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The admirers of architecture will find scenery of the Latvian countryside during the 18th and 19th centuries and at the beginning of the 20th century very interesting.
It was the time when the majority of the rural population lived in individual farmsteads – detached households. Individual farmsteads are the cradle of the Latvian character and treasuries of the traditional culture, they present a special environment where a human being can live in harmony with nature.
In ancient times all the family life took place in individual farmsteads, the generations changed and yet hundred years ago Latvian farmers produced everything they needed for themselves in their individual farms.
However, the soviet regime and the imposed collectivization during the post-war years made many people to abandon their individual farms and the ancient cottages were shovelled off to give space for the vast fields of the collective farms, still many individual farms have preserved in Latvia. Traditionally wood was used as main building material, but the roof was covered with straws, shingles or reeds, all of them being inflammable materials, hence the detached cottages were safer in case of fire. Bath-houses were always built in a distance from other buildings.
Ancient Latvian traditions and peculiarities of the individual farmsteads in various regions can be seen in Latvia Open-Air Ethnographic Museum in Riga. Ancient buildings are placed in the forest near Lake Jugla, they have been moved from various regions of Latvia. Some of them have been restored using ancient tools and construction methods. Latvian individual farmsteads are notable for consisting of several buildings, each of them built for a certain purpose – cattle-shed, barn, living house, bath-house. Decorative shrubs and flowers were a mandatory “supplement” to each cottage.
The ancient open-air farmstead „Mellupi” of Daugava fishermen can be seen in Daugava museum on the island of Dole, fishermen cottages of Kurzeme – in Ventspils Seaside Open-Air Museum. Other monuments of the folk building style are displayed in the branch of Jekabpils town museum “Seli farmstead”. An ancient individual farm “Bebrinas” is situated in Vijciems parish of Valka region. In the individual farms, which now continue their lives in museums, anyone can learn many interesting facts about traditions and life. Therefore they are popular venues of celebrating traditional dates.
In many places the ancient individual farmsteads still exist in their natural environment and even entertain guests. These are individual farmsteads built according to ancient building traditions and are really interesting sightseeing objects, which can be seen slowly travelling around Latvian countryside. For instance, in “Sperveles” situated on the bank of the river Abava in Renda parish, Kuldiga region, the owners of the wooden farmstead built in 1914 according to the Kurzeme traditions Daina and Aivars Seēnini welcome guests and they have specialized in healthy environment tourism. Bread according to Kurzeme traditions is still baked in the ancient stove and the farmer is brewing delicious original beer.
Many guest houses are also located in individual farmsteads. Truly speaking, not every one of them is an ancient wooden log building as can be seen in the Open-Air Museum, built with the help of wooden spigots. The modern construction materials and methods are also widespread in rural building sites.
Villages are still maintained in the East of Latvia – Latgale, as in this region people used not to live in individual farms, but together in villages. The most famous is “Slutiski” Old Believers village, which is mandatory to see when travelling around Daugava. Slutiski village was mentioned in the historical sources already in 1785. Since the church split in Russia, ‘staroveri’ still live there and indulge their faith. The architecture of Old Believers is characterized by splendid window finishings, decorated doors, beautiful facades. Hence, no two houses are the same as each is a real masterpiece.