Pulling out the big guns

  • 2009-04-30
  • By Monika Hanley

SURPRISING SURVIVAL: The war museum is located in the city's sole remaining tower, which was used to store all the gunpowder in past wars to avoid any accidental explosions.

RIGA - The Latvian War Museum is the perfect place to visit in a crisis. Not only is it free and entertaining, as the days start heating up, the museum provides a perfect, cool shelter from the harsh rays of the unrelenting Baltic sun.
The War Museum is unlike the Occupation Museum, in that it has many levels and has a lot more artifacts and weapons. Not to knock the popularity of the Occupation Museum, but the War Museum is a good place to start getting the real back story to how the numerous occupations of the country began.

From the beginning of recent wars, the war museum has existed. Founded during World War I and used as a Riflemen's museum, the War museum was actually located in the Occupation Museum before moving to the present location of the Powder Tower 's the only surviving remnant of the twenty five ancient fortification towers that surrounded Riga.
Even though the Powder Tower annex was finished in the late 1930s, because of the Soviet occupation the museum couldn't operate.

Now the museum houses 30 experts on every aspect of Latvian war history.
The museum as it is organized now features numerous exhibits, including Latvians in World Wars I and II, the fight for freedom, Latvian soldiers in the Russian Civil War, defending the Latvian state and the Soviet Occupation.

The museum, which is at least four levels, features guns, uniforms and other relics in addition to its walk-through displays, models, barracks, and films. A nice feature of the museum is that it's rather dark, and has more of a war-like feel to it 's especially if it's empty.
During Museum Night in the summer, when all the museums are free and open until the wee hours, the War Museum breaks out the big guns, literally, and lets eager participants have a go with them (at least at holding them). The museum also has an extensive weapons collection that can be viewed by prior arrangement.

There are quite a few interactive exhibits as well, so it's more child friendly than the Occupation Museum and the other historical museums. It is unclear why it isn't more frequented by tourists, but it should definitely be put in the top five museums to visit in Riga.
The first floor of the museum features artifacts from the 15th century, which is appropriate as the museum is housed in a 15th century tower.    

The museum is more than just a display of military might, and it does not  attempt to persuade visitors as to which side was right or wrong. The photos and artifacts in some places are quite moving, but aren't depressing enough to dampen the afternoon. Closed Mondays and Tuesdays, the museum is a good outing for a weekend, or split up into multiple trips.