Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Art Nouveau (Jugenstil) in Riga

Around the turn of the 20th century, Riga was booming. Between 1897 and 1913, the population grew 88%, reaching 530,000 in 1914. It was the 5th largest city in the Russian Empire and 3rd largest in the Baltic region (after St. Petersburg and Warsaw). The walls and fortifications around Vecriga (the old city) had been torn down, and the city was expanding and modernizing.

A ring of boulevards arcing around Vecriga was developing, and stone buildings were replacing the wooden ones. When we stay at Hotel Latvija this month, we will be located near the heart of all this development between Brivības Boulevard and Elizabetes Street.

The style of the new buildings (1898-1905) reflected the latest in European architecture of the time—in Paris and Brussels it was known as Art Nouveau, while in Munich it was called Jugendstil. Characteristics of this movement were the asymmetry and vertical, curvilinear lines. On Riga buildings plants, animals, shells, human masks with grotesque expressions, fantastic creatures, and Greek gods are some of the decorations on the facades, over the portals, encircling windows--and surprising passersby.

One of the most famous buildings in Vecriga is called the cat house because of the two wrought iron cats balancing atop two of the small towers. Wrought iron was a popular material as well as stain glass, enamels—interior decorations that resemble the Pre-Raphaelites' (Beardsley or Morris) art. In the US the closest counterpart, arriving a little later would be the Arts and Crafts movement.

This week the weekly English language newspaper, The Baltic Times carried a story about the Retro Tram now shuttling tourists around city center. Of course, for those who like to walk, we’ll be planning some strolls to look at some of the amazing buildings—not only from the Art Nouveau era but also the medieval city and the later National Romantic style the followed Art Nouveau beginning in 1906.


At October 24, 2008 at 4:57 PM , Blogger V said...

I am from America (the continent) now living in Riga for personal reasons. This blog is so useful for me to have knowledge of thngs I now can see with my own eyes. Amazing city, amazing country. And the blog has a good design. Congratulations. :)


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