The world’s eighth-largest radio telescope can be found in Kurzeme, not very far from the seaside between Kolka and Ventspils. Even today, the massive dish of the radio telescope, used during the Cold War years by the Soviet military to spy on Western adversaries, towers above the pine summits. Now, it is a place where Latvian scientists explore stars and listen to the sounds of the universe.

  • Irbenes radioastronomijas centrs

During the Soviet era, this site was dubbed The Starlet; it was extremely secret and served to intercept radio signals and telephone conversations in NATO countries. Soon after Latvia’s independence was restored, in 1994, the Russian military personnel left this place. However, as they withdrew, they smashed the equipment, poured acid into the electric motors and chopped up the cables. Fortunately, there had been no order to blow up the enormous antenna dishes.

With assistance from the European Union, the army radar has been transformed to serve scientific purposes: now the 32-metre wide antenna, weighing 600 tonnes, is pointed towards the most remote corners of space. It is the largest radio telescope in Northern Europe, which can “see” sound just like a bat, catches radiation unseen by the human eye and turns it into an image. Astronomers observe the Sun this way, as well as the oldest radiation in existence: particles that originated billions of years ago in the wake of the Big Bang, the moment of the birth of the universe.

A second radio telescope has also been renovated in Irbene (16 metres in diameter), which will soon be used to track the first Latvian satellite, currently being built by Latvian students in cooperation with Germans at the University of Bremen. The military past in Irbene has bequeathed it a number of crumbling structures, about which Juris Žagars, doctor of physics and head of the Ventspils International Radio Astronomy Centre, quips: “You could shoot a horror movie called Frankenstein and the KGB here without having to spend a single lat for the sets.”

As the Irbene radar is no longer a secret military object, it is possible to tour it, with guides also available. The tour includes more than a mere walk around the grounds: it is also possible to climb up to the external platforms on the upper floors of the telescopes and relish the beautiful views extending across the Kurzeme forests. Since the spring of 2009, it is also possible to go for a walk in the underground tunnel connecting the larger radio telescope with the technical headquarters.

In the area surrounding Irbene, there are other noteworthy objects. Almost nine kilometres further down the Kurzeme coast, you will find the Oviši lighthouse, built in 1905. It is the oldest surviving navigational structure in Latvia. The same distance away, there is Miķeļbāka, the tallest lighthouse in the Baltics, rising to 62 metres. The scenic Irbe River flows past the Irbene radar, popular with boating enthusiasts who like to retreat from the bustle of civilisation; not far from here, there is also the Slītere national park, Cape Kolka, and the unique Livonian Coast, which is the cultural and historical homeland of the Livonian people.

57"33'15 21"51'26
57.554295, 21.857214
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    • Latvian
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Last updated: 17.07.2013

Excellent recreation in the countryside among interesting, exotic and forest animals. Sharp-eyed visitors will definitely encounter tree-frogs in “Cīruļi”.  The Zoo has the largest herd of kiangs kept in captivity in the world, as well as brown bears, wolverines, wolves, lynxes, wild boars, Latvian blue cows and other domestic animals. 

 This is an excellent place for family recreation. In 2005 domestic llamas from South America joined the team of the "Cīruļi" Zoo residents.  In their home land, these llamas are used to carrying packs.

These animals may be viewed from the observation tower - café from where there is a good view on the surrounding area.Including the Grobiņas wind generator park.

Kalvene’s Zoo is located 55 km from Liepāja. Riga - Liepāja motorway 186 km.

A tower was added to the church in 1684 and, in 1817, the church was completely restored. The church is interesting with its furnishings. The altar with woodcarving and sculptures was made at the end of the 17th century. Such types of retable altars are rarely found in Latvia.

The Gaiķu church altar is characteristic of the workshop of sculptor Kristian Akerman of East Prussia, who arrived to Revel in the 1670s. The Gaiķu church altar is also believed to have been made there.

The Gaiķu church is especially distinguished for its original bench paintings. The style of the paintings is characteristic of late renaissance. The Biblical plot and images are not traditionally depicted in these paintings –Christian morality is expressed by means of various symbols.  The author, probably Kurzeme painter Kornēlijs Bergholcs, used a collection of emblems compiled by Joachim Camerario and imprinted in the mid 16th and 17th centuries in Nurnberg.

Other valuable things are located here as well. The church has survived both world wars without considerable damages.

In 1923 in Mazirbe, the Liiv public organisation “The Union of Liivs” was founded, thanks to its efforts and with the support of Estonians, Finns and Hungarians, in 1938 − 1939 the Liiv People’s House was built. It has retained its significance to the present – to gather the Liivs together. Every year on the first Saturday of August, a Liiv Festival is held in Mazirbe.

The People’s House was designed by Finnish architect Erkki Huttunen. This is the only one of E. Huttunen’s projects executed abroad, but in Finland E. Huttunen is recognised as one of the most brilliant representatives of functionalism in architecture.

The People’s House houses a collection of Liivs’ household objects and it is possible to listen to recordings of the Liiv language. The Liiv villages on the shores of the Baltic Sea still have buildings that were constructed at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, and even the settling structures of some villages. The villages from Kolka to Sīkrags are connected by a forest road, which the locals call the old Mazirbe road. This road is suitable for cyclists. A 1 − 2 day long cycling tour is the best way to get acquainted with the special atmosphere of Liiv villages and also to observe nature in Slītere National Park.

Mazirbe, Košrags and Kolka are ancient Liiv fishing villages. Livonians, or Liivs, are a small Baltic Finno-Ugric nation living at the westernmost point. Their future existence is threatened. The small fishermen’s villages of Kurzeme shore welcome their guests with piers for boats, net sheds, ancient wooden constructions of the fishermen’s villages and exhibitions of antiquities, as well as an extensive offer of guest-houses. More information about Liiv culture is at www.livones.lv

The spy game "Escaping from the U.S.S.R." offers the opportunity of active participation, to think independently, search, run, hide and experience sensations that are not easily found in the contemporary consumer society. The idea of the game is to allow participants to go back into 20 years into the past, reminding them of the history of this country.

The game provides an insight into the period of Soviet occupation, including in the tourist circulation the unique fortification buildings of the Czarist times which sometimes go unnoticed.

The task of the game to act in a united way to overcome various obstacles, to find a friend who is unable to move himself, and to take him to the submarine.

Team spirit and the sense of a friend’s support are very important in this game. While being in the border zone of the U.S.S.R. the participants have to move quietly, hide and scout the vicinity. The game is offered to participants over 10. Younger children can try to escape together with their parents. No need to make prior arrangements.

The house offers an exhibition of 500 antlers of elks, deer and roebucks collected by Liiv Edgars Hausmanis, the long-term forester, employee at Slītere Nature Reserve, bearer of the Order of the Three Stars. There is a site for tents and small camping houses.

This is one of the rare places, where the fences typical of Liiv farms are still maintained. A bushy simple yew-tree grows next to the fence. 350 of all atntlers in this collection are elk antlers. These are not hunting trophies.

It is possible to sit in chairs that have been made from elk and deer antlers.

A part of Liepāja City which at the end of the 19th century developed as a permanent urban setting for the base of the Navy of Czarist Russia. Apart from numerous military buildings, a magnificent Orthodox Cathedral (1900 − 1903), a prison and a system of defence forts has been preserved here. The Military Port – Karosta – as an independent urban environment developed at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century.

In 1890 , upon the order of Russian Czar Alexander II, the construction of a sizeable fortress and military town began to the north of Liepāja City, initially it was called Emperor Alexander’s III Port. Only during the period of Latvian independence was it called the Naval Port. Emperor Alexander’s III Port was a fully autonomous settlement with its own infrastructure, electric power-station, water supply system, church and schools.

During the Soviet period, the Military Port was a closed territory, inaccessible even to the civilians of Liepāja. Liepāja Military Port, which covers approximately one third of the total area of the city in its northern part, is a miraculous, paradoxical and unique place not only in the history and architecture of Latvia, but the whole world.

The environment here is a singular reflection of the interaction between Russian military elegance and Soviet militarism. The present Military Port is a special district. It is no longer an army town, but a unified touristic site, inspiring creative people. Tourists can try out the life of a prisoner at the Military Port prison, walk through the underground labyrinths of the Northern Forts lit by torchlight. Buses No. 3. 4 and 7 connect the centre of Liepāja with the Military Port.

The old brick bridge across the Venta was built in 1874 and is the longest bridge of this kind of road bridge in Europe – 14 m. It was built according to 19th century standards – 500 feet long and 26 feet wide, allowing two carriages to pass. It consisted of seven spans of brick vaults. During World War I two of the spans were blown up.

These were restored in 1926, but concrete was used instead of bricks. In 1958 the cobbled road was covered with tarmac, but the old-style lamp-posts were restored in 2005. The bridge has been often used in shooting films, for example, the movie Emīla nedarbi (Emil’s Mischief).

The brick bridge across the Venta has been serving the people of Kuldīga since 1874. It was according to 19th century standards. The 164 metre long arched bridge with seven spans of brick arches with boulder abutments was not only the largest and most ornate in the territory of Latvia, but also one of the most modern in Europe.

The bridge was lit by lamps on 6 ornate cast iron lampposts with fish-shaped bases. The width of the bridge was a sure sign of achievements in bridge construction since it was wide enough to allow two carriages going into the opposite directions to pass each other.

The Venta waterfall (Ventas rumba) is the widest waterfall in Europe. This 249 meter wide naturally formed waterfall is associated with a number of legends and historic events. Because of the device for catching fish which was invented by Duke Jacob, in old times Kuldīga was known as a town where salmon were caught in the air.

An interesting phenomenon can be observed near the waterfall in spring and autumn when spawning fish try to get over the waterfall by jumping through the air. While the beauty of the Venta waterfall is not the wild, breathtaking beauty of the major waterfalls in the world, the Venta waterfall and the old brick bridge still create the impression of an idyllic, quiet town. Looking from the side of the bridge, it seems to be just a small waterfall. To appreciate its true beauty, one must spend at least ten to fifteen minutes there and climb down to one of the river banks.

Cape Kolka is a meeting place created by nature. Seas and people meet here. Man with nature, sunrise with sunset. The meeting of public and private capital has been used to bring Cape Kolka in good order, make it well-equipped and well-cared for both in the summer and winter months.

This is a dangerous place for sailing, the lighthouse, (1884) built on an artificial island beyond the 6 metre long shoal, warns about this. In spring this is an ideal site to watch migratory birds, while in summer it is a paradise for swimmers and surfers. Kolka village is proud of the smell of smoked fish, birds’ songs, and the monuments of cultural history.

The ancient Liv fishermen’s villages Mazirbe, Košrags, and Kolka are found in the vicinity. The Livonians, or the Livs, are a small Baltic Finno-Ugric nation living farther to the west, its future existence is under threat.

The small fishermen’s villages on the Kurzeme seashore welcome visitors with wharfs, net sheds, the old wooden architecture of fishing villages (starting with the 18th c.), and exhibitions of antiquities, as well as an extensive offer of countryside tourist accommodation.