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Sightseeing in Riga

The Dome Cathedral : One of Riga’s most imposing and famous buildings, the Dome Cathedral is an excellent example of medieval architecture; many hold it to be the finest of its kind in the Baltic States. Even if it isn’t the finest, it’s definitely the largest place of worship in the Baltic countries; the church covers all of 8000 sq m (8 sq km, when you come to think of it!), and has walls that are two meters thick.

At the time the construction of the Dome Cathedral was begun (in the 13th century), Riga was just a small fishing village- and despite the passage of time, the cathedral is in excellent condition. The interiors are beautiful indeed- woodcarvings, stained glass windows, wrought iron screens, and a wonderful pipe organ with close to seven thousand pipes. Pipe organ concerts are held regularly in the evenings at the church, which is the cathedral for the Latvian Evangelic Lutheran Church.

The Open Air Ethnographic Museum : Located at a distance of about 10 km from Riga, the Open-Air Ethnographic Museum is one of the oldest of its kind in Europe (it was established in 1924). The museum, which sits on the bank of Jugla Lake, is spread across some 90 buildings, representative of Latvia’s architecture and art- across regions and across centuries.

Amongst the buildings are to be found fishing villages, artisans’ cottages, huts, farmhouses, churches and other traditional buildings- all of them original (they’ve been painstakingly shifted here from various places all over Latvia).

The museum extends over 100 hectares, and is abuzz with activity; there are regular shows of performing arts- folk dances, music and songs; demonstrations of traditional arts and crafts; and even a tavern where authentic Latvian cuisine is served. Great place for a glimpse of Latvia, especially if you don’t have the time (or the money) to see the rest of the country.

St Peter’s Church : One of the landmarks of the Old Town, St Peter’s Church offers an excellent view of the city of Riga. Constructed nearly eight centuries ago, the first mention of the church appears in chronicles dating back to 1209. Till the year 1523, St Peter’s was a Catholic church; but in that fateful year, it became a Lutheran place of worship- it still is. The cathedral is an example of the best Gothic architecture in the Baltic States.

The Museum of Decorative and Applied Art : Housed in the 13th-century St George’s Church, the Museum of Decorative and Applied Art is a collection of some of the most exquisite art turned out by Latvia in the past century. St George’s Church itself, the oldest building in Riga, was built in 1204 (it was initially a part of Wittenstein Castle, but was later deconsecrated and turned into a warehouse), is worth a visit, it’s so historic. The Museum’s collection makes the visit even more worthwhile; on display are more than 8000 items, which include woodcuttings, porcelain, tapestries, and other works of art.

The History Museum of Latvia : The History Museum of Latvia is the country’s largest collection of cultural artefacts. It’s housed in the former residence of the Grand Master of the Livonian Order, which had been a part of Riga Castle. In fact, part of the flooring in the museum is made of glass, so that the ancient ruins of the castle below the museum can be seen. The museum holds more than 500,000 exhibits, and they cover a wide range of items- photographs, utensils, costumes, currency, and items of daily use. The collection has items that are as old as the Bronze Age, and is a good representation of Latvia’s history, from prehistory to the present. Other than the items on permanent display, there are periodic temporary exhibitions too, which are usually quite interesting.

The History of Riga and Navigation Museum : This is a two-fold museum, the oldest in the Baltic States (it was founded in 1773) and definitely a must-see, especially if you like seas and ships. On the one hand, the museum has a whole section on Riga and its history; on the other, there’s a large display of exhibits connected to navigation. The `History of Riga’ Section- from prehistoric times to the 17th century- includes items related to trade, administration and culture. Also very interesting is the section on navigation- it has some 400 exhibits, from the 10th century onwards, and covering marine engineering (in even very primitive forms) and navigation. Among the most exciting things on display are seascapes, maps, and models of ships, shipbuilding tools, and personal belongings of sailors, textbooks, and souvenirs.

If you have the time, there are a number of other monuments you might like to add to your itinerary; the Church of Our Lady of Sorrows, St Jacob’s Church, and St John’s Church are fine examples of medieval architecture, and the city has some excellent- and offbeat- museums too. Among the museums, the good ones include the Museum of Foreign Art - everything’s here, from paintings by Dutch masters, to art objects from ancient Greece and Egypt; the Art Museum , and the Motor Museum with more than 100 vehicles in it- including cars owned by Stalin, Brezhnev and Maxim Gorky.

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