The Museum of the History of Riga and Navigation is not only the oldest museum on the territory of Latvia, but also on the entire European Continent. The edifice which holds within its walls the museum is the Riga Dom Cathedral, located in Old Riga, a construction which bears the mark of various architectural designs – as these have appeared throughout the centuries (the 13th -20th century).
But the history of the museum began in 1773 and it only consisted of the private collection of artistic pieces and natural science materials belonging to a local doctor, Nikolaus von Himsel. After his death, Nikolaus’ mother had made sure that her son’s wish was fulfilled, in as much that she donated the impressive collection to the city of Riga.
The town council decided to name the museum that was to be founded after the man who so kindly donated his collection and chose the Anatomical Theater as the grounds for the museum. However, the passage of time was cruel with this particular building, so the Himsel Museum had to be relocated. Thus came into picture the Riga Dome Cathedral, which had underwent restoration works so as to house the museum and the town library.
In time, the museum grew extensively in as much that today it holds one of the largest collection of items – historical evidence of Riga.
The 19th century brought about specific modifications to the museum. The year 1816 marks the moment when an Arts Cabinet was established. In the latter part of the 19th century (1881), Himsel’s collection and the numismatic collection of Riga were unified and thus the City Coin Cabinet came into being.
The collections of natural science and archeology found in the museum were transferred in the 1860s – some to Riga Museum and some to the Art Gallery
When the collections were moved to the Riga Dom in the last decade of the 19th century, the name of the museum was changed to Dom Museum.
The history of the museum (or more accurately of the collections) is quite tormented. From 1932, the museum came under the administration of the Board of Museums of the Republic of Latvia, but 4 year later, the same board decided to close the Dom Museum, opening instead the Riga City History Museum – which was to hold, among other items, all the former collections of the Dom Museum. The additional collections were relevant for the history and culture of the city, including coins, tokens, medals, paper money, casts, as well as valuable documents – in original.
But the Second World War was bound not to go by unnoticed. The museum was badly damaged in this period. Collections were transferred to territories occupied by Germans and some which were not acceptable to the Soviet Union, due to the fact that they were ideologically incompatible with the beliefs put forth by communism, were removed. The result was dramatic: the museum had been deprived of some of its most valuable items.
In 1964, the main characteristics of the museum changed so the name attached to it was to reflect this change: the Museum of the History of Riga and Navigation.
At present, visitors can admire as much as 80 collections, which together count more than half a million objects.
Some of the permanent exhibitions found inside the museum are: ‘The Origins of Riga’ (prior to 1201), ‘Medieval Riga’ (from 1201 until 1581), ‘Riga under the Polish and Swedish Rule’ (1581-1710), ‘Riga and Riga’s Citizens’ (1918-1940), etc.
1) May, the 1st – September, the 30th:
Daily: 10:00 – 17:00
2) October, the 1st – April, the 30th:
Wednesday – Sunday: 11:00 -17:00
Monday – Tuesday: closed