Do you remember your childhood obsessions? We all had them. They came in phases, each one as intense and inexplicable as the next. For you, it might have been dinosaurs, stamps, ice skating, Greek mythology. For me, for quite a while, it was Art Nouveau.
It all started when my mom brought home a coloring book of Art Nouveau stained glass windows. With my washable Crayola markers, I attacked that book with the fervor of Michelangelo working on the Sistine Chapel, as kids do. I would hold up each translucent page to the light, mesmerized by the colors shining through flowering vines, graceful curves, and the billowing robes of nameless nymphs.
It’s been decades since I colored within those lines, but my fascination with Art Nouveau remains. This is what made walking down Alberta iela in Riga a thrill for the little girl in me.
Riga has the highest concentration of Art Nouveau architecture of any city in the world. With an estimated 40 percent of the buildings in Riga’s old center belonging to the Art Nouveau style (or Jugendstil in German), it’s a must-visit for lovers of this architectural style.
Riga’s 800+ Art Nouveau beauties were built during the economic boom that swept Europe between the late 1800s to early 1900s. Most of them can be found on Alberta iela (street) and Elisabetes iela, or the embassy district.
These Art Nouveau apartment buildings are loaded with sumptuous details, and I strained my neck just looking up at all of them. Female faces abound, with finely molded expressions ranging from gentle to melancholy to fierce.
The male faces, however, tend to veer towards the freakishly tortured. There’s a story in there somewhere, I’m sure…
These buildings were intended to show off wealth, which explains the heavy-handed “more is more” approach. Aside from nature, Art Nouveau draws heavily from myth—from nymphs to dragons, sphinxes to centaurs, no mythical creature is spared.
I’m also slightly obsessed with doors. If you’re a lover of doors, gates or windows, a stroll down Alberta iela will add some impressive photos to your collection.
For more on Riga’s Art Nouveau architecture, check out Artweekenders’ informative and interesting post is a good read, which includes some juicy tidbits about the main man behind Riga’s Art Nouveau boom. I know this style of architecture isn’t for everyone, and I probably wouldn’t want to live entirely like this, but I find it fascinating nonetheless.
Okay, geek girl moment over! Next up: a visit to Riga’s Central Market.