Walking through the center of Riga you’ll barely be able to take a dozen steps before being faced with yet another exotic example of art nouveau (new art) architecture, and as such it’s the Latvian capital city’s claim to fame. And rightly so. There is not another city on Earth with such a high concentration of floral motifs, flamboyant naked maidens and elaborate carved gargoyles. So why is it so different to other European cities?
The answer lies in the economic history of Latvia as a whole. At the end of the 19th Century, Riga was a booming city, utilised by the Russian Empire as a huge trade port. All this money passing through gave Riga a confidence to build quickly and elaborately, and as luck would have it, the fashion at the time was to build exquisite, if not a little quirky art nouveau structures.
The best talent in the art nouveau architecture world made Riga their home, including Mikhail Eisenstein who filled Alberta Iela (Alberta Street) in the centre of the city with eye-popping edifices that thrill keen photographers with their intricate detail. As did architect Konstantīns Pēkšēns who designed no less than 250 buildings in Riga, especially around Elizabetes and Albert Streets, and the area to the northeast of Kronvalda Park, with both man and streets becoming infamous in the process.
Over the last century the complex establishments scattered across the city have become the pride of the Latvian people, and the preservation of these remarkable buildings has been of utmost importance. So much so, that the historic centre of Riga was recently designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site to help preserve its artistic integrity. Today the best way to celebrate and enjoy the most architecturally unique city in the Baltics is to amble around the cobbled streets and simply look up.