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Museums and Art Galleries
Latvia has an impressive number of museums – classical, surprising and even mischievous. The most popular are: Turaida Museum Reserve, Rundāle Castle Museum, the Ethnographic Open-Air Museum, the Latvian War Museum, the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia, the Latvian National Museum of Art, the Natural History Museum of Latvia, Riga Motor Museum, the Museum of the History of Riga and Navigation, etc.
Latvia, which is small territorially, has earned a place of merit next to the largest countries of the world in terms of its art. This becomes obvious when visiting the Latvian National Museum of Art (The main building of the Latvian National Museum is closed for reconstruction till 2015) and its branches, seeing the paintings and sculptures by outstanding Latvian artists. A good collection of art is displayed at the Museum of Happy Art "Pinacotheca" in Mārupe and elsewhere.
The Oldest Museum
The Museum of the History of Riga and Navigation is the oldest public museum in Latvia and in the Baltic States, as well as one of the oldest in Europe. It houses a vast exhibition on the history of Latvia – the museum collection comprises more than 500 000 objects which are organised systematically into approximately 80 specialised collections. Mencendorf’s House is a branch of this Museum; it is a house–museum of the inhabitants of Riga, providing an insight into the everyday culture and traditions of a prosperous Rigan. The exhibition is set up in a house built in 1695 which up to 1939 served as a dwelling house with a shop. The Centre of Latvia’s Baltic Germans “Domus Rigensis” and the Centre of Glass Art function on the museum premises.
The Ethnographic Museum
The Latvian Ethnographic Open-air Museum, situated on the outskirts of Riga in a pine forest on the banks of Jugla Lake, is one of the oldest ethnographic open-air museums in Europe – established in 1924. 118 old buildings from all historical regions of Latvia – Kurzeme, Vidzeme, Zemgale and Latgale, dating from the end of the 17th century to the second half of the 1930s, have been relocated to the museum, set up and furnished.
War and Occupation Museums
The Latvian War Museum is situated in Riga in Pulvertornis (The Powder Tower). The goal of this Museum is to reveal to the public Latvia’s complicated military political history, highlighting the 20th century, during which the Latvian nation had to fight for its independence twice.
The Museum of the Occupation of Latvia is located at Strēlnieku square, opposite Akmens Bridge. Its mission is to remind people of what happened to Latvia and the Latvian nation during the period from 1940 to 1991 under the rule of the regimes of the communist Soviet Union and Nazi Germany and also to commemorate the unjustly sentenced and murdered, the fatalities of foreign wars, those who suffered and died in repressions and in deportations, while escaping from the occupational powers, people dispersed around the world, and to explain to the world what suffering the alien powers inflicted upon the state, the country and the nation of Latvia.
Art and Nature Museums
The Natural History Museum of Latvia is the oldest complex repository of natural treasures in the Baltic States. The Museum collects and preserves collections of Latvian and world nature, carries out research of the museum collections and promotes it through expeditions, exhibitions and other kinds of activities.
The Museum of Decorative Arts and Design displays fascinating collections of applied arts – exhibitions of textile art, ceramics, decorative glass art, metal art, leather art, decorative wood art and design. Magnificent tapestries and amber objects are also displayed here.
For those interested in medicine, a visit to the Museum of the History of Medicine and its branches – the Pharmacy Museum and the Museum of Anatomy – will be worthwhile. The museum has 40 000 visitors annually. From pre-historic methods of treatment, including witches and shamans and the use of amulets, the medieval methods for treating leprosy to contemporary discoveries in medicine and space medicine, Latvian scientists have also been among the researches investigating it.
The museum of the famous master of fantasy Hieronymus Friedrich Karl von Munchausen is found within the distance of a canon-ball flight from Riga (55 km) in Dunte. This is a dreamy museum, inhabited by joy and wit. The permanent exhibition “Munchausen’s World” shows the Baron as the page of prince Anton Ulrich in the Ukrainian steppes and at the Russian court, as an army officer, a loving husband, a passionate hunter and an enthusiastic story-teller – a man who enjoys life to the full, retaining the ability to laugh about himself and others, and to see a different world.
Only adults are allowed into the sex museum in Džūkste, a bath-house set up in a former parish granary. All pieces of furniture, including the door-knobs, are naughty. The most prized object is a copy of the table of Catherine II which the owner of the museum made according to the Czarina’s drawings. Originally the furniture was made for his own pleasure, creating something like the bed-room of Russian Czarina Catherine II in which all pieces of furniture had consisted of wood-carved male organs.
Museum on a Lake
The reconstruction of a settlement of ancient Latgalians of the 9th century. Āraiši Lake Castle is located on an island in a bay of the Āraiši Lake. The museum is founded upon the remains of the complex of wooden buildings found during archaeological excavations and the insights about the way of life and building traditions of Latvia’s ancient inhabitants at the time of Vikings which were gained as a result of lengthy research. Medieval castle ruins and a Stone Age dwelling are also found in the territory of the museum.
Turaida and Rundāle Museums
Turaida Museum Reserve, a specially protected cultural monument, especially popular among tourists, is situated 50 km to the northeast from the capital of Latvia Riga. The Museum Reserve is a 42 ha large territory, rich in archaeological, architectural, historical and art monuments which tell about events spanning 1000 years, starting with the 11th century.
Rundāle castle − one of the most important monuments of Baroque and Rococo architecture and art in Latvia. It houses a museum and is surrounded by vast gardens where the restoration of the collection of ancient species of roses has started. The concerts of the Early Music Festival, held each year in the castle, will create unforgettable experience for lovers of early music.
Museums in Vidzeme
When travelling in Vidzeme, it is worth visiting Cēsis History Museum and taking a look at the castle ruins and trying one’s hand at archery in the garden of Cēsis Castle. It is possible to combine a visit to an interesting museum with a picnic on Doles Island, visiting the Daugava Museum, next to Riga Hydroelectric Station. It has a rich collection of archaeological materials telling about the events on the banks of the Daugava starting with the entrance of the first inhabitants into the territory of Latvia. Unique materials about the ancient history of Latvia, starting with the settlement of Stone Age people until the building of the Īkšķile Castle and church – the first masonry building in the Baltics (1198).
Museums in Kurzeme
In Ventspils a visit to the Ventspils Museum is definitely worth it; it is located in the 13th century Castle of the Livonian Order. The branch of this Museum, the Maritime Open-air Museum, offers the opportunity to ride a narrow-gauge railway like people did 100 years ago, to take a look at huge anchors, visit old buildings and climb to the top of an old wind-mill.
Extreme experiences can be sought at Liepāja Prison of the Military Port; the museum’s game "Escaping from the U.S.S.R." teaches the skills needed for escaping from a totalitarian regime in a realistic setting.
Motor, Sun and Art Nouveau Museums
The largest collection of motor vehicles in the Baltic States is displayed at the Riga Motor Museum which also offers a collection of the cars of the Soviet government, the likes of which cannot be found anywhere in the world. The car of the former U.S.S.R. leader Leonid Brezhnev at the moment of a car accident, with a wax figure of the General Secretary himself is interesting.
One of the newest museums in Latvia, the Sun Museum, is located in the very centre of Riga next to the Riga City Council building and the House of Blackheads. A plenitude of little suns will brighten up a rainy day. On Tuesdays it is possible to make pottery under the guidance of a potter, but everyday one can paint one’s own plaster sun to take back home.
Riga Art Nouveau Museum, which opened in the summer of 2010, is located in one of the most magnificent streets of Riga in a monument of culture of national importance, on Alberta Street where all the buildings are built in the Art Nouveau Style. The Museum is located in the apartment in which the outstanding Latvian architect Konstantīns Pēkšēns lived until 1907.
If you have to spend lots of time at Riga Airport, you can visit the Aviation Museum which has been created over the course of 40 years and has the largest collection of Soviet aviation technology outside the CIS.