My Travel Map

My Travel Map

10 August 2015

Riga - Part 2: Art Nouveau

Put simply, Riga's architecture is spectacular.  First and foremost, Riga is widely recognized as having the largest collection of art nouveau architecture in the world.   There are also a great amount of neoclassical, Baroque, gothic, neo-renaissance, and several other styles around the city.  Basically, if you're a fan of architecture, Riga is a city you must see.

This is going to be a picture heavy post for any fans of architecture out there.  I love architecture, but I'm not well versed in the various styles and complex details, so I'll only comment here and there on what drew me to take the shot or some tidbits of information that I did pick up about a particular building or feature.

We'll start in the old center of Riga.  This big square has some stunning architecture on it.  Look this way, and you have The House of the Blackheads and the tower of St. Peters Church.  Turn 90 degrees to the right, and you'll see the stark contrast of the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia and the statue of the Red Riflemen.  If you instead turned 90 degrees to your left, you'd see the grand Rigas Dome, or City Hall.  It is a beautiful example of a European main city square.

The House of the Blackheads: Riga's most extravagant frat house.  Seriously, the Brotherhood of Blackheads were a guild of unmarried German merchants, and they were reputed for throwing some huge and crazy parties.  Riga was a major trading center with a number of active guilds, or groups of merchants that have cornered the market on a particular commodity such as gold or gems.

The House of the Blackheads is pretty ornately decorated... some might even say garishly so.

St. George and the Dragon beside the Latvian flag.  Considering the dragon looks to be about the same size as a golden retriever or large collie... this depiction doesn't really make St. George out as remarkably heroic or anything... more like a baby dragon killer, which is just not cool.

The Cat House: Legend has it that this grand house was built by a tradesman who was bitter for being scorned in one way or another.  Two different versions of the tale make the antagonist out to be either the city administrators or the leadership of the Great Guild.  So, the tradesman added these cats to the top of the turrets on the house... angry looking cats with their tails (and anuses) pointed towards the Great Guild House and City Hall (the old Rigas Dome).

The Three Brothers: these three buildings are the oldest houses in Riga.  They have an almost cartoon quality to them, with all of their imperfect lines, colors, and quirky details.

This picture is one example of the crazy mix of styles around the city.  I've come to learn that there is something important that gets lost in too much uniformity.  You become numb and indifferent to unique and beautiful features when something is surrounded by so many other things just like it.  However, when you have a great variety of styles, the contrast can be very engaging and exciting... always keeping the eyes looking for the next new thing.

Speaking of those details... check these ones out.  I loved the black tile work and features on top of this building and how the dark contrasted so well with the lighter facade and blue sky.

What exactly is this one, neo-classical?  Those figures designed to look like they are holding up the overhanging structure above them reminded me very much of similar works in Prague.

Here is a prime example of Art Nouveau.  The impish faces, curved organic lines, soft features, and even the font on the address number are all classic features of Art Nouveau.

Many of the buildings are just so ornately detailed...

Faces are a common feature in Art Nouveau.  Some, like this one, are happy.  Others are sad, and many more are proud or somber.

Nature and animals are also common features of Art Nouveau and stand at the core of the Art Nouveau philosophy, which is also known as Jugendstil in German.  Art Nouveau goes beyond architecture... it envelopes just about every style of art.

The top of the main entrance of Smilsu iela 8.  I absolutely loved this view... with the powerfully simple face under the elaborately detailed headpiece, the simple address on the elegant windows and the lights in the interior hall... everything about this just screamed style.

This was an interesting combination with the cherub sitting between the two bearded soldiers.... I also loved the way the modern street signs contrasted so much with the old building.

This is the same cherub/soldier building... it was huge and quite detailed!  The first picture in this post, with the orangutan face, is from the very top of this corner of the building.

Taking a closer look at some of those details, including the smooth, soft lines that flow almost organically and the creepy faces with tired, dead eyes and unnaturally gaping mouths.

One of the bearded soldiers... interestingly these too have that almost dead and/or shell-shocked look to their eyes.

I loved these little guys... holding up the columns like tiny little heavyweight lifters.

This door frame and window reminded me a lot of things I've seen in Paris.  I love the little flower pot down there too!

They used many different colors on the various facades too, which also served as a great way to add to the attraction of the buildings around the city.

Simple little details like this are all over the place... it's not hard to spot them if you keep your eyes peeled.

Then there are the details that are not so simple... like this intricate example.  I loved this one, with the male and female figures sprouting out of their columns and reaching out to each other and the central tree.  I've tried to sort out of that is a freemason symbol right in the middle of the tree branches though...

These dragons on the red background drew me in for this shot...

What style is this one?  Neoclassical art nouveau?  I don't know.  What I do know is that some of these places were just a little over the top in terms of decorations...

The cloud dappled sky and matte light helped this one a lot.  Those detailed beige sections contrast with the simple yellow parts so nicely too.

And the beautiful blue brickwork of Alberta iela 8.

I really liked the lion's face and Egyptian profiles on here too.  And I love how the blue brick contrasted against the off white details.

Check out the rams head at the upper corners of the columns.  You could spend hours going over all the details on here!

The human forms they use are so beautiful.  Though interestingly, they are most often young women and old men... I saw very few (if any?) young men.  Perhaps the female form embodies youth and beauty and life while the masculine is age and wisdom and death?

This helmet like thing looked like something right out of a science fiction movie...

More faces.

It looked as though this building had suffered quite the fire or smoke damage and was in the process of being restored.  Kind of fitting considering the look of panicked terror on the statue.

I loved this ram skull holding up what looks like a balance.

This building was just insanely detailed and powerful.

Those faces with the empty eye sockets and mouths agape are quite haunting.  It is as if they are trying to warn people of some impending doom but they find their ability to communicate has been stripped away from them.

The devil's faces under the columns are just great... I particularly love how the spirals at the bottom of the columns fit so nicely around the horns.

I'd love to know how long it took to design these facades and get any glimpse into what the architects had in mind and were inspired by when they put it all together.  I'm sure each and every little detail has its own special meaning.

The red tile in here was just a lovely feature.

This place had these sphinxes standing guard at the main entrance.

Beehives were featured at the tops of the windows on this building.  Again, natural details are extremely common in Art Nouveau, but each one is unique.

Again with the dragons... I love dragons and also how they so often make the statues appear to be burdened by supporting the weight of the building above them.  If you ever have the luxury of traveling to Riga, do be sure to get out and take in the incredibly rich and varied architecture!