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The so-called Old Town of Riga is (naturally) the city's historic and geographic centre, located on the right bank of the Daugava River. Only remnants of the fortification wall remain that enclosed the city from the 13th to 18th century. But the narrow streets of cobblestone, and a multitude of Medieval architectural wonders are still standing, first and foremost being the churches and their steeples – making for a solely unique skyline.
Thus, the most popular sightseeing sight is the most awe-inspiring of the churches:
- Riga Dome Cathedral – the seat and the Archbishop's headquarters of the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church, whose cornerstone was placed in the early 13th century.
- Not far is St. Peter's Church, and the tallest steeple spire,
- St. Jacob's - the seat of the Roman Catholic Church. The church utilised most often for sacred music concerts, especially on religious holidays, like Easter, is St.
The many striking landmarks include
- St. George's Church, known as the White Stone Castle,
- the Synagogue,
- charming Konventhof,
- Mentzendorff House (its permanent exposition gives an idea of how wealthy merchants lived in Riga in the 17-18th century),
- the old tri-dwellings known as the "Three Brothers",
- Riga Castle,
- Gunpowder Tower - Latvian War Museum.
Back in the Middle Ages, Riga was a member of the trade route known as the Hanseatic League. The Great Guild and the nearby Small Guild reflect the prosperity of these days, not to mention the ornate House of the Blackheads (Melngalvju nams), with the statue of Knight Roland – symbol of the freedom of the city in front. The Hanseatic League linked together a considerable number of cities and non-member foreign trading postss, known as kontores.
What to do in Old Riga
Old Town is certainly a one-of-a-kind masterpiece of city planning of yore, - sturdy enough to withstand even the tourist throng in the 21st century. Something for everyone here – museums, art galleries, restaurants/bars/clubs, hotels, souvenir shoppes.
On Christmas, Easter, Līgo!/Midsummer Night, both Dome and Līvu squares are transformed into huge fairs or outdoor markets. Here one feels true atmosphere of the holiday at hand, and suffice it to say that the colourful vendors in their booths sell anything you require for your festivities at home or elsewhere.
When visiting Old Town, remember to bring along two items – a camera and a map – even locals lose their way on the myriad of streets short and long, winding and straight.
When the sun goes down and the moon rises, man yourself with an adventurous attitude and a good mood – be prepared to flow with the crowd. The busiest and noisiest by far is Kaļķu Street, THE prime location. From the Freedom Monument, it's forward march to the Daugava, with "watering holes" and relief for the famished all along the way for all tastes (and price ranges).
Old Town Riga (and its silhoutte) seemingly remains the same, but, actually, through the years, it has gradually changed and evolved, and still is "in process". That's good, because Riga "cannot ever 'be ready", as the legend has it. Elderly folk tell the tale of a gentleman in a tailcoat or a pale female apparition, sometimes just a voice in the dark, appearing from time to time to ask: "Is Riga ready yet?" "No, it is not ready," we respond. Otherwise, as the legend has it: Riga and its inhabitants will sink and disappear under the water.
Stroll through historic Old Town "virtually": www.riga.lv