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Historic Centre of Riga

Historic Centre of Riga

Riga was a major centre of the Hanseatic League, deriving its prosperity in the 13th–15th centuries from the trade with central and eastern Europe. The urban fabric of its medieval centre reflects this prosperity, though most of the earliest buildings were destroyed by fire or war. Riga became an important economic centre in the 19th century, when the suburbs surrounding the medieval town were laid out, first with imposing wooden buildings in neoclassical style and then in Jugendstil . It is generally recognized that Riga has the finest collection of art nouveau buildings in Europe.

Description is available under license CC-BY-SA IGO 3.0

Centre historique de Riga

Riga était un grand centre de la Ligue hanséatique qui a prospéré grâce au commerce avec l'Europe centrale et de l'Est aux XIIIe -XVe siècles. Le tissu urbain de son centre médiéval reflète cette prospérité, bien que la plupart de ses bâtiments les plus anciens aient été détruits par l'incendie et la guerre. Au XIXe siècle, elle est devenue un important centre économique et l'on a construit les faubourgs de la ville médiévale, tout d'abord en imposant une architecture en bois de style classique, puis Jugendstil. De l'avis général, c'est à Riga que l'on trouve la plus belle concentration de bâtiments Art nouveau d'Europe.

Description is available under license CC-BY-SA IGO 3.0

الوسط التاريخي في ريغا

كانت ريغا مركزًا كبيرًا للجامعة التحالفيّة التي ازدهرت بفضل التجارة مع أوروبا الوسطى والشرق منذ القرن الثالث عشر وحتى القرن الخامس عشر. ويعكس النسيج الحضري لوسطها الذي يعود إلى القرون الوسطى، هذا الازدهار مع أنّ معظم أبنيتها القديمة قد دُمرت بسبب الحريق والحرب. وفي القرن التاسع عشر، أصبحت هذه المدينة مركزًا اقتصاديًّا مهمًّا وقد بُنيت ضواحي المدينة التي تعود إلى القرون الوسطى، أولاً بفرض هندسةٍ خشبيّةٍ تتميّز بالأسلوب كلاسيكي، ثم باستعمال اليوغندستيل. وبحسب الرأي العام، نجد في ريغا أجمل تجمّع للأبنية التي تعتمد على الفن الأوروبي الجديد.

source: UNESCO/ERI
Description is available under license CC-BY-SA IGO 3.0



source: UNESCO/ERI
Description is available under license CC-BY-SA IGO 3.0

Исторический центр Риги

Центральной и Восточной Европы. Городская застройка ее средневекового центра отражает это процветание, несмотря на то, что большая часть старейших зданий была утрачена в результате пожаров и войн. В XIX в., когда Рига стала важным экономическим центром, вокруг средневекового ядра города возникли предместья, сначала с выразительными деревянными зданиями в стиле классицизма, затем – в стиле модерн (югендстиль или арт-нуво). Общепризнанно, что Рига обладает собранием самых прекрасных зданий в стиле модерн в Европе.

source: UNESCO/ERI
Description is available under license CC-BY-SA IGO 3.0

Centro histórico de Riga

Centro importante de la Liga Hanseática, la ciudad de Riga prosperó entre los siglos XIII y XV gracias al comercio con Europa Central y Oriental. El tejido urbano de su centro medieval muestra todavía esa prosperidad, aunque la mayoría de sus edificios más antiguos fueron destruidos por incendios y guerras. Riga volvió a ser un importante centro económico en el siglo XIX, época en la que se hizo el trazado de los suburbios situados en torno la ciudad medieval. Al principio se impuso la construcción en madera y estilo neoclásico para los nuevos edificios, pero luego fue predominando el “Jugendstil” o “Art Nouveau”. Según una opinión muy extendida, Riga posee hoy en día el más hermoso conjunto de edificios de “Art Nouveau” de toda Europa.

source: UNESCO/ERI
Description is available under license CC-BY-SA IGO 3.0


source: NFUAJ

Historisch centrum van Riga

Riga was een belangrijk centrum van het Hanze-verbond. Het ontleende zijn welvaart aan handel met Midden en Oost-Europa van de 13e tot de 15e eeuw. Het stedelijke karakter van het middeleeuwse centrum weerspiegelt deze welvaart, hoewel de meeste van de vroegste gebouwen werden verwoest door brand of oorlog. Riga werd in de 19e eeuw een belangrijk economisch centrum, toen de voorsteden rond de middeleeuwse stad werden aangelegd. Eerst met indrukwekkende houten gebouwen in neoklassieke stijl en vervolgens in 'Jugendstil'. Het wordt algemeen erkend dat Riga de mooiste collectie Art Nouveau gebouwen van heel Europa heeft.

Source: unesco.nl

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Historic Centre of Riga (Latvia) © UNESCO
Outstanding Universal Value

Brief synthesis

The Historic Centre of Riga is a living illustration of European history. Through centuries, Riga has been the centre of many historic events and a meeting point for European nations, and it has managed to preserve evidence of European influence on its historical development, borders between the West and the East, and intersection of trading and cultural routes. Riga has always been a modern city keeping up with the current trends in architecture and urban planning, and at the same time, preserving the city’s integrity in the course of development.

Riga, which was founded as a port town in 1201, was one of the key centres of the Hanseatic League in Eastern Europe from the 13th to the 15th century. The urban fabric of its medieval core reflects the prosperity of those times, though most of the earliest buildings were rebuilt for actual needs or lost by fire or war. In the 17th century, Riga became the largest provincial town of Sweden. In the 19th century, it experienced rapid industrial development. It is in this period that the suburbs surrounding the medieval town were laid out, first, with imposing wooden buildings in neoclassical style, and later, when permanent stone buildings were allowed instead, in the Art Nouveau style. In the early 1900’s Riga became the European city with the highest concentration of Art Nouveau architecture with around 50 Art Nouveau buildings of high architectural value in the medieval part and more than 300 in the rest of the Historic Centre. The site reflects various architectural styles, which provide valuable insight into the stages of development of Riga as a city. The Historic Centre of Riga is comprised of three different urban landscapes – the relatively well-preserved medieval core, the 19th century semi-circle of boulevards with a green belt on both sides of the City Canal, and the former suburban quarters surrounding the boulevards with dense built-up areas with a rectangular network of streets and wooden architecture of the 18th and 19th centuries. Each of these parts has its characteristic relationship of buildings and public outdoor spaces.

The Outstanding Universal Value to be preserved also resides in the spacious panorama of the Historic Centre of Riga with an expressive skyline. The medieval core of Riga is located on the right bank of the River Daugava, allowing a picturesque view on the skyline saturated with numerous church towers from the different perspectives of the left bank. Historic buildings are relatively low, with only church towers creating vertical dominance.

Riga always has had a role in the cultural, scientific, social, artistic, industrial and educational development of the region, being one of the biggest harbour cities and trade centres in the Baltic Sea Region, and thus, providing the exchange of the achievements of Western and Eastern civilizations. Riga Polytechnic, being the only higher architecture education institution until World War I in the Baltic States, promoted the dissemination of the patterns of its own architecture to Tallinn, Vilnius and other towns of the western part of Tsarist Russia.

Criterion (i): The medieval and later-period urban planning structure of the Historic Centre of Riga, as well as the quantity and quality of Art Nouveau architecture, which is unparalleled anywhere in the world, and the 19th century wooden architecture make it of Outstanding Universal Value. The Historic Centre of Riga has the finest concentration of Art Nouveau architecture in the world.

Criterion (ii): Riga has exerted considerable influence within the cultural area of the Baltic Sea on the developments in architecture, monumental sculpture and garden design.


The property is the whole central part of the capital city of Riga. Its boundaries and its buffer zone are specified in accordance with the integrity of the urban fabric and the  effective protection of the important views of the site. It contains all elements necessary to express Outstanding Universal Value, namely the architectural monuments of respective historical styles of the medieval core; the semicircle of boulevards, dominated by harmonically balanced 19th century and early 20th century eclectic architecture and Art Nouveau; and the territory of former suburbs with buildings from the 18th to the 20th century, especially in wood. The outstanding panorama and visual perspectives of the Historic Centre of Riga reflect the effective protection of the important views of the property.

The integrity of the site is challenged by the loss of original substance and authenticity of the site attributes, and the low-quality new developments in the Historic Centre of Riga not respecting the scale, character and pattern of the historic environment. The overall coherence of the site is also vulnerable to the possible adverse impact of new developments in and outside of the buffer zone.


The Historic Centre of Riga is a spatially harmonic urban environment with relatively few destructive transformations. The Historic Centre of Riga and its buffer zone include a set of authentic cultural and historical attributes significant to its Outstanding Universal Value: structure of historic urban pattern with high-quality transformations of later periods, panorama and skyline, visual perspectives, historic structure, (particularly  groups of buildings of the Middle Ages, Art Nouveau and wooden architecture and the scale and character thereof), archaeological cultural layer, public outdoor space, system of greeneries and green areas, historic water courses, waterfronts and water bodies, historic ground surfacing, and historic elements of improvements.

Protection and management requirements

The preservation of the Historic Centre of Riga is ensured by a strong system of legal acts – seven international conventions on heritage protection, which the Republic of Latvia has joined, the Law on Protection of Cultural Monuments, the Law on Preservation and Protection of the Historic Centre of Riga, 23 other laws, 27 Cabinet regulations and orders, and the Plan for Preservation and Development of the Historic Centre of Riga and its protection zone (adopted in 2006 by the Riga City Council) including binding regulations (by-laws) specific for this territory.

The management system is based on the framework mentioned above and institutional collaboration between state and local municipality institutions. The responsible institutions that are stable in the long term are the State Inspection for Heritage Protection and the Riga City Council with its respective institutions (City Development Department of Riga, Riga City Construction Board and Riga City Architect’s Office with its Collegium). In order to ensure broader regular involvement of all interested parties and a more holistic approach towards the preservation, protection and development matters of the Historic Centre of Riga, the Council for Preservation and Development of the Historic Centre of Riga was established in 2003. The Council meets regularly, and its sittings and decision making process is open to the public.

The comprehensive model of the protection and preservation of the Historic Centre of Riga strives to sustain the authenticity and integrity of the site and to ensure the prevention of potential threats. The main threats of the property include the following areas. Firstly, the planning of urban development that is insufficiently based on balanced long-term development and low public participation in planning processes poses a threat to the property. Secondly, extremities in economic development, excessively fast growth or crisis could dramatically affect the property. Insufficient understanding and appreciation of heritage values in the society could threaten the Outstanding Universal Value of the property. Thirdly, trends of losing original substance and authenticity that must be continuously overcome, for example, demolition of historic buildings and constructions, transformation of historic planning structure, low-quality changes of spatial composition or roof shape of historic buildings and repairs of historic buildings using unsuitable methods and/or materials, and falsification of history with replicas of historical buildings or imitations of styles may pose a threat to the property. Similarly, trends of low-quality new buildings, including construction of new, large buildings that do not match the scale and character of the historic building pattern, large facilities that attract traffic in the historic city centre and the construction of new cheap buildings of low architectural value in valuable locations of the historic urban environment. Finally, insufficient financial resources for heritage preservation activities may also have an adverse impact on the development of the property.

The preservation and development framework for the Historic Centre of Riga is constantly being elaborated e.g. by data base improvement, further elaboration of detailed plans and local plans for certain areas, overall visual impact studies and their requirements, procedures for heritage impact assessment as well as diversification of local community involvement. The municipality develops legal frameworks and provisions to deal with these challenges in a holistic and participatory manner. The planning approach is based on a new system of planning in Latvia, introduced in 2011. The new long-term Development Strategy and mid-term Development Programme as well as the Spatial Plan according to new principles are in their initial stages of development. The municipality has issued binding regulations concerning building and land-use, which will prevent the appearance of over-scaled new constructions affecting the site and the demolition of historic buildings. These initiatives are being strengthened by state-level binding regulations, which demand the evaluation of every intended change related to heritage or the original structure, based on an assessment of certain cultural and historical values; evaluation and open discussion of changes in inter-institutional Councils; open architectural competitions in every case a new construction is planned for a public outdoor space. These initiatives are being enhanced by changing attitudes towards heritage values in the society thanks to extensive campaigns for tourist attraction (Live Riga, managed by the municipal Tourism Development office), public discussions organized by NGOs and state and municipal institutions.

The Basic Statements of Tourism Development in Riga is updated by the Municipality. Every historic building designated for public use has its own instructions for cases of emergency. An overall system of disaster management is implemented according to the Civil Protection Law. The relative proximity of the Riga Free Port transhipment zone to the Historic Centre of Riga and hence the transportation and reloading of hazardous and polluting substances through the Historic Centre of Riga and its buffer zone may be considered as a potential threat, although port activities are planned to be moved from their present location.

Financial instruments for the World Heritage property are formed by the state and municipality budget, tax system, international financial instruments, and private funding. The joint cooperation of all stakeholders has been established by inclusion, information and incentives over time.