Secrets of Riga courtyards. Excursion with an architect.

Secrets of Riga courtyards. Excursion with an architect.
Kaspars Garda, Rīga 2014
Una Griškeviča
28-06-2013 A+ A-
When walking around Riga, sometimes we even don't look up and do not notice interesting houses or details. What's more, we even do not think that there are many surprising courtyards in Riga. This is why we chose to take part in an excursion leaded by Vents Vīnbergs, architect and one of the owners of "Lukabuka" bookshop. Therefore, we tried to discover secrets of Riga courtyards and present the experience to our readers. It turns out Vīnbergs has explored many of those interesting courtyards while cutting high school classes.

We begin our excursion in a courtyard of Strēlnieku iela (Strēlnieku Street). First, it seems that nothing really significant is there except maybe some details of Art Nouveau buildings. I have to say, this district is a real Art Nouveau pearl, also Alberta iela (Alberta Street), a popular tourists attraction, is not quite far from here. When we go further into courtyard and look up, we find out a large sight of Venice where Doge's Palace is reproduced. Vīnbergs then tells a legend of creating this art piece. It was made to please a mistress of a landlord. It's easy to imagine that this mistress had lived in a house where the significant painting was noticed from her window. She might have enjoyed the view while staying at her home. Though, it seems the painting was made on a big piece of canvas, not the wall itself. Still, the impression stays unspoiled. Imagine the days of winter when no trees cover up the sight, it's really something!


I sometimes used to walk by Krišjāņa Valdemāra iela (Krišjānis Valdemārs Street), but I never tried to look into those gateways. Now, when we are together with a photographer Kaspars Garda, we relize gateways are decorated by plaster reliefs. Birds, animals, even some fantastic creatures. It's a wonder how those 20th century artworks stayed undamaged, painted over or suffered otherwise. So there is still a chance for us to look at those works.


While going to the next sightseeing object, a courtyard on Maiznīcas iela (Maiznīcas Street), we listen to a story of house building stylistics. We discover that Riga had three large groups of landlords back in these days. They then defined the styles of architecture used for building houses. "Riga always manages to stand out," smiles Vīnbergs.


Speaking of the building on Maiznīcas iela, he explains that lanlords used to build houses on street edges in order to earn money from renting those houses. They built around the courtyard afterwards. So those houses here were really splendid. Sometimes grottos were created in courtyards unfolding the fantasy of architects (like the one in the courtyard of Maiznīcas iela). While showing a relief with a triangle and a ruler pictured, Vīnbergs says it's not really a sign of Freemasons. It serves a purpose of showing that an architect himself had lived in the house.

"Otherwise we might think Riga is full of Freemasons' signs," says Vīnbergs.


Next courtyard on Stabu iela (Stabu Street) surprises with a genuine pearl, a house built by Riga German citizens order. This, in its turn, reminds of German cities. Fachwerks, red brick ornaments, cast iron banisters and long chimneys make this five-storey building even more splendid. One can only imagine how great and large those apartments once were.

It turns out the house could not be noticed from the street side until recently because of the wooden building created in front of it. Now it's taken down, and Stabu iela gets richer with one more Riga architecture pearl. When discussing about the reason why the house is built farther from the street, Vīnbergs explains people have always wanted more privacy.

It seems true considering the fact that residents of the house would not be so happy about those tourists walking around their homes.


If someone wishes to find out more about life of workers, there is an option to go to courtyards on the corner of Tērbatas and Tallinas iela (Tērbata and Tallina Street). In there, casual people working mainly with horse tram lines lived. Some time ago, a horse tram roundhouse was there, but nowadays the building is turned town. Still, we can witness those living conditions residents had to see. Two gloomy buildings reminding of barracks, pulleys connected between windows where clothes and sheets were put to dry, a courtyard without any trees. Still, there is a charm in this place. One can only picture how this place looked before St. Gertrude Old Church was built. Back then, there was a marketplace. Nevertheless, there is always place for imagination!


When the excursion is over, we go to Dzirnavu iela (Dzirnavu Street). A yellow brick house created by an architect Reinhold Schmeling is located opposite „Galleria Rīga”. He worked in Riga at the time James Armitstead was the Mayor. Therefore, Schmeling created such beautiful buildings as Children’s Hospital and Pauls Stradiņš Clinical University Hospital. Nowadays, Riga City Architect’s Office is located at this brick house. If lucky, people can look into the office with several 19th century interior details. There used to be an apartment of Schmeling. Unfortunately, we don’t get so lucky, so we can just look at the building from the outside.

Now I’m pretty sure that I will try to notice Riga courtyards more often during my daily walks. Because you never know when an architecture pearl might be discovered again.



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