“Either you like it or hate it, but nobody in Riga is indifferent to it”, explained our tour guide as we began our visit of the National Library of Latvia. Comparing it to Sydney Opera House and other “oddly shaped buildings” around the world, this particular one was clearly made to be a “landmark”, she said. Strategically located on the bank of the Daugava river, the Library offers a panoramic view over the other touristic points of the city making it the perfect start to a journey through Latvian style and design.
The building, also known as Gaismas Pils – the Castle of Light – was designed by Latvian American architect Gunnar Birkerts and opened on 28 August 2014. Its evident modernity on the outside is a symbol of a new era for the three Baltic states (Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia), which democratically broke free from Soviet occupation in 1991. Whilst on the inside, the Library keeps the collective memory of Latvia and its traditions that are, for the most part, enclosed in the Dainas – the country’s folk songs, kept in a special cabinet.
Latvian Institute celebrates 100 years of Baltic statehood
Although the country has strong roots and many rituals inlaid in its national literature, Latvia is relatively young. Along with Lithuania, Estonia and Finland, these Northern European countries celebrate the centenary of their independence in 2018, earned after the end of the first World War when German and Russian occupancy ceased. Now, members of the European Union and the eurozone, they are slowly building their own path in which the capital cities play a crucial role.
Riga, Latvia’s capital, is located a the heart of these developments thanks to its ideal geographical position at the center of the Baltics. Being the largest city of the region, it is a natural hub for culture, design and fashion players to meet and thrive. The fine dining scene includes experiences such as wine and food pairing by the best sommelier of Europe 2017 and local fashion is growing thanks to initiatives such as Riga Fashion Week taking over the city.