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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.

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Ventspils Starptautiskais radioastronomijas centrs
  • Ventspils Starptautiskais radioastronomijas centrs
Ventspils Starptautiskais radioastronomijas centrs
  • Ventspils Starptautiskais 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
  • Languages spoken: 
    • English
    • German
    • Latvian
    • Russian
  • Admission fee: 
    Paid
  • Payment methods: 
    • Bank transfer
    • Cash
Services: 
  • Guide service available
  • Themed events
Amenities and Features: 
  • Free parking
  • WC
Last updated: 17.06.2014

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 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.

Ventspils a popular tourist centre in Latvia, offering recreation on a “Blue Flag” beach with excellent amenities and Ventspils Aqua Park. Children will enjoy the playgrounds at the Children’s Town. The facilities of Olympic Centre “Ventspils” welcome sports fans

History is still alive in Ventspils Old Town, in the Castle of the Livonian Order, and in the narrow cobbled streets of Ostasgals. A 6 metre high and 23 tonne anchor is displayed on the Anchor Path. A ride on the narrow gauge railway “Mazbānītis” or in the velo rail car at the Maritime Open Air Museum offer unique sensations, as does a tour of the aquatorium of Ventspils Port in the ship “Hercogs Jēkabs”.

Ventspils Adventure Park offers a hill for skiing, a rope track, bobsled, and BMX tracks, trampolines, kiiking swings, a summer tubing track, and other entertainment. Ventspils is also called the flower capital of Latvia. You will find unique flower sculptures here – “The Underwater World”, “The Bobsleigh Team”, “The Ladybirds”, “A Family of Ducks”, as well as the only Flower Clock in Latvia. Ventspils is a family and recreation friendly city.

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.

Wild horses, bison, and wild ox can be observed on the shores of Pape Lake, and from the specially built tower you can also see migratory birds. It is possible to take a guided tour through the park, to walk, take a bike, or a boat along a specially marked route through the lake.

On the shores of Lake Pape you can see wild horses, bisons and wild oxen and, from the specially built tower, migratory birds. The park may be seen accompanied by a guide, walking, cycling or going by boat on a specially designated route.

The park is located in the extreme SW corner of Latvia in the Rucavas and Nīcas parishes of the Liepāja District. The park’s core is formed by Lake Pape – the 12 km2 large and 0.3 m deep coastal lagoon lake and Nida bog with the adjacent territories.

Officially, the nature park was established in 2004. Nature Park "Pape" is formed by the unique and diverse mosaic of nature’s ecosystems: coastal lagoon lake and wet high peat bog with transitional bogs, sand beaches and walking dunes, coastal dry and wet forests, flood-plain meadows with the characteristic flora and fauna groups. 

The trip has five stops: lake, meadow, forest, bog and dunes. Each of these tells how the beauty of nature – the landscape – is formed. This is a story about the formation of landscape under the influence of various natural processes, for instance, water, fire, wind, large herbivorous animals.

Information about Pape Nature Park is available at the Rucava TIC, by calling +371 63494766, +371 29134903 or writing to rucava.tic@inbox.lv.

The Engure Lake nature park was established in 1998 and it contains not only Engure Lake, but also the seashore of the Gulf of Riga from Mērsrags to Engure. During the bird migration period, almost every species of bird identified in Latvia can be seen here because some species of birds use this territory as a place to replace flight feathers, as a resting and feeding place during migration, or a place for spending the winter.

Rare bird species, which are under the threat of extinction, are found here, for example, the corncrake, the eagle-owl, the little crake, the white tailed eagle, the European penduline tit, the great white egret, and others. Mērsrags Piejūras meadows are a very important nesting and rest sites for migrating wading birds and water birds. Three bird observation towers are built on the shores of Engure Lake so that visitors can have a better view of the birds in the lake, the beautiful landscape, and wild animals.

Several paths for walking have been set up – Lāčupītes path in Apšuciems, Plieņciems, Vecupe and Engure paths in Engure and the Orchid Path. More than 30 cattle are pastured in the nature park near the lake - Highlander, Charlotte, and Alpine Grey cows and Konik horses. Latvian Blue cows graze in the littoral meadows in Mērsrags. The blue cow is a very rare species, which is in fact on the brink of extinction.

The State Register of Herds contains information on 89 cows. The Latvian Blue cow is a unique species, its place of origin is considered to be the coast of Kurzeme in Latvia. Initially they belonged only to Liiv farmers but, as the entries of the cattle herd-book show, in the 1930s they were encountered also in Valmiera and Cēsis districts. These cows, typical only found in Latvia, are sturdy and endure cold, rain, and wind.