Riga art decoWhile planning a trip to Latvia’s capital, I was very surprised to read that the historic center of Latvia boasts the largest collection of art nouveau buildings in Europe.

I have lived in both Prague and Vienna and both cities impress visitors with their stunning art nouveau architecture. The work of Czech artist Alphonse Mucha is even credited with initiating the movement, so I was surprised to learn that it was actually Riga offering the widest range of buildings in this whimsical and beautiful style.

Art nouveau, also known as Jugendstil (from German) or Liberty (the name used in Italy), was most popular at the turn of the 20th century.

The height of its popularity happens to coincide with a major development project in Riga. Between 1896 and 1913, the city expanded outside the boundaries of the medieval center.

Riga art decoThis urban planning effort resulted in a new circle of pleasant parks surrounded with new housing constructed in what was soon to become the city’s ubiquitous art nouveau style. Riga’s new constructions were mainly created by German, Austrian and Finnish architects.

Following the failed 1905 revolution, a wave of nationalism swept through Riga. The art nouveau style was affected, too, with distinctly Latvian design elements – such as Latvian folk elements and local building materials – finding their way into building projects.  The movement was known as National Romanticism.

Riga art decoIn 1997, Riga was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site, in part for what UNESCO calls Riga’s “outstanding universal value by virtue of the quality and the quantity of its Art Nouveau/Jugendstil architecture, which is unparalleled anywhere in the world.”

Admire this elegant, artistic architecture for yourself on your next visit to lovely Riga.

And if you want more Baltic travel tips, take a look at my earlier post on Vilnius and Trakai, in neighboring Lithuania.