Since the Hanseatic times, the buildings of Old Riga have completely changed, but there are still testimonies in the city that remind us of the times of free trade and merchants in our city.
By downloading the walking route map, it is possible to go on an interactive adventure and find out where in the Middle Ages merchant ships stopped in Daugavmala, where warehouses were located which held the most expensive goods, where negotiations were held the place and where the trading itself took place!
At each object, get acquainted with information prepared by the historian Mārtiņš Vāvere and see what the city looked like in a particular place during the Hanseatic League.
The route begins from Pulvertornis Tower (object nr 1), and then it continues along Meistaru and Kalēju streets, taking a turn on Teātra street, which thus takes the pedestrian to the Galerija Centrs shopping center and Rīdzenes street (object nr 2 at the Riga ship stand). Then go in the direction of Audēju street, then turn right and at the intersection of Audēju and Kalēju streets, continue along Kalēju street. The pedestrian then arrives at Alberta Square (object nr 3). From Alberta Square, the route runs along Alksnāja street to Mārstaļu street, where it turns right and continues to Skārņu street (object nr 4). After that, the route leads along St. Peter's Church (crossing Reformācijas Square), across Kungu street and enters Town Hall Square (objects nr 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9). Then the route continues along Kalēju street, passing the cafe Egl” to Kaļķu street 2 (intersection of Kaļķu and Mazā Monētu streets, object nr 10). It then continues along Mazā Monētu Street to Šķūņu street, turns left, then right onto Amatu street (objects nr 11, 12), then turns left onto Meistaru street, then left onto Zirgu street (street between Great Guild Hall and Ministry of Finance building). Then the route leads to the left to Šķūņu street, then turns right to Tirgoņu street, taking the pedestrian to the corner of Tirgoņu and Krāmu streets (object nr 13). Then it leads along Krāmu strnreet to Jauniela street and further to Dome Square (object nr 14). Then, turning towards Herdera Square, it goes along Mūku street, which is located next to the Gutenbergs Hotel, then left to Mazo Muzeja street to the Biskapa Gate, and then turn right onto Miesnieku street. Going along Miesnieku street and crossing Pils street, the pedestrian will reach Mazā Miesnieku street and then Mazā Pils street, and turning right, object nr 15 can be seen. After that, the route leads along Mazo Pils street to Jēkaba street, where you turn left and go to Mazā Trokšņu street, which leads to Aldaru street (object nr 16). Then the route leads through the Zviedru Vārti (Swedish Gate), turn right onto Torņa street, then walk along Bastejkalns and cafe Sala and cross the canal bridge. Then turn right, along Reimersa street (between the Grand Poet Hotel and the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia) to Kalpaka Boulevard. Then turn left to the Latvian Academy of Arts (object nr 17). After that, the route leads along Kalpaka Boulevard to the Russian Embassy to the intersection of Elizabetes and Strēlnieku streets. Then go along Strēlnieku street to the Latvian Fire Fighting Museum, cross Hanzas street (object nr 18). Then go along Hanzas Street to the Hanzas Perons Concert Hall (object nr 19).
TOTAL LENGTH OF ROUTE 5.26 km.
MAP OF THE WALKING ROUTE CAN BE VIEWED HERE.
Today, almost every European city that became part of the economic and cultural space of the Hanseatic League in the Middle Ages highlights the importance of the Hanseatic League in the history of its city. The Hanseatic League and the Hansa are concepts with which some Latvian cities are still associated with to this day.
The Hanseatic League is one of the brightest symbols of Latvia's western orientation. Thanks to the Hanseatic League, its merchants and the spread of Hanseatic culture, Livonia was in fact "connected" to the intensive and significant processes of the Western European cultural space. The Hanseatic League is not only a German heritage, it is also a part of Latvia's heritage, and it is very important. It is not for nothing that a Hanseatic rhyme, along with other cities of the union, also perfectly characterizes Riga -
- "Lübeck is the goods house.
- Cologne is the wine house.
- Braunschweig is the weapons house.
- Danzig is the grain house.
- Hamburg is a beer house.
- Magdeburg is the bread house.
- Rostock is the malt house.
- Lüneburg is the salt house.
- Szczecin is the fish house.
- Riga is the house of hemp and butter.
- Reval is the wax and linen house.
- Krakow is the copper house.
- Visby is the house of pitch and tar. ”
It might seem that the Hanseatic presence in Riga is not felt today. However, it is hidden under a thick, centuries-old layer of culture, the exposition of which is the task of historians, archaeologists and architects. The walking route prepared within the framework of the Riga City Festival and the 41st International Hanseatic Days takes you in the footsteps of the Hanseatic period in Riga and invites all to look differently at places that are so common in everyday life and see the seemingly forgotten Hanseatic echoes of Riga.
Nr. 1. RĪDZENE RIVER
The Rīdzene River, which does not exist anymore, was important in the history of the city of Riga. Together with the Daugava River, it formed the natural line of defense of the city, which at the same time allowed settlements of the Liv people and German crusaders near the Rīdzene, as well as formed the ancient port of Riga, where the first Hanseatic merchant ships arrived to the city.
Historically, the river flowed from Pulvertornis Tower in Old Town along Meistaru Street, through Līvu Square, along Kalēju and Minsterejas Streets (the other bank on Riharda Vāgnera and Rīdzene Streets), until it flowed into the Daugava between where the Riga Artists' House and the Wellton Riverside Spa Hotel is located today.
As the city grew, the river gradually narrowed. In the 17th century, with the construction of the new ramparts of the Riga fortification, the Rīdzene River became a ditch of stagnant water, which quickly became clogged. The stagnant and heavily polluted water periodically caused severe cholera epidemics in the Old Town, so the ditch was gradually filled up, and this was fully completed in the 1960s.
Nowadays, not only the mentioned streets but also the pattern of the pavement and greenery of Līvu Square testify to the flow of the Rīdzene in the Old Town - it is kept in a wavy style.
Nr. 2. THE SHIPS OF RIGA
During the Hanseatic League, the most popular merchant ship was the cog. Its great advantage lay in the ship's construction, as it had a flat bottom, low draft, good maneuverability, and a carrying capacity of up to 200 tons, which allowed goods to be transported even in shallower waters. Later, in the 15th-16th centuries, alternately, the cog was gradually replaced by hulk ships.
Like other ships of Hanseatic cities, ships from Riga had their own identification mark - a flag. Until the 16th century, the Riga flag was black with a red cross, from the 16th to 17th centuries this flag alternated with another flag in blue with a yellow cross, but since 1673 the flag is as it is today – blue and white.
Archaeological excavations have been carried out several times on the Rīdzene River route in the 20th century. During these excavations, three sunken ships, known as "Riga ships", were found. The best-preserved was found in 1939, but it burned down during the Second World War. From this ship, which had a cog-like structure, only the bow, stern and keel have survived to this day.
Nr. 3. RĪDZENE PORT
In the Middle Ages, where Alberta Square is located, the Rīdzene River meandered and turned towards the Daugava River, forming a 30–50 meter wide and approximately 4–5 meter deep lake where the 13 Janvāra Street route is located today.
In the vicinity of Alberta Square on the shores of Lake Riga was the medieval port of Riga, which until the 14th century was also used by Hanseatic merchants. However, in the 15th century, the port was moved to Daugavmala, where it remained until 1944.
The relocation of the port took place mainly for two interrelated reasons. With the regular strengthening and repair of the port berth and shoreline, the lake gradually became narrower. It was no longer suitable for Hanseatic merchant ships, as it had become too narrow for ships to turn around.
In turn, the old port of Riga was used as a boat berth, as well as a small winter port until the beginning of the 17th century.
Nr. 4. RIGA ST JOHN’S CHURCH AND ST GEORGE’S CHURCH
Skārņu Street is one of those streets that is especially important in the medieval history of Riga. The first “German” masonry building in Riga was formed here because at the site of St George’s Church the first Order of the Sword Brothers was once located, but in the site of St John's Church - the first bishop's castle in Riga. In the territory between these two churches, in the 14th century, the Convent of the Holy Spirit relocated here.
If the architecture of St John’s Church and St Peter's Church across the street it is possible to observe architectural influences of the Hanseatic cities from Northern Germany, or red bricks and the Gothic style, then nothing like this can be observed at St George's Church. This can be explained by the fact that the church was rebuilt several times, and until the 17th-18th centuries was fully adapted to the needs of the warehouse. Today, or since 1989, the Museum of Decorative Arts and Design is located here. Meanwhile, St John's Church was built in the 13th-14th centuries but seriously reconstructed in the 15th-16th century, when the church on the western facade acquired an impressive and glorious multi-level pediment, influenced by the style prevalent in the Hanseatic cities at the time.
In the context of the Hanseatic League, Skārņu Street is also significant in that between Skārņu Street and St Peter's Church was the city's first market square.
Nr. 5. TOWN HALL SQUARE
The new market square, now known as the Town Hall Square, has been located in this place since at least 1339. It, like in other Hanseatic cities, quickly became the center of the city's economic and social life. Goods were purchases and sold here, including goods imported by Hanseatic merchants - salt, spices, fabrics, metals and their products, various tableware, as well as glass, paper, wine, beer, etc.
The market square not only served as a center for trade, but it was also a place for social gatherings, where theater performances took place, the most important decisions of the city council were announced, various deals were made, festive processions took place, and so on.
Buildings were later constructed around the market square, which gradually narrowed the large square. Therefore, the market square was moved again, this time even closer to the Daugava River and the port of Riga - to the embankment. The market was located here at least from 1571 until the 1930s.
Nr. 6. STATUE OF ROLAND
The erection of Roland statues in city centers is mainly typical of Hanseatic cities. It is believed that the statue of Roland symbolized the city's independence with commercial and judicial rights. The erection of statues in the Hanseatic cities gained popularity in the 14th and 15th centuries, and Riga was no exception. The statue of Roland has stood at the Town Hall since at least 1412-1413. In 1474 it was replaced by a new one made by the Riga woodcutter Jēkabs. Both statues were made of wood but have not survived to this day.
In the second half of the 19th century, as interest in Hanseatic and medieval history grew in Europe, the lost statues of Roland were restored or erected anew due to its historical tradition. The statue of Roland was also restored in Riga, which was made of sandstone in 1896 by A. Folcs. During the Second World War, the statue suffered damage and the original is now located inside St Peter’s Church. A copy of this statue was erected in Town Hall Square, where it can be seen today.
Nr. 7. TOWN HALL
The city council managed all the processes in Riga, took care of the city's fortifications, imposed taxes, and concluded diplomatic agreements. With the growing importance and influence of merchants in the life of the city, representatives of the Grand Guild, whose opinion was important, also took part in the council meetings. In addition, the members of the guild were often the mayors themselves at the same time. The council was also involved in overseas trade processes.
The Hanseatic Days were most often held in Lübeck, where decisions and agreements important to the Union were made. The decisions taken were recorded in an official document or recession, the copies of which were delivered to the city councils. The decisions taken came into force only after approval by the city council. If the mayors considered that the decision was not in the interests of the city, it was not complied with.
No direct sanctions were imposed on a city and its merchants for not attending the meeting and for refusing to confirm its decisions. Sending city delegates to attend Hanseatic meetings was expensive, so they were only attended by the mayors of the largest cities actively involved in the trade.
Nr. 8. WEIGHING HOUSE
An integral part of any market square was the weighing house. It weighed, measured and approved all goods imported and exported to the city. However, the measures and volumes were not the same everywhere within the Hanseatic League, often only the name was the same. For example, standard fabric measurements in Lübeck and Riga were different - in Lübeck it was about 57 cm, but in Riga - about 53 cm. That is why the weighing house was important - it recorded various measures in relation to Riga's weight and measurement standards, thus protecting traders and buyers from fraud.
In Riga trade, the largest measuring units were one ‘’birkavs’’ (about 167 kg) and one ‘’lasts’’ (about 2052 kg), which was theoretically the same in all Hanseatic cities. The main export goods of Riga, such as flax, hemp, wax, candle fat, etc., were measured in these measures, but there were also smaller measures of weight, length, and volume.
In the medieval period, the Weighing House was probably located next to the House of the Blackheads on the left, but it is certainly known that it was later built on the site where the old building of the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia is located today.
Nr. 9. HOUSE OF THE BLACKHEADS
The original House of the Blackheads, or the New House, was built by the Riga City Council in the 1430s. The building was used by various organizations in the public life - the Grand Guild and the Brotherhood of the Blackheads, founded in 1416, which brought together unmarried foreign merchants, goldsmiths and sailors. The New House was called the House of the Blackheads only at the end 17th century, when the Brotherhood of Blackheads became the only tenant of the building, but acquired the building in 1713. Along with the function of the center of public life, the building also served as a warehouse, because in the basement and on the last floors the brotherhood of merchants used to store their goods.
The architecture of the House of the Blackheads fully corresponds to the style of public buildings in the Hanseatic cities of northern Germany, and the red-brick Gothic style is also used here. The building has been rebuilt, renovated, and updated several times, thus other architectural styles can be observed.
During World War II, the House of the Blackheads was demolished and the remaining walls were torn down. Extensive archeological excavations were carried out in the area in the early 1990s, but the building was restored at the end of the decade, fulfilling the wish once written in its walls - "If I ever have to collapse, you will build me again".
Nr. 10. RIGA COIN MINT
The payment for goods was not the same throughout the Hanseatic economic area. The most important Hanseatic cities in northern Germany formed the Venden Coin Union (1379–1569), which used coins minted according to one system. They were mainly used for payment within the Hanseatic League and with Mediterranean traders.
By contrast, in Livonia, Hanseatic traders continued to pay for goods in barter, although by the end of the 14th and beginning of the 15th centuries, Livonia actually joined the Venden coin union system and minted Lübeck-type pennies, but these coins were intended for internal circulation and not for commercial transactions. Later, as silver mining increased in Europe, Hanseatic traders in Livonia also made larger deals using silver by the weight frequently, and in rare cases even gold coins such as Dutch ducats and German guilders.
Nr. 11. GREAT GUILD
In the Middle Ages, local merchants united in special brotherhoods to defend their interests and rights. Riga merchants united in the St. Mary or the Great Guild, which since 1354, together with the Riga City Council, was the main organization in the city. All decisions concerning Riga's trade (not only with the Hanseatic League) and the development of the city were made in the Münster Room of the Great Guild. Therefore, it can rightly be called the most important room in the Middle Ages (and not only) in Riga. Even after the Hanseatic League, the Great Guild did not lose its economic and political influence in city life.
The present-day Great Guild building is a capital reconstruction of an old building made in the middle of the 19th century, according to a project by architect H. Schell. The chosen Neo-Gothic style of the Tudors was not accidental, as the building was restored by the city's wealthiest Baltic Germans and guild members in the way they imagined a significant and historic medieval building would look like. During the reconstruction of the building, only two rooms were preserved in their original appearance - the Münster room and the Bridal room.
Nr. 12. SMALL GUILD
In the Middle Ages, just like local merchants, artisans also united in brotherhoods to defend their interests and rights. For local craftsmen of Riga, it was the St. John’s or Small Guild, which since 1352 became the most important organization of craftsmen in Riga. Together with the Grand Guild, this organization of craftsmen also played an important role in the economic and political life of Riga. Such organizations in Hanseatic cities, presumably also in Riga, were involved in trade, producing various household and luxury items for export. The so-called Hanseatic tableware, or tableware typical of northern German cities, were widespread throughout the Hanseatic economic and cultural space. Riga was no exception, as evidenced by the objects obtained in archeological excavations.
The current Small Guild building was built in the 1860s according to the design of architect J. D. Felsko, following the example of the reconstruction of the Great Guild.
Nr. 13. RIGA TOWN HALL WINE CELLAR
Wine in northern Europe was an exclusive and expensive commodity. It was imported to Riga from modern Rhineland, France, Italy, etc. The mayors served wine at feasts, marking important events and decisions.
In medieval times, cities and towns used to own wine cellars, where the purchased wine was stored. The Riga City Council was no exception, and it is known that it has owned such a cellar since at least 1293, but at the intersection of Tirgoņu and Krāmu streets a wine cellar was located at least from 1334 until the beginning of the 17th century when the town hall sold the basement and the building to a resident of Riga.
In the 19th century, a new building was built above the former wine cellar, but before World War II the wine cellar was used as a firewood store. During the war, this building was destroyed and the basement was filled up but was excavated in the 1960s during archaeological work.
Today, the thematic medieval restaurant Rozengrāls is located on the site of the Riga City Hall’s old wine cellar.
Nr. 14. RIGA DOME CATHEDRAL
The landscape of the Hanseatic city was unimaginable without the city's main cult buildings. It not only represented the city's belonging to the Christian cultural space but also confirmed its status and wealth. St. Mary's Church or Riga Dome Cathedral has since the 13th century considered to be the most impressive architectural symbol of the city. The construction of the church began no later than 1211 and, with the bishop's residence and the monastery area, it formed a complex that embodied the spiritual and secular authority over the events taking place in the city.
In the Hanseatic space, the magnificent Lübeck Cathedral was an example of a religious building. Riga's close ties with this leading Hanseatic city were also reflected in architecture, choosing the similarity of the Dome Cathedral’s layout and technical solution to the Lübeck Cathedral. The planned spire of two towers in Riga, similar to the Lübeck Cathedral, remained only in the architects' plans. In the following centuries, the Riga Cathedral was rebuilt and restored but has always retained its ancient architectural features, which are directly related to the Hanseatic era in the history of Riga.
Nr. 15. OLDEST OF THE THREE BROTHERS
Gothic-style residential buildings were common in the Hanseatic cities of northern Europe. The hallmarks of Gothic architecture were the multi-level pediment, the pointed arch on the facade of the house (niches and doorways), as well as the narrow windows and the large facade.
An important harbinger of medieval Hanseatic Riga is the building at Mazā Pils Street 17. Construction of the building began at the end of the 15th century, and it is the oldest stone residential building that has survived to this day. This building, together with the adjacent ones, forms an ensemble of residential buildings called the Three Brothers, which provides an insight into the typical medieval buildings, which were also characteristic of other major Hanseatic cities - closely adjacent buildings with a distinctive facade solution. The building has been rebuilt several times and belonged to a family of bakers for several generations. Nr 17 Mazā Pils Street was restored in the 1950s, when it, among other elements, regained its Gothic pediment on the facade of the building.
Nr. 16. ALDARU STREET
Russian merchants were also important in the history of Riga, who were active in the city before the Hanseatic era. Russian merchants in Riga also had their own courtyard with warehouses, residential and administrative buildings, and the Church of St. Nicholas. The street that led along the fence was called Krievu Street (now Aldaru Street) in the Middle Ages. The Russian courtyard was established in the first half of the 13th century when there was a trade agreement between Riga, German and Russian traders on free and equal trade along the entire Daugava trade route. However, after Riga's accession to the Hanseatic League, the city restricted this right by becoming a mandatory intermediary for German and Russian merchants. The main goods of Russian traders were wax, metals, various furs, jewelry, etc. The Krievu Courtyard existed until 1588 when it was liquidated and moved outside the city fortifications. The only building from the Krievu Courtyard that has survived to this day is the building on Aldaru Street 11, which was constructed in the 15th century and rebuilt over the years.
Nr. 17. LATVIAN ACADEMY OF ART
In Europe, especially in Germany in the second half of the 19th century, there was an increasing interest in the Hanseatic League by historians. Architects who designed new buildings with reference to the architectural styles of the past, especially Gothic, also did not lag behind. At the end of the 19th century, the Riga Bourse planned to establish a new educational institution with a commercial direction. Following European trends, the exterior of the new school had to symbolically remind of the ancient trade traditions of the city of Riga. The chosen architectural style of the building (neo-Gothic) and details, which were once the red brick decoration common in Hanseatic cities, connected the rapidly growing modern industrial city with the Hanseatic era in the history of Riga. The building, designed by architect W. N. Bokcslaff, served as the home of the Riga Bourse Commercial School until 1915. In the interwar period, the building housed the Riga German Gymnasium, later the Riga Olava Business School. The Latvian Academy of Art has been located in the building since October 1940.
Nr. 18. HANZAS STREET / HANZAS SQUARE
Times changed, but the connection of Riga to the Western cultural space, which was largely formed by the Hanseatic heritage, remained unchanged. In the 19th century, interest in the Hanseatic period of Riga gained a significant role in the city's identity. Medieval elements in the urban environment (the above-mentioned Great and Small Guild buildings) were created, as well as various historical sources were published. In 1901, Riga celebrated its 700th anniversary, during which a new street was unveiled in the north of the city, giving it the name Hanzas Street. This street connected the territory of the city port with the new Riga Goods Station, linking ancient maritime trade with the modern era, namely, the flow of trade in goods by rail. In addition to the street, a new square was established, which was named Hanzas Square. It existed under this name until 1931 when it was renamed Washington Square because at that time the US Embassy was located nearby. For a relatively short time, the Hanzas Market also operated at the Riga Goods Station, which was liquidated in the early 1930s.
Nr. 19. HANSA PLATFORM (Hanzas Perons)
The name of the Hanseatic League, just like in the old days of Riga, connects the city today and in the future with the values of Western Europe, its economic and cultural space. Nowadays, the territory of the former Riga Goods Station along Hanzas Street has acquired a significant name “New Hansa” among city planners, developers, and city management. It involves the establishments of a new, modern, and European living space with spacious office and residential buildings, as well as cultural activities. The first steps have already been taken in this direction. The cultural and entertainment center Hanzas Perons opened in August 2019 and is located in a building that is the only one (built-in 1903) that has survived from the former Riga Goods Station warehouse complex. The name Hanzas Perons, or Hansa Platform in English, symbolizes Riga's past, present, and the way to the future.
The material was prepared by Rūta Sauja in cooperation with the Latvian National Museum of History and historian Mārtiņš Vāveris.