Oct 30

The Rundale Palace

In this article we are going to go near the Baltic Sea, to Latvia, where we will have a look at an impressive palace built for Ernst Johann von Biron, the Duke of Courtland. The Rundale Palace was constructed after the plan developed by Bartolomeo Rastrelli and it is representative for the Baroque style.

The construction of the edifice was structured in two stages. Both of them lasted for 4 years, the first was initiated in 1736 and ended in 1740 while the second was carried on between 1764 and 1768. Built initially as a summer residence for the aforementioned duke, the palace changed several hands, being owned by various counts and princes. The royal families lost possession of the edifice in World War I when the Germans invaded the country and took hold of the palace, transforming it into a hospital.


The subsequent wars that took this land by storm were highly detrimental to the Rundale Palace, leaving the edifice almost mutilated under their destructive force.

It was only in the latter decades of the 20th century that the palace was declared a historical monument and it was transformed into a museum. Slowly, renovation works were undertaken in the attempt to reestablish the former glory of the palace. And this meant not only remodeling the building itself. The façades were important but in order to revive the Palace, it was also necessary to furnish the rooms and adorn them with works of art.  And these efforts paid off because with the help of the restoration works, the Rundale Palace became one of the most important tourist attractions on the Latvian territory.


When we talk nowadays about the Rundale Museum, we actually refer to an entire complex together with the surrounding gardens. It is worth mentioning that constant work is being conducted in order to beautify the ensemble which includes arranging the park and restoring the adjacent constructions which are now an intrinsic part of the museum complex.


There is an entire department which conducts heavy investigation in what concerns the original baroque garden in order to create an exact replica of the initial surroundings. Their dedication to the project is really admirable because they want to recapture that part of history and the architectural style of the time and present it to visitors. In order to attract even more tourists to this part of the country, the administration of the museum has begun exploring the customs and habits of the 18th century population in order to reenact the way of life of the royalty figures of that time.

But while the museum remains faithful to the Baroque movement, the exhibitions within capture different artistic styles, from Late Gothic to the Art Nouveau movement.

Jul 23

The Museum of Occupation (Muzeul Ocupatiei)

The Museum of Occupation is dedicated to remembrance. The items on display are meant to recall the visitors how Latvia presented itself under the Nazi and Soviet occupations. The exhibitions are sectioned so as to pinpoint the totalitarian ideologies which were inflicted on the Latvians by the Soviets and the Nazis, the factors which contributed to the annihilation of the country’s economy, and the political framework on which these events occurred.

But the museum also contains valuable items which reflect the population’s struggle to overturn the totalitarian regimes, as well as their efforts to attain their freedom, which they managed to do in 1991.



In the exhibition halls where official documents are on display, one can notice papers which tell the story of Latvia’s occupation. Among these, one can read the pact that the Soviets and the Nazis signed on the 23th of August 1939 and which divided Eastern Europe into spheres of influence.

Latvia has been under foreign occupation three times: the first occupation lasted from 1940 until 1941, time in which the Latvians were under Soviet domination; the second occupation (Nazi) took place from 1941 up until 1944/45, after which the Soviets reentered the country and ruled over it until 1991.



Each of these historical events is followed through documentary evidence so visitors can partially re-enact, so to speak, that troubled historical period. Another section of the Museum of Occupation is dedicated to the fight for independence and the regain of autonomy, which occurred in 1991.

The museum’s purpose is to collect and preserve any type of written or oral material evidence, official papers, photographs, or items which in any way reflect the Latvian experience during the aforementioned timeframe.

The collection is in a constant expansion in the sense that if individuals or organizations who are in possession of any materials relevant to Latvia’s history are willing to donate them to the museum, then these will be included in the collection, in the appropriate section.



More so, if there are witnesses to special events which occurred back in the day and they are willing to share their story with the posterity, the museum will videotape the account. All of the items encountered in the museum are accessible to the public mainly because the museum is interested in allowing the public to gain insight into that specific historical period.

There is a special department, the Audio-Visual Archive which contains the narratives of the people which were directly impacted by the Nazi or Soviet occupation. This includes not only eyewitnesses, but also expatriates or refugees who can give authentic testimonials about those historical events.



The Museum of Occupation has a Research Program which was initiated back in 1999 with the scope of shedding light on the period in which Latvia was under occupation. The researchers engaged in this program are both of Latvian origin and foreigners: Russians, Americans, English, etc., all contributing to portraying an objective account of that period. The discoveries are included not only in the annual publications issued by the Museum, but also in scientific journals and newspapers.

The museum is opened for visitations all year long, with the exception of national holidays. There are also specific days in which the museum is closed, but the program can be learnt from the official website of the Museum of Occupation. Depending on the time of the year in which you decide to make a visit, the museum is opened from 11:00 until 17:00 or 18:00.

Jul 16

St. Peter’s Church (Biserica Sf. Petru)

St. Peter’s Church is situated in the historical center of the Latvian capital city, Riga. The locality of the monument is enough to indicate that the church is a part of the history of the state, thus pointing to its significancy. But more so, St. Peter’s Church is an ancient and valuable construction not solely of Latvia, but of the Baltic region. Representative for the medieval architectural design, the church has been recognized for its value and included in the UNESCO World Heritage Program in 1997.

The first written document which attests the existance of the church dates from the beginning of the 13th century (1209). At first, the structure was quite different from what it is presented before us at present. The church had a small hall and 3 corridors which were more or less identical in terms of height and width. As there is no mentioning of a belfry, the accurate assumption is that this was probably constructed separately.



The edifice which stands today is actually the result of the restoration work conducted in the 15th century. The altar dates from the same century and it is representative for the Gothic style. In fact, the same architectural design can be encountered in a basilica located in the German town of Rostock – the St. Mary Church.

The Gothic belfry, which exceeded 130 m in height, was finished at the turn of the century, but it did not manage to survive too long. The steeple came tumbling down in 1666 and the church remained without this intrinsic part of the construction for 24 years. It was not until 1690 that a new belfry was constructed under the supervision of Rupert Bindenschuh.



This new building bore the mark of the Baroque style and consisted of various domes and corridors. But the material from which it was created, wood, was definitely not the best of choices. In 1721, during a lightning storm, the steeple, the largest edifice in the world at that time, was burnt to the ground.  Tsar Peter the Great, who was in Riga at the time of the fire, gave order that the steeple be reconstructed to its former structure.

The work was completed in 1746 and the church survived up until the Second World War. This time of world conflagration brought about the demolishing of the church. The fate of the church was doomed: the belfry and the roof were reduced to ashes while the interior was completely devastated.



But the basilica was to be restored one step at a time, beginning from 1954. The first part of this project consisted of restoring the roof, this time covering it with tiles. The steeple would not see the light of day until 1967. The new belfry would set itself apart from the previous design it bore, as this time around the material used in its construction was metal. Another differentiation consists in the height of the building, the new steeple measuring 123,25 m, a couple of meters below its precursor.

Modernity had its way of getting involved in the restoration work, in as much that visitors can ascend from one passage to the next via an elevator. This goes up as much as 72 m. The restoration work for the church was finalized in June, 1973. The Clock Tower was restored in one year’s time, from 1975 until 1976.



After the exterior was redone, architects turned their entire attention to the interior of the church and managed to create a one-of-a-kind design. The ceiling of the basilica consists of overlapped and stellar cupolas and it is supported by massive columns. The altar consists of 5 chapels, arranged in a circle ,- design representative for the Gothic architectural style.

The restoration work was lengthy and strenuous, but the result was worth it, as at present Latvia prides itself with one of the oldest and most significant basilicas situated in the Baltic States. In honor of the persons and organizations which contributed to the restoration of St. Peter’s Basilica, an inscription plate was placed near the church in 1995.

Today, the church is a unique cultural monument, bearing signs both of the past and present architectural design.

Jun 20

Museum of the History of Riga and Navigation (Muzeul de Istorie si Naval, Riga)

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.

Visiting hours:

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  


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.



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.



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.



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.



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.



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).