Riga Castle


The official residence of the President of Latvia is situated in the Riga Castle one of the most significant and oldest monuments of the fourteenth-century history and architecture. The castle has been rebuilt more than once and it acquired its present appearance in the 60s of the nineteenth century.


The History of the Riga Castle


Building of a castle on the bank of the Daugava was commenced in 1330 when the citizens of Riga, defeated in a war with the Livonian Order (1297-1330), were forced to replace the destroyed castle of the Order with a new one not in the city but close to it in the site of the former hospital of the Holy Ghost. The Rīga Castle became the residence of the masters of the Livonian Order.


In 1481, a war flared up between the Livonian Order and the city of Rīga. In 1484, the people of Rīga sacked the castle once again. All that was left was part of the Tower of the Holy Spirit, which was used as a lighthouse for ships on the river, along with part of the castle’s defensive ramparts. Because of constant quarrels among the Livonian Order, the archbishop and the city, the master of the Order moved his headquarters to Vīlande and then to Cēsis.



Once the Order took the upper hand over the city once again, a treaty was signed (the Valmiera Agreement) which said that during the next six years, the people of Rīga had to rebuild the castle. In the event, the process took until 1515. The master of the Order did not move back to the Rīga Castle until the last master, Gotthard Kettler. Until 1562, when the Livonian Order was dissolved, the castle was home to knights of the Order and their commander.


Once the feudal states of Livonia were dissolved in the latter half of the 16th century, the Rīga Castle was alternately home to officials from Poland (1578-1621), Sweden (1621-1710) and Russia (1710-1917). Institutions related to those officials were also housed there.

In 1922 the Riga Castle became the residence of the President of the Republic of Latvia. From 1940 to 1941 it was used by the Council of Latvian People Commissars, in February 1941 the Pioneer Castle occupied the northern part of the castle.


At present the southern part of the castle houses the Museum of History of Latvia. The Castle became the official residence of the President of Latvia again on 12 June 1995.  


Reconstruction of the Castle



The castle was constructed as a three-storey enclosed four-sided building with an inner yard and towers in the corners. The main were the two round towers located diagonally opposite each other the Tower of the Holy Ghost in the northwest and the Lead Tower in the southeast, the two other quadrangular towers had staircases in them. The castle grounds with household buildings stretched to the north of the castle. The ground floor was foreseen for household needs and the castle guard, the second floor the arms floor was without ceiling and partitions and its narrow windows were used as loopholes. On the first floor the living apartments were situated rooms of the Master of the Order, dining hall, bedrooms of the knights, chapel of the castle and the hall for meetings of the chapter of priests.


The building of the Riga Castle was very plain. This can be explained by the military nature of the castle and its forced construction. The only surviving artistic detail are the sculptures of the Virgin Mary and the Master of the Livonian Order Walter von Plettenberg dating from the sixteenth century which can be seen above the former entrance to the castle. The spacious basement which was specially prepared for war and siege occasions has partially survived. Underground passages have been found from time to time in the cellars of the Rīga Castle. Archaeologists believe that these were created as part of the city’s defences in the 17th century, when firearms were introduced. The passages replaced defensive ramparts and towers. These were very complicated structures in terms of engineering. It may be that they linked underground shelters and gunpowder storage facilities. There may have also been secret passages that led to beyond the city’s walls. The passages were partly filled up between 1857 and 1862 when the city’s defensive ramparts were torn down.


During this period fortification walls of the castle were separated from the defence walls of the city by a wide and deep moat which started by the Daugava at the site where the present Church of Our Lady of the Sorrows stands, then turned to the right stretching wider than the cobbled width of the street and behind the castle joined the Daugava again, thus turning the Castle of the Livonian Order into a strong fortress. The canal acquired its present appearance after 1857 when citys ramparts were pulled down.







Since the end of the sixteenth century the castle has undergone several reconstructions. By the order of the Polish government some buildings were reconstructed, some built anew, the old ramparts were turned into bastions. In 1682 the Swedish administration added an arsenal to the eastern block of the castle but in 1783-1788 it was replaced with premises for the administration of the province. The first floor of the castle was divided into two floors, windows were widened, the chapel, the chapter of priests hall and several other rooms were partitioned.


In 1816, when the marquis Philip Paulucci was the governor, several wooden buildings to the north of the castle were torn down and a spacious garden was laid out instead, but an observatory was installed atop the Tower of the Holy Spirit in 1817. In 1818 extensive construction works took place during which the magnificent Imperial Rooms and the White Hall were built. 


The last significant reconstruction took place in 1939 under the direction of architect Eizens Laube and the castle was adapted to the needs of the government of the Republic of Latvia. The rooms of the ante-castle were modernised to Laubes design for state representational needs, a spacious and splendid Festival Hall with adjacent rooms was built on the third floor and the Three Star Tower was constructed, the upper part of which was taken away in 1949 due to ideological considerations. It was restored to its original appearance in 1997. 





Presidents Apartments in the Riga Castle


Presidents apartments in the Riga Castle occupy the biggest part of the building constructed during 18-19th centuries instead of the former castle grounds (of the 16th century). In order to restore the Riga Castle as a residence of the President a Riga Castle Restoration Council chaired by the Director of the Rundale Palace Museum Imants Lancmanis was established.  

The rooms in the north-western wing of the castle on the ground and first floors have been restored and furnished in accordance with Councils decisions. Room interior designs reflect the century-long construction and history periods of the Riga Castle. In addition to the construction period of the 1860s and the period from 1938 to 1939, interior design reflecting the construction period of the first half of the 19th century was introduced on the ground floor.


The stylistic range of castles interior design embraces both the Biedermeier and Empire styles and the neo-classicism of the 1930s with national elements. Very few pre-war chandeliers and furniture has survived. Those few that could still be used were restored and supplemented. The main artistic treasures are the pieces of art and applied art objects that in majority of cases are deposited from the Museum of History of Latvia, the Rundale Palace Museum, the Museum of the History of Riga and Navigation, the State Art Museum and the Museum of Foreign Art. The image of the castle now is internationally European. With dignity and impartiality it represents the history of both the castle and Latvia as a whole. Representational rooms on the second and third floors have been scarcely touched by restoration and repairs.     







The vestibule owes its present appearance mostly to the reconstruction carried out in 1938 under supervision of architect Eizens Laube. In vestibules interior decoration colouring and furnishings of Laubes time have been preserved.


Oak staircase leads to the entrance, motives from Laubes Festival Hall have been used in its decoration.







The Lift in the Castle’s Vestibule


The lift in the vestibule of the Rīga Castle was installed in 1938, when Kārlis Ulmanis was President of Latvia.  It was one of the few lifts of its type in Latvia at that time.  In 1938, the master architect Eižens Laube led a team of restorers and renovators to polish up the castle in preparation for the 20th anniversary of Latvia’s independence.  The vestibule was renovated to make it more functional and ornate.

The lift connected the first floor to the second floor and the Blue Foyer, which is the lobby of the White Hall that was used for receptions.  The castle also had a second lift.  It was in the Tower of the Holy Spirit, and President Ulmanis used it to look at the Rīga skyline during festival fireworks.

The lift was restored in 1995, interestingly enough by the same company, Šindlers, which installed it in the first place.  It is now a hydraulic and modern lift, but its interior remains unchanged – wood panelling, a mirror, and padded folding seats.


Ground floor


Enfilade - a row of four rooms leads to the Presidents Study. Each of the rooms carries a separate thematic idea and appropriate interior design has been created. The style of furnishings the Biedermeier.


The first room


The Green Salon or the Big Waiting Room. Thematic idea Latvian landscape (the first half of the 19th century) that is reflected in paintings of this period. Most of the paintings are by Jūlijs Feders (1838-1909), the most talented early representative of the genre of landscape painting in Latvia.


In the room you can also find a painting Nigrande estate by the German painter Paul von Franken (1818-1884), two seascapes by Tisenhausen, as well as The Daugava at Plavinas by the Russian painter A.Borzov. Furniture is replicated from samples of the first half of the 19th century but the mahogany clock is an original from the beginning of the 19th century. 


The second room

The Red Salon or the Room of Presidents Adjutant. Thematic idea hunting. Initially the space was created to be a huntsman’s hall, with paintings of hunting scenes produced by the Baltic German artist and writer Johann Heinrich Baumann (1753-1832). The paintings which are in the room today are valuable works by Johann Walther, who grew up in a German environment and renamed himself Valters Kūravs in 1906 (1869-1932). Among the paintings are “Springtime Landscape” and “Coltsfoot Leaves.” There are also other landscapes produced in the late 19th century. Furniture replicas from the first half of the 19th century.


The third room


The Blue Salon or the room of Presidents secretary. Thematic idea the Riga Castle as the residence of governors general of Vidzeme and the Baltics which previously occupied this part of the castle. Most significant in this room are two paintings the portrait of the Governor General Prince Alexander Suvorov-Rimninsky (1848-1861) painted by the Russian court painter academician Karl Timoleon Nef (1804-1877) and a copy of Karl Brilovs Ivan Krilov.

Suvorov-Rimninsky was a grandson of the famous Russian military commander Suvorov and his name is related to extensive reconstruction works  in the Riga Castle. During his time most of the staircase reconstruction plan developed by the architect and academician from Petersburg Harald Julius Bose was completed and the main reconstruction works of the Imperial Hall (it was renamed the White Hall during the first period of Latvian independence because of the copious amount of light that was in the room) were carried out. The portrait of the distinguished Russian fabulist Krilov has been chosen because he served in the Riga Castle as a secretary to the Governor General Prince Sergey Golitzin from 1801 to 1803.



The fourth room


The so called Bay Room has obtained its name from the octagonal tower (bay) built in the middle of the 17th century (1649). The tower is situated at the northwest corner of this room. The year of building can be seen in the relief on towers outer wall.




Presidents Study


Presidents study at the end of the enfilade is the main artistic emphasis on the ground floor. The room was established in 1939, during the presidency of Kārlis Ulmanis. Two rooms in which President Gustavs Zemgals had lived were joined together. The interior design has been preserved and reconstructed to be as close as possible to its appearance in 1939.

The lower part of the walls is covered with restored wooden panelling. Lighting two baroque glass chandeliers which, using models of the 18th century church chandeliers from Kurzeme, have been specially crafted by the masters of the Ilguciems glassworks. Eight patinated wall lanterns have been made to Laubes sketches. Furniture oak conference table and some chairs from pre-war Latvia interior. Other pieces of furniture have been made in the style of national romanticism to the design of the original furniture.

The walls of the office are adorned with paintings by renowned Latvian painters two landscapes Winter and Spring by Vilhelms Purvitis, and Flowers by Uga Skulme and Leo Svemps. On the wall behind the writing-desk hangs a tapestry woven from sketches by Ansis Cirulis.    






Main Staircase


In restoration of the staircase the interior design created by H.J.Bose (1812-1894) has been preserved as far as possible. The staircase is made of Belgian marble and dates from 1862.


Chandeliers and lamps on the walls were manufactured in the Austrian company "E.Bakalowits Sohne" in 1995.  


First Floor

The first room 


(The Castle Salon) the former Turkish room is now dedicated to the history of the Riga Castle which is reflected in copies of the engravings and sketches from 16-20th centuries as well as historical photographs (second quarter of the 19th century). The Empire Style ampel-type chandelier and the mahogany furniture with light wooden intarsia come form the Rundale Palace Museum.


The second room


Dorothys Room owes its name to the portrait of the Duchess Dorothy, the third wife of the Duke of Kurzeme Peter (1724-1800), painted by the German painter Johann Heinrich Schroeder (1757-1812).

It was intended to create here a governor portrait gallery in miniature, presenting the rules which existed in the territory of Latvia from Polish kings to Russian tsars. Beside Dorothys portrait hang the portraits of the Dukes of Kurzeme Jacob (1639-1682) and Ernst Johann Biron (1737-1740, 1762-1769), as well as portraits of their wives.




On the other walls are portraits of rulers in Latvia from the 16th century – Danish King Christian II, Swedish Kings Erik XIV, Gustav II Adolf, Charles IX, Charles X, Swedish Queen Ulrika Eleanor, Swedish King Charles XI and his mother, Hedwig Eleanor, Russian rulers Peter I, Catherine I, Anna Yoavnovna, Catherine II, Peter III, Alexander I, Alexander II, and Nicholas I (painted at the Rīga Castle with the Citadel in the background), and Polish rulers Sigismund II Augustus and Stefan Bathory, who stayed at the Rīga Castle in 1582.




The Hall of Coats of Arms


Until establishment of the Latvian State on 18 November 1918 the hall served as a representational room for the Vidzeme (later Baltic) Governor General of the Russian Empire. During Latvias independence it was one of the state representational rooms.

Due to its interior decoration until the end of the 1920s it was called the Red Hall but the well-known name The Hall of Coats of Arms came into use at the end of the 20s when professor Janis Kuga got involved in its decoration and the ceiling of the hall was embellished with his paintings of coats of arms of four regions and cities of Latvia. At the end of the 30s professor Kuga decorated the ceiling with the painting Midsummers Night.



Due to the Latvian-style interior design during repairs under the Soviet rule it was completely destroyed. After Latvia regained its independence the Restoration Council suggested to create interior design that would symbolise the statehood of Latvia and would be rooted in the interior design traditions that existed during the first independence of Latvia.  


The fireplace which has been restored dates back to the 19th century, the ceiling once again bears coats of arms of four regions and 72 towns of Latvia. Just as before the State Seal can be seen above the door to the next room.


On the walls hang the portraits of the former five Presidents of Latvia Janis Cakste, Gustavs Zemgals, Alberts Kviesis and Karlis Ulmanis which were painted from photographs by the painter Roberts Muzis in 1995.  The portraits of the presidents of the first Republic of Latvia were joined by the portrait of Guntis Ulmanis in 1999 and the portrait of Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga in 2007 both painted by Miervaldis Polis. Birch-tree furniture that had survived from the pre-war years has been restored, the rest has been crafted anew. The busts of the writer Janis Rainis and folklorist Krisjanis Barons sculpted by Konstantins Roncevskis have been placed on pedestals as symbols of the national identity.   



The fourth room - the Golden Hall


The name of the room comes from the pre-war times.


The room carries special significance as a reception salon for high rank officials. The walls are covered with magnificent gold-coloured wallpaper. Paintings Adoration of the Magi by Veronese (copy of the 18th century) and two paintings by the Dutch painter van Blumen (17th century) Town Square and Settlement by the Fountain. The chandelier has been manufactured using a model dating from the beginning of the 19th century in the Austrian company "E.Bakalowits Sohne", mahogany furniture.  



Second floor

The Blue Foyer


The Blue Foyer stands before the White Hall. This is the anteroom which was created during the reconstruction of 1860-1862 and from where until 1917 the so-called Imperial Rooms. Nobles from the Russian court stayed here. Until 1917 this room housed a portrait gallery of the local governors general.


During pre-war time the portraits of the dukes of Kurzeme were placed here. At present three works by the Latvian modern painter Boriss Berzins can be seen here: Music instruments, Game, Flowers.   



The White Hall


The hall was built in 1818 above the stables of the castle to the design of the province architect Friedrich Kristian von Breitkreiz. Its present look was made in time period from 1860 till 1862. Since until 1917 it was the most representative hall in the so-called Imperial part of the castle, it bore the name Emperors Hall.


Its present name this room acquired during the time of pre-war Latvia.  





Ambassador Accreditation Hall


In 1923 the President of Latvia Janis Cakste issued an order saying that the Riga Castle needed a room in Latvian style for accreditation of ambassadors. For this purpose a contest for decoration of castles representational rooms was held in the same year. The painter Ansis Cirulis had the biggest success and in 1923-1926 and 1929 after his sketches the whole interior design of the room was created wall colouring, furnishings and ceiling lanterns. The hall is arranged in Latvian national romanticism style.


At present this is the only room in the castle where the old interior has survived almost unchanged. Only here, fully preserved, one can see the so-called Art Déco style which was fashionable in Latvia in the 1920-30s and which could be described as a blend of the local national romanticism and European art nouveau. The ceiling paintings depict the ancient Latvian deities Laima, Mara, Janis and Perkons. Latvian motives are dominant everywhere from furniture to even curtain rods.   



Third floor

State Festival Hall


The hall was created in 1938 in the attic floor of the Riga Castle to the design of Eizens Laube for the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the foundation of the Republic of Latvia. The interior is made of wood trying to combine the splendour necessary for a state festival hall and motives of Latvian ethnographic building traditions. It was intended to adorn the ceiling with paintings by 14 Latvian painters depicting the history of Latvia starting with the freedom fights in the old times and ending with the foundation of the Latvian State but this idea was not fully carried out. Some paintings were ready by the date of halls official opening, others were added in 1939.



At present the following works painted in 1939-1940 can be seen on the ceiling: Evening ritual by Janis Kuga, Victory at the Daugava by Oto Skulme, Visvaldis, the ruler of Jersika receives German crusaders by Augusts Annuss, Fight of Viesturs against German invaders in 1219 by V.Vimba, Jacob, the Duke of Kurzeme by Ludolfs Liberts, Awakening by Janis Tilbergs, Warfare in Latgale in 1919 by Arvids Egle.


In 1956, several paintings were installed in the Celebration Hall at the commission of what was then known as the Pioneer Castle of Rīga – “1905” by Ģederts Eliass, “Song Festival” by Tenis Grasis, “Summer Solstice” by Pēteris Ozoliņš, and “Liberation Battles in Latgale in 1919” by Arvīds Egle.

The hall has not been restored.





The Carriage House – Now Home to the Press Department of the President


When the Rīga Castle was occupied by the governor general of the Baltic Provinces, Graf Wilhelm von Bukschevden, this building was to have been erected as a horse stable.  A design for the structure was produced in 1804 by a provincial architect, Matthias Schonss.  Later the plans were changed, and in 1808 and 1809, a carriage house was built under the leadership of the provincial architect Kristian Friedrich Breitkreiz.

Between 1841 and 1843, a second floor was added to the carriage house.  Stable hands lived there, as did the chauffeur and the gardener.  In 1874, the architect Heinrich Schell produced the façade with the bas-reliefs of heads of horses that can be seen today.

During the first period of Latvian independence, the building was used as a garage for two cars that were used by President Ulmanis – one saloon car and one convertible.  The building was still being used as a garage in the mid-1970s, when the Arts Foundation took it over.  An exhibition hall was installed in the building in 1980, with meeting rooms on the second floor.


The Press Service of the President works in the former carriage house today, and it has been there since 1995.  Prior to that, the building was used to store and display gifts received by the President.