Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Relishing Riga!

Riga, Latvia---don't know that I'd ever really heard of the place until my niece, Hailey Sutterfield, was called on a mission there for our church.  Latvia, I knew, because I once had a fettish for playing geography games on the computer when I was tired and wanted to sit down awhile---I'd time myself and see how fast I could fill in a blank map of Europe or Africa (I rationalized that I was learning something and that is was better than playing Spider or Solitaire).  Riga, though,was new to me.  When I took geography in 9th grade, Latvia was part of the Soviet Union.  Don't think I ever had to put Riga on a map.  When Hailey was called and sent letters every week, I got a feel for the people, but not so much the place.  Never did I dream in a million years that I would visit Riga.  I know that I sound like a broken record, but I'm so glad we did.  It was amazing in so many ways.  Just proof again that artistic, hard-working, and faithful people have lived in many places throughout all of time!

In case you missed my blog about our time on the boat during our cruise, I posted a few pictures when we were floating up the Daugava River at the break of day.  You could get a sense of Riga---the importance of the river, the stark difference between the architecture of the new and the old, the variety of churches, and the abundance of nature, both green spaces and blue spaces.  Over 54 percent of Riga is made up of parks and forests (green) and waterways in the form of canals and rivers (blue).

This beautiful building was one of the first things we saw when we got off the bus after a short city tour.  We entered Town Hall Square and the dominant building was this incredibly decorated structure.  It's the House of the Blackheads Brotherhood.  It is said to have been the richest and most spendorous building in the early days of Riga and is first mentioned in writings of 1334.  Blackheads was an organization of unmarried foreign merchants existing in several medieval Baltic towns.  In Riga it was entered into by unmarried foreign merchants who were living in Riga but were not homeowners.  The structure was often used for meetings of citizens.  It has recently been restored.


Sorry the photos are a little choppy and skewed.  The square was quite small, the buildings quite large and beautiful, and empty spaces not so empty but full of people.  It was hard to get in good places to get a shot off and not be in someone's way!  Not to mention the fact that our guide was ALWAYS in a hurry.  Not so sure she was lovin' her job.  Across the way was the town hall:

Soon we were on our way walking through the streets of Old Town Riga.  One of our next stops was St. Peter's Church.  It was so tall (it's the tallest building in Old Riga) and crowded in between other structures so I had to take pictures of it in sections!  This church is first mentioned in 1209; it's old.  It was medieval Riga's chief sacred building.


You can get an idea of how tightly packed that big church is in the middle of Old Riga in this next picture.
Not too far away is St John's Church.  
All of the steeples of Riga's churches are topped by gilded cocks.  The cock in Latvian folklore is both the symbol of watchfulness and a safeguard from the devil.  When the cock sings for the third time, the devil supposedly is forced to run to hell.  The one below is found on the top of  St. John's church.
This one is on top of the Dom Church.
Speaking of the Dom Church:
They were working on the organ loft!
Right behind St John's Church was this beautiful building.  We learned it was the Ecke Building.  It was built in 1435 as a refuge for ill people.  Later in the  1500's it was renovated by a man name Ecke as an asylum for the widows of Ecke's political opposition. 
Ecke, was was accused of getting his own wallet confused with city funds.  In an effort to move the feelings of society, he had this relief of Christ and the sinner put front and center on the building with the inscription:  "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone."

As we walked along the streets the unique character of the buildings told stories of times past. Wish I could have taken lots more; but, you know, we had that guide that was wanting to move on.
The detail on the top of an old monastery gate:

Loved the windows on this next building:

In the background you can see the fortification wall of St. John's courtyard  At the top of the structure is where guards would be positioned.

There were lots of gates and arches in Riga.  When we went through one of the gates, the guide told us that there once a young woman who was out later than her curfew and was caught trying to sneak in late at night.  Her punishment---having the wall of one of the gates built around her,entombing her!  Pretty serious consequences!

This is part of a fortress-like building referred to as Konventhof.

And even Riga has a bit of American influence!

The architecture in Riga is amazing.  There is LOTS of Art Nouveau and some Gothic.  Here are a few random shots:

Lots of facade ornamentation:

On top of the Cats' House---appropriately named.

The Small Guild.  The nearby Great Guild now houses the Riga's philharmonic orchestra:


This is Liv Square created in an area of town which used to have a river running through it.  I think it was re-routed or covered or something for health reasons, but maybe it dried up because as I am now trying to finish this post more than a year after we were there, I don't remember for sure.  BUT....they wanted to do something to remember the river had been there so all the stonework and the landscaping is done in wavey patterns to be reminiscent of the river.

This is the Freedom Monument.  It was erected in 1935.  The sculptures at the bottom are all representative of values like work, spiritual life, family, and protection of the Motherland.  On top is the allergorical image of a woman---Freedom.  The three stars she holds represent three different historical districts of Latvia.

The Powder Tower where gun powder was once stored.  It is now part of the military museum in Riga along with some adjoining buildings (two shots that follow): 


The Swedish Gate was erected in 1698 as a part of the Riga Wall to provide access to barracks outside the city wall.

Some more random shots as we roamed the streets.  The first one shows how they warehoused goods for the guilds and such.  Similar configurations were used to store grain for animals, etc.



The next two shots are the Riga Stock Exchange:


This sculpture is on a local square and is a Christmas tree made of 100 mirrors which revolve constantly reminding us that life is always changing!  This is also where we were to meet our tour guide after a shopping break.  By our watches we were right on time, but she left us and a few others in our group.  Luckily, we were about done, knew how to get back to the bus, and had more time to shop.  Bought some fun watercolors that will hang in our home to remind us of this wonderful day in Riga.