The old is new and the new is old

  • 2009-04-08
  • By Monika Hanley

MIMIC: The relatively recently rebuilt building is almost exactly like the old one – right down to the racist engravings covering the front.

RIGA - Old Riga is full of ancient and historical buildings that could take years to explore. From the gothic churches of the Old Town to the Art Noveau district, Riga has it all. Walking along the cobbled streets, you can't help but be in awe of the beauty, and sometimes the shabbiness, that these buildings still possess.
Oddly enough, one of the most prominent and visited historical landmarks in Riga is one that has only been around since 1999. Though the Melngalvju Nams (House of Blackheads) was originally built in 1334, the building was damaged by German bombings in World War II and then completely flattened by the Soviets in 1948.

Looking at pictures comparing how the building looked 100 years ago and how it looks today, however, you can't even tell the difference. 
It's one of those buildings that you always walk past on meandering strolls through Old Town but never really go into. The building was constructed by the city of Riga for merchants of the Great Guild and for the Blackheads Brotherhood.

In 1713, the Blackhead merchants bought the building. The building was named after St. Maurice, a North African moor, hence the name Blackheads house.
An image of him can be seen by the front entrance. This image, which was created in a still fairly racist society, points to a time when Riga was a much more international metropolis.

The Blackheads, along with other Hanseatic merchants of the time, became very important in Riga society. Events organized by the group attracted Russian czars and other wealthy patrons.
The Blackheads were predominantly German, a fact that shows in the style and architecture of the building 's which includes a great ballroom at its center. The Blackheads Brotherhood was alive in Riga until 1939, but luckily weren't around to see the complete demolition of their glamorous building. 

In the evenings 's starting at around 9:30 p.m. and continuing at sporadically random times after that 's the building puts on a great light show coupled with loud organ music. Though the light show is really just the turning on and off of the outside lights, it's done in such a way that could be considered impressive if you really look at it hard.
The towering pink house is located in a stellar area 's at the edge of Ratslaukums, overshadowing the black box of the Occupation Museum, and providing a counter point to the city hall across the square, all on the banks of the Daugava.

Entrance is only two lats, but the building frequently hosts events and concerts that can give you an inside look of the house without a tour. The House is currently hosting the Bach chamber music festival and has an art exhibit of ceramics and flowers for spring.
If you want to get extra fancy, which given the decadent interior you might, you can get a four lat guided tour with special "Mauricijs" champagne.