Riga, 2014 Capital of Culture

Riga, 2014 Capital of Culture

Two questions: Where the heck is Riga? And what’s a European Capital of Culture?

First, Riga is the capital of Latvia, a country about the size of Ireland across the Baltic Sea from Sweden. Latvia is sandwiched between the other two Baltic countries, Lithuania and Estonia, and the three of them together make up the Baltic region. Riga’s medieval Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with cobbled streets, town squares, red roofs and a neighborhood of sumptuous Art Nouveau buildings.

Riga's Old Town buildings are rich in detail and design <br>Photo credit: Latvia Tourism

Riga’s Old Town buildings are rich in detail and design
Photo credit: Latvia Tourism

A Year of CelebrationsSecond, the European Capital of Culture program was launched in 1985 to help introduce and bring together the different cultures of Europe. Each year one or more of Europe’s most wonderful cities is given the title and invites the world to join a year-long cultural celebration that can include music, dance, art, drama, exhibitions and festivals – anything that shows off the history and traditions of the place.

Riga is proud to be a 2014 Capital of Culture, and has planned a particularly innovative schedule of events for their year in the limelight. Here’s a sampling of offerings:

Celebrations for Riga's Capital of Culture designation include Latvian music and dances <br>Photo credit: Peter Guttman

Celebrations for Riga’s Capital of Culture designation include Latvian music and dances
Photo credit: Peter Guttman

ArtThe 6th annual contemporary art festival, “Survival Kit 6,” whose theme in 2014 is “The Utopian City,” will run for most of September. The cutting edge festival was originally created as a response to the 2008 economic downturn.

An installation by prominent artist Aigars Bikše has taken over the small green park in the center of Riga where a statue of Lenin presided in Soviet times. Called “Monument Wars,” the piece consists of a pedestal from which portable monuments pop up at intervals. Representing the various powers that have ruled Riga, Swedish, German, Polish and Russian monuments will take turns dominating the park.

Street artists find plenty to paint in Riga, Latvia's capital <br>Photo credit: Michel Behar

Street artists find plenty to paint in Riga, Latvia’s capital
Photo credit: Michel Behar

EventsOne of the most intriguing of the year’s events was called the “Black Market of Useful Knowledge and Non-Knowledge,” where ordinary people payed one euro for a half hour of one-on-one conversation with experts on various topics. Professionals from 60 different disciplines, some of them famous, like former president Valdis Zatlers and artist Kristians Brekte, were on hand to answer questions.

PerformancesIn April, three esteemed Latvian composers and three internationally distinguished choreographers teamed up to present three world premieres of new ballets.

MusicRiga’s three biggest churches presented choral and orchestral performances of Johan Sebastian Bach’s St. John and St. Matthew Passions, as well as the reconstructed St. Mark Passion and the premiere of contemporary Latvian composer Ēriks Ešenvalds’ new work, the St. Luke Passion.

Music by Mozart is often performed in Riga; here he's even depicted in costume <br>Photo credit: Latvia Tourism

Music by Mozart is often performed in Riga; here he’s even depicted in costume
Photo credit: Latvia Tourism

ExhibitionsAll year different museums will be showing different facets of the Baltic amber trade – its history, science and decorative uses. Since the Neolithic Age, from 10,000 BC on, humans have prized amber for decoration and for talismans or amulets to ward off evil. Baltic amber jewelry has turned up in ancient graves in places like England, Greece and Egypt. Fossilized resin from pine forests that grew in this area over 50 million years ago, Baltic amber still washes up on the beaches in Latvia.

Travel to Latvia with MIRYou can travel to Riga, Latvia, during its year as a European Capital of Culture, surrounding yourself with the fabulous collection of cultural achievements originating in this fascinating Baltic country. You can also book a custom private journey.

(Top photo credit: Latvia Tourism)

PUBLISHED: July 25, 2014

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