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Guided Tour or Swedish Heritage

By Editor. 07.10.2009

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Once Riga was the biggest and most developed city in the Swedish kingdom, which, of course, has left its influence on Rigan architecture.  

Swedish rule didn’t really change the structure of society, with Germans staying in the upper class, and merchants, landowners and the Baltic people remaining at the bottom of the social ladder. The Swedish administrative elite didn’t really put down roots here, which is the reason there are not many Swedish built manors and castles, yet Swedish style is stamped on various buildings around Riga.

1. The Swedish Gate
The best known Swedish monument in Riga is the Zviedru Vārti (The Swedish gate), often pictured on souvenir postcards and street painters’ canvases. The Swedish gate is an element of a 13th century Old Town fortification, which was demolished due to becoming obsolete and blocking the traffic in a flourishing city. The Swedish Gate, the only Rigan gate that has survived in its original form, was built in 1698 under Swedish rule.
The apartment above belonged to the city executioner, who would put a red rose on the window ledge on the morning before a head rolled. Another legend tells how one merchant simply cut the gate through an existing house, so that he didn’t have to pay taxes each time he brought goods into the city.
A third legend appeals more towards romantic feelings. It is said that a young Latvian girl who fell in love with a Swedish soldier (which was illegal and immoral) was immured in the wall of the building alive. Apparently, if a person is really in love, he or she is able to hear the girl whispering “I love you” as they walk through the gates at midnight.

Trokšņu street

2. St. Peter’s Church
St. Peter’s was first mentioned in 1209. It was the main church building of medieval Riga. Although built in the Gothic era, the church retains its distinct baroque façade of the 17th century, under the Swedish influence. The church also housed one of the oldest schools in town. In the Middle Ages, St. Peter’s church was the highest wooden building in Europe, towering above the skyline at 123 meters. The church has been struck by lightening six times and suffered fire several times, most recently in 1941 during the war. In 1973 its tower was reconstructed in metal instead of wood.
There is an observation platform 72 meters above the ground, from which you can enjoy Riga from a bird’s eye view. Visiting the tower is well worth a separate excursion.

Skārņu 19,

3. The Reitern House

The Swedish era was marked by prosperous trade and the merchant class in Riga grew progressively. Rich merchants erected sumptuous houses according to a new baroque fashion. Reiterna nams (the Reitern house) was the first new style dwelling house in Riga, built in 1685 by building master R. Bindenschuh for one of the most important town hall council members and the Head of the Great (German) Guild of the 17th century - Johann Reitern. This house was a kind of revolution in building tradition – the first residential building with a richly decorated façade, large windows and high ceilings. The fascinating stonework façade was created by the stone cutter A. Smysel. Now the house, with a totally renovated interior, can be rented out for private and corporate events and concerts.

Mārtsaļu 2,

4. Menzendorf’s House
Another fine example of Swedish influence is Menzendorf’s House, a branch of the Riga Museum of History and Navigation, displaying the lifestyle of a wealthy Riga citizen of the 17th century. Magnificent and original wall and ceiling paintings are the basis of the exposition. In the 17th century, the house belonged to a glazier Jürgen Helm, and now Menzendorf’s House is the home of a Glass Art and Study Centre, where any visitor can watch glass transform into a piece of art or become a glass artist themselves. The house carries its name from the last family who lived there – the Menzendorfs. At the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, August Menzendorf was famous for selling the best coffee in town.

Grēcinieku 18,

5. SSE Riga
Riga is also special for the fact that around 80% of the buildings in the centre are built in Art Nouveau style. One of the most beautiful examples of Art Nouveau is a blue and white building on Strēlnieku 4a. The house was built in 1905 by famous Russian architect Mikhail Eisenstein, the father of a well-known movie director Sergey Eisenstein. Since 1994 it has housed the Stockholm School of Economics in Riga, definitely the most prestigious university for economics and business students from all over the Baltics, with a curriculum taught exclusively in English. The school was established according to an agreement between the Latvian and Swedish governments, once more proving the effective collaboration between the two countries.

Strēlnieku iela 4a,


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