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Kuldīga Old Town in the Primeval Valley of the River Venta

Date of Submission: 18/04/2011
Criteria: (ii)(iv)(vii)
Category: Mixed
Submitted by:
Latvian National Commission for UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
Kuldīga region
Coordinates: N56 58 03 E21 58 14
Ref.: 5609
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Kuldīga is a rarity among the North-Eastern Europe provincial towns. For this particular area of the world, the old town of Kuldīga keeps the best preserved and least transformed heritage of the 18th-19th century town environment with characteristic landscape of clay tile roofs, historical building ensemble, picturesque street perspectives, outstanding nature and high assessment emotional values.

Specific character of Kuldīga old town, in comparison to, for instance, to Scandinavian states, Western Europe or other parts of the world, can be explained by distinctive political, social, and economic platform that has promoted preservation and conservation of the historical environment after the Second World War, authentic town environment of the 13th century, as well as the character of cultural landscape from first half of the 20th century.

One of the most powerful expressions of charm of the old town of Kuldīga is the medieval historical centre near the river Alekšupīte that runs through the old town from the South, flowing between buildings, and reaching the river Venta with great accent - mill (an example of technology development in the 19th-20th century) pond and a waterfall. It is the only such urban planning ensemble from the 17th-18th century that is preserved in the Baltic States.

The silhouette, panorama and urban landscape of the old town of Kuldīga cannot be perceived without direct context of the natural surrounding of the site - the primeval valley of the river Venta (depth 58 meters), rapid flow of the river and the widest waterfall (240 meters) in Europe, developed in dolomite riverbed of the Venta river. The impressive landscape of nature objects is harmonically improved with the massive brick bridge, built in 1874, used for horse cart traffic (nowadays - motor transport) and pedestrians. The old bridge across the river Venta is the longest brick bridge, except railway bridges, in Europe with vaulting construction. The total length of the bridge is 164 meters and the complete carriageways width is 11 meters.

The nature and picturesque city environment in the old town of Kuldīga is in real synthesis, that expresses itself not only in culture-historical sense, but also in impressive aesthetic values and identity of the environment.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

Criteria (ii) The interaction of mankind values in relationship with development of the architecture and urban planning in definite period of time is reflected in Kuldīga as urban planning structure from several time periods as well as organic amalgamation of separate buildings into undivided picturesque urban environment, where the natural heritage, which is rare in the region of the North-Eastern Europe, plays an outstanding role.

Criteria (iv) The old town of Kuldīga represents not only characteristic wooden building manners of the North-Eastern costal regions of the Baltic Sea, but also masonry building manners, details and authenticity in general, that is not preserved in equal value of concentration, compactness and harmony elsewhere. The buildings are characterized by having infrequent and locally marked traditional architecture. The character of baroque period wooden buildings (scale, proportions, roof form, and rhythm) is preserved up to the end of the 19th century, modifying also in masonry buildings. Due to historically equitable circumstances this 18th-19th century structure protractedly is not transformed or rebuilt.

Criteria (vii) The primeval valley of river Venta and its expressive relief, the river stream and the waterfall - a complex of uncommon nature abilities - in symbiosis with local culture environment that is formed throughout centuries creates great aesthetic and emotional values and alluring atmosphere in the nominated property - old town of Kuldīga.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

The old town of Kuldīga almost fully preserves a city planning structure and town historical street network from 13th-19th century, the building character and scale, which has been documented in the city plan information from the end of 18th century. This particular situation in the old town reflects the result of harmonic evolution process. The silhouette and panorama of old town, seen from the right bank of the river Venta, has been preserved in the same scale, character of vertical dominants and correspond with iconographic statements from the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century.

The authenticity of historical city environment of old town of Kuldīga in general is defined not only by preserved primary substance in separate building elements or some particular historical building style proportion in constructions, but also harmonic integrity of diverse building periods without destructive layer transformations.

Nowadays the old town of Kuldīga has fully maintained its initial function - a territory for public and dwelling buildings. There is no office, trade centre or supermarket newly erected buildings that destruct environment atmosphere in the old town. The center of old town  preserves its historical meaning; today's functions - town hall, schools, churches, hotels, culture and craft center continue to operate in the historical buildings that are initially built for these purposes. The center of Kuldīga is a provincial old town that sustains its vital life in up-to-date interpretation.

Comparison with other similar properties

Qualitative and quantitative comparison with other European/ World regions in the context of provincial old towns is possible only on indirect level because all typical visual individualities of the city environment are fundamentally different (building and street landscapes dimensional characteristic, architectural peculiarities, used materials, building traditions, coloring and aggregate of perception senses etc.). One cannot deny that Europe, as territorially relatively united cultural space, has a lot of invaluable provincial towns with an outstanding authenticity and identity; nevertheless there are significant differences that characterize the value of the Kuldīga old town.

Kuldīga is among rare historic towns where a number of solid wooden buildings have been preserved, that substantially differ from Scandinavian (old town of Lulea in Sweden, Reros in Norway, Rauma in Finland) wooden urban landscapes and building types that are inscribed on the World Heritage List and that are characteristic to the Baltic Sea East coast region in 17th-19th century.

In the context of the Baltic States one can find several historical old towns with similar historical development and notable wooden building proportions (Cēsis in Latvia, Viljandi in Estonia, but in Lithuania there are no defined properties with equal typological and chronological value of old town), though none of these provincial towns are preserved with an equivalent building compactness, building authenticity from 17th-19th century and proportion of wooden buildings.

In terms of building specificity there are no direct qualitative and quantitative analogs for the old town of Kuldīga. Besides the essential factors pronouncing and enriching values of the old town and identity of the property the waterfall (widest in Europe), picturesque primeval valley of the river Venta and the old brick bridge across the river situated in the territory of the historical town center forming a unique cultural, historical and nature complex have to be mentioned.