The Art Nouveau face of Riga
ROUTES4U FAM Trip Baltic Sea Region vol. 1
One day, just five hours before boarding my plane to go for holidays back to my home country Lithuania, I received a call from Denise, the Communications Officer for the Routes4U project. She asked me if I wanted to join her and three travel agents for a FAM trip through Latvia, Lithuania and Poland visiting some of the Cultural Routes in the Baltic Sea Region as a Routes4Youth blogger. I had to make up my mind fast, but that was not an issue as I knew an adventure of discovering the exciting cultural tourism destinations along the eastern coast of Baltic Sea is awaiting and I should not miss it.
And here it started- on one hot day in June me, Denise and travel agents- Dovilė Mikutaitė-Kulokė from Seagull Group, Nona Šareikienė from Estravel and Jolanta Navakauskienė from ELIT Events Baltic- met in Riga, one of the most northern Art Nouveau cities. Our journey of learning about the offer of the Cultural Routes in the Baltic Sea Region has begun.
Cultural Routes of the Council of Europe programme promotes the travel routes that often go behind the main touristic spots inviting visitors to discover lesser-known destinations. And that can be applied even in such popular places as Latvian capital city of Riga.
Riga is a well-known spot on the eastern coast of the Baltic Sea and is often visited by tourists from the neighbouring as well as faraway countries. The last time before this trip I was there (and even though I come from Lithuania I have to shamefully admit that was more than a decade ago), I remember strolling around the busy Old Town of Riga, the place of the Latvian capital city that probably receives most of attention from visitors. However, Riga is more than that and its role in the Réseau Art Nouveau network, a certified Cultural Route of the Council of Europe since 2014 proves exactly that.
We started our trip in Riga from discovering the Art Nouveau museum, which more than a century ago was the private apartment of Konstantīns Pēkšēns, one of the Latvian Art Nouveau, locally referred as Jugendstils, architects of the time. Iveta Sproge, the project manager for Riga Art Nouveau center greeted us at the elegant entrance of the museum and toured us around the house where I felt the time has stopped just a bit more than a hundred years ago.
We went from room to room and got amazed by the many colours decorating the walls, the furniture as well as the ceilings that show different floral motifs. Even the stained glass windows here tell a separate story- a dreaming frog in the lush pond probably reminded the former owner of the apartment the peaceful countryside of Latvia.
Our hosts let us for a moment to feel the spirit of that age and invited us to try the colourful and stylish hats. For sure such a moment is worth a photo!
The museum is just a small part of Art Nouveau treasures in Riga so accompanied also by Jānis Krastiņš, a famous Latvian architect and the author of the book “Art Nouveau buildings in Riga” we left the museum behind to firstly explore the Alberta and Antonijas streets nearby. We soon noticed that Art Nouveau style in Riga manifests in different ways and sometimes it is difficult to tell that two buildings on the same street belong to the same style, as my travel colleagues notice. Each building is so unique, and I could spend hours discovering all the fascinating details on each one of them. I see screaming faces or masks, flora and fauna motifs, dragons and other creatures and all the other facade elements and colours!
The blue Art Nouveau building designed by Mikhail Eisenstein on Elisabetes street 10b is probably the one that made the biggest impression on me. The many sculptural elements of the facade are accompanied by two gigantic and symmetrical faces on the top of this spectacular edifice. The beauty of this as well as other Art Nouveau masterpieces lies not only outside, but also inside. Therefore, our guide Jānis Krastiņš takes us inside of this breathtaking building so we can admire the sculptural elements of the inside as well as the elegant staircases.
We continued our trip through the busy streets of Riga in a minibus, observing the locals rushing through the streets or just enjoying the shade and refreshments in one of the cafes with the background of these spectacular Art Nouveau buildings that in the end of the 19th- beginning of the 20th century as well as now serve different functions- from many private apartments to school, banks as well as hotels. We had only a couple of hours of time in which, as I got to know, we saw only a glimpse of these treasures! Our guide told us that the Latvian capital city hides more than 800 of these unique Art Nouveau buildings.
At the end of the trip, we came back to the Art Nouveau museum. There is a small Art Nouveau souvenir shop just in front of it. I visited it and did not resist the temptation to buy a small piece of Riga’s Art Nouveau to bring back home.
Three hours in the wonders of Riga’s Art Nouveau were not enough and I am already curious how many of those over 800 buildings I can check the next time I visit the Latvian capital. What would be an even extraordinary experience is the visit to the Art Nouveau museum during the Riga’s annual Museum Night when the rooms of this unique apartment become the stage for different performers.
The conclusion is clear- Riga, I am coming back to further explore your Art Nouveau face!
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