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Art Nouveau Riga – An Unmatched and Fantastical Architectural Heritage

art nouveau riga

One of my favourite styles of architecture is Art Nouveau. Riga, the capital of Latvia, has more than 800 buildings in the Art Nouveau style. At the time, around 40% of all buildings in Riga were built in this style. Characterised by references to mythology, asymmetrical composition, and richly decorated expressionist facades, the buildings are ornate, and yet deeply functional. For me, it’s a perfect break from the ultra-minimalist graffiti covered oversized concrete dens of brutality that I normally lust after.

Art Nouveau Riga has many example of unique artistic architectural elements. Highlights include particularly devilish goat skulls, robotic styled masks, and cartoon-ish entrances. However, the business of the Art Nouveau style, and rejection of all things plain, provides enough architectural details to keep any aficionado looking skywards. Often, it appears that the buildings are simply overflowing with decorative elements. Lions, sphinxes, dragons, faces, and more, adorn the facades of these extremely fanciful buildings.

The entire historical centre of Riga has been designated as a UNESCO heritage area, and the extensive collection of Art Nouveau architecture was a deciding factor.

Art Nouveau architecture - Riga - Latvia
Riga - Art Nouveau entrance portal
Nice front door  - Riga - Latvia
Riga Nouveau Art Architecure

Art Nouveau Riga – Where Form Finally Met Function

The imagination of the Art Nouveau architects in Riga was boundless.  The styling continues from the mass of the building itself, through to the windows, entrance portals, smaller stylistic facade elements, and it is said even down to the wardrobes of the residents themselves.

Clearly, the economy of Riga was experiencing a boom period in the decade that the bulk of these buildings were constructed – around the turn of the 20th century. A hundred years later, and visitors to Riga continue to be fascinated by the striking and somewhat whimsical elements of Art Nouveau.

With a humanistic scale rarely exceeding five levels or so, the structures not only express individual personality, but as a complete collection provide an enormous amount of defining character to the city of Riga itself. In this case, the sum does equal far more than the individual parts.

Art Nouveau is considered a philosophy of arts and architecture, dating from around 1890 – 1910. Various European countries embraced what was considered a very modern, and youthful, movement. Although Riga may be one of the stand-outs for surviving examples, Art Nouveau styling is found from Russia to England, and many points in between.

Indeed, the profound impact of Art Nouveau can be felt worldwide. Considered an important stepping stone to the Modernism of the 20th century, Art Nouveau was a transitional element in architectural  history that bridged a gap between extreme mid-century function and antiquity inspired neoclassicism.

Latvia Art Nouveau Riga Architecture
Architecture Latvia Art Nouveau Riga
Riga nouveau 20th century architecture
The youthful exuberance of Art Nouveau in Riga, Latvia
Art Nouveau detail - Riga Latvia

Where To Find Art Nouveau in Riga, Latvia

Although Art Nouveau – Riga style – can be found all over the core of the city, there is an amazing concentration around the streets of Alberta, Elizabetes, and Strelnieku. This is also known as the “Embassy District”. A stroll around the block can be done in less than an hour, and provides a memorable introduction to the Art Nouveau architectural style.

Restoration required - Art Nouveau architecture, Latvia, Riga
art nouveau riga 1
art nouveau riga 13
art nouveau riga

As an aside – with only two nights here in Riga, Latvia, it was a particular stroke of good fortune that in-between a self guided tour of the Art Nouveau architecture, the city was alive with celebrations for National Independence Day. Celebrated on November the 18th each year, this day commemorates the proclamation of the very founding of the Latvian nation in 1918.

So, congratulations Latvia.

Save me a beer, I’ll be back out on the cold streets in just a moment.

For those of you not fortunate to be here in Latvia on this auspicious occasion,  I hope you enjoyed reading the article on Art Nouveau Riga.

I certainly enjoyed checking out this incredible collection of buildings on the streets of the impressive Latvian capital.


PS, Further reading on Art Nouveau can be found here on wikipedia.

PPS, share this article, because sharing, is caring. Nate.


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23 Responses to Art Nouveau Riga – An Unmatched and Fantastical Architectural Heritage

  1. Ele Nov 18, 2012 at 6:39 pm #

    I leave a link to my website where I also write about this place. I’ve got some different photos from you but yours are of better quality, I still use a digital camera and using zoom can be blurry. Other than that, Riga is the place to be. Nearby is a lovely tea-house.

  2. Arnis (Tripify) Nov 18, 2012 at 11:23 pm #

    Hi Nate! This weekend is particularly good to visit Riga. Hope you got to enjoy nice fireworks and lights festival!

  3. Noelle Nov 19, 2012 at 1:25 am #

    Wow, these buildings are too cool! My favorite is the doorway with the two dragons.

  4. Julie McNamee Nov 19, 2012 at 9:05 am #

    I hadn’t realised there was such a range of designs in Art Nouveau. Thanks for posting these photos Nate.

  5. Lizzie Nov 21, 2012 at 10:43 am #

    I love the Art Nouveau movement (after studying it extensively at college/uni) and these photos are great! I’ve wanted to go to Riga for a long time but had no idea it emanated this style – it’s now moved even higher up my list!

    • Nate Robert Nov 22, 2012 at 8:47 am #

      I had no idea either Lizzie…it’s really quite unique in Riga. Glad the photos have inspired you to visit!

  6. Al Farmer Nov 22, 2012 at 12:51 pm #

    Damn good article .. I was at Riga some weeks before and was so much impressed about the architecture there .. here are my impressions:


    • Nate Robert Nov 22, 2012 at 6:35 pm #

      Cheers Al, thanks for sharing your article.

  7. Funkigreendog Nov 23, 2012 at 9:15 pm #

    Learn something new every day! Great photos and writing as always Nate.

  8. Bama Nov 24, 2012 at 1:13 am #

    I’ve never seen so many Art Nouveau buildings in one area. I didn’t expect this from Riga at all. It seems like the city is really worth a visit even just for architectural sightseeing.

    • Nate Robert Nov 24, 2012 at 9:49 am #

      Riga is an incredible city, and not only for the large number of Art Nouveau buildings… I wish I had a little more time there, Bama!

  9. Izy Berry - The Wrong Way Home Nov 24, 2012 at 7:55 pm #

    Very beautiful pictures. I learned a lot about Latvia through your blog post. I’d love to see it one day :)

    • Nate Robert Nov 27, 2012 at 4:48 pm #

      Cheers Izy, I hope you get to see Latvia one day.

  10. Anna Sircova Dec 13, 2012 at 8:34 am #

    hope you’ll come back to Riga – Jugend in Riga is more or less everywhere, not just on Alberta street. unfortunately it’s not everywhere in such good condition…

    • Nate Robert Dec 13, 2012 at 9:16 am #

      Hi Anna – I hop I get back to Riga as well, it’s an incredible city, and I only had a few days there this time.

      • Anna Sircova Dec 13, 2012 at 9:30 am #

        if we coincide in Riga – I can show you a few of my favorite streets

        • Nate Robert Dec 13, 2012 at 9:33 am #

          That would be amazing. I’ll send you an email next time I’m coming to Riga…

  11. Paul Dec 18, 2012 at 10:46 am #

    Interesting sand art in the fourth from last picture of the bunker. Dare I say that Nate has not more than photographic artistic tendencies…

    Thanks for a great blog. Paul

    • Nate Robert Dec 18, 2012 at 10:51 am #

      Paul, I swear to you that “art” was already there when I arrived! However, you are the first person to comment on it – well spotted ;)

  12. Bethaney - Flashpacker Family Jan 6, 2013 at 2:02 am #

    What a great looking city! I love Art Nouveau so looks like a trip to Riga might be on the cards.

  13. Andreass Sulcs May 13, 2014 at 8:12 am #

    I was looking for some info about countries which lie on Adriatic shore and found your blog.
    Just a bit exploring backwards: Balkans -> Italy -> Poland -> brothers Lithuanians and ta-dah -> Latvia, Riga.
    Well, all that I wanted to say – thanks for good words and hopefully you will visit us some time again. ;D
    Will be reading your blog regularly from now on.

    • Nate Robert May 13, 2014 at 7:25 pm #

      Cheers Andreass…I really hope to get back to Riga. I’m still in Europe, so it’s on the cards!

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