.

http://riga.in

 

From the 16th century onward, the castle underwent a number of reconstructions, but the last most significant work occurred in 1939 and was performed by the architect Eizens Laube. This reconstruction had one purpose and that was to make the edifice suitable for the Latvian Government.

All the rooms were upgraded so as to be appropriate for official meetings and balls. Laube constructed a beautiful Festival Room which served as the ballroom where the representatives of the state could organize lavish gatherings. The Three Star Tower also dates from this period and while it has been “dismantled” in 1949 (its superior part had been removed as it was representative for a particular ideology), the original structure was restored in 1997.

http://www.flickr.com

 

The majority of the space in Riga Castle is dedicated to the presidential suits. The interior decoration is representative of the Biedermeier and Empire styles and the neo-classical style of the ‘30s, at which a number of national details are added.

The war had destroyed the majority of the items found inside the castle, but even so, there are a couple of chandeliers and pieces of furniture which have been preserved in their original form. Some objects encountered today at Riga Castle are actually “resurrected from their ashes” – either by putting together the bits and pieces encountered after the war or by adding several independent fragments so as to form a unity (a replica of the original object).

Apr 27

Daugavpils Fortress (Cetatea Daugavpils)

Daugavpils Fortress, which also goes under the name of Dinaburg Fortress, is located in Latvia. The edifice dates from the 19th century, but the plan for the structure was developed in the 18th century.

In 1772, the Russian Tsar Alexander I passed a decree which attested that the fortification had to be constructed. But it was not until 1810, when Napoleon Bonaparte attacked the Russian Empire, that the actual construction work was initiated.

http://www.latvia.travel

 

But the project took a long time to be completed, more exactly since 1878, due to a multitude of factors such as several delays in construction and the slow pace with which the progress of the building took place, not to mention that the construction site was inundated several times.

But irrespective of the obstacles encountered in its path, the fortress was finished and even more, it endured the inflictions of time on its walls with “dignity”, as it is the only citadel of its kind on the European continent to have remained almost unaltered to this day.

The Daugavpils Fortress is reminiscent of the glorious historical past of Imperial Russia. But the citadel should not be associated only to the wars it has been a part of.  For exampple, the Arsenal Building within the fortress shelters a valuable collection of Mark Rothko’s works of art (Impressionist paintings).

Tsar Alexander I was intent in constructing a fortified edifice which could hold 4.500 soldiers within its walls. More so, the structure had to be equipped with 595 cannons. The new edifice was inaugurated on the 21st of May 1833 when an official ceremony was organized. But the fortress was far from being completed.

http://www.latvia.travel

 

The fortification work for the outer walls went on even after the official inauguration. In order to impede the floods to take hold of the city, a dam was erected. This had 7 km in length and was finished in 1841.

Daugavpils Fortress had witnessed quite a few events, all related to wartime. Just to name a few, people considered “enemies of the state” were incarcerated in this fortress – after the Decembrists Revolt in 1825. Likewise, during WWII, the Nazis conquered the citadel and transformed part of it into a concentration camp where Russian hostages were incarcerated – the camp was named “Stalag 340”.

http://www.seligman.org.il

 

After the war, from 1948 until 1993, the citadel was transformed into a School of Military Aircraft Engineering.

A decisive step was taken back in 2004 when the Latvia’s Ministers decided that the fortress had to be sold – either to be sectioned and sold fragment by fragment or to be traded in its entirety. So the future of the citadel is shrouded in uncertainty.