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Due to rich cultural heritage, Latvia can really feel proud of having such enormous architectural diversity. You can find everything in Latvia: from simple wooden structures in traditional rural farmsteads to the samples of the great Renaissance, Baroque, Classicism, Art Nouveau as well as some pieces of modern architecture.
Both the connoisseurs of art and virtuosos of architecture will find marvellous examples of art not only in the Latvian metropolis – Riga – marked by the mix of cultures on the threshold of the centuries that is more than 800 years old but also in provincial towns, small villages and remote estates. It is amazing fact, but Latvia was able to preserve so many architectural masterpieces, fascinating evidences of cultural history over so many centuries.
Churches and castles
Since 1186, when the most beautiful Livonian girl was immured in the wall of the first church built in the Romanesque style in territory of Ikskile near the river of Daugava, on a plot of land purchased from pagans, Latvian architecture became an integral part of the European culture. You can visit the St. George's Church built in the Romanesque style in Riga (now it is Decorative Arts Museum). Dome Cathedral in the eastern part of Riga, on its turn, considered being the most brilliant example of the Latvian Gothic with some evidences of the Romanesque. The examples include the St. Simon church in the city of Valmiera, and St. Peter's Church in the city of Riga – its tall tower decorated by a rooster is one of the best known symbols of Riga. In Latvia, the Renaissance is represented not only by St. John and St. Catherine church in Kuldiga, but also by the city town halls, manor houses and the houses of wealthy citizens that have preserved the aura of harmony and balance in the art of construction. The Baroque-style buildings, on their turn, are notable by their dynamism and sometimes even flamboyance. Manor houses, castles, and mansions built in this style are rich with decorative elements and exaggerated forms.
It may be explained by the fact that very influential and famous Western architects, such as Bartolomeo Franchesco Rastrelli and Rupert Bindenshu have worked in Latvia once. The collectors of the Baroque pearls should definitely visit Reitern’s house in Riga and Rundale Palace in Zemgale, not far from Riga. You should definitely pay attention to the woodcarving in your visits to the churches built during the Baroque era – these cupids, angels, flowers and tangles of branches, thread-laces and ornaments are the local carpenters’ handwork! Classicism, modest in its forms, has bestowed Mezotne, Durbe, Kazdanga palaces to Latvia, while the main buildings of the University of Latvia and the Academy of Music were built in the style of historicism. At the same time in the centre of Riga the connoisseurs of art will certainly notice competition of two styles, historicism and Art Nouveau – the most pretentious of the styles architecture.
Architectonic diversity of Riga
Riga is fascinating example of various architectural styles: here you can find the samples of functionalism of the twenties and thirties ("new businesslike manner" or Momo), the pompous buildings of the Stalin period, apartment buildings of Khrushchev’s period, the impersonal blockhouse districts of the eighties, the quest for aesthetics in the modern architecture with small wooden buildings which still preserve the breath of the centuries in their window shutters and doors. According to the legend, the construction of Riga will never be completed, or it will sink in the Daugava River...
Architecture in the cities of Latvia
The outskirts of Riga, the city of Kuldiga might be very interesting for the devotees of architecture. In the 16th and 17th century, it was the city of residence for the duke of Kurzeme, now it is the town-planning ensemble with one of the longest brick bridges of Europe. Places are worth seeing include also the resort city of Liepaja, which has been the haunt already during the period of the Russian Empire due to its modern and wild naval port, the city of Ventspils with its ancient structure of the centre, and, of course, the popular resort of the Baltic Sea Gulf – Jurmala – with its marvellous villas and hotels. When visiting the Latvian Eastern districts in Latgale, you'll find also small, colourful, wooden Orthodox and Old Believer churches beside the tall and luxurious Catholic churches and field crucifixes.