RIGA - Riga castle, restored to glory in the late 15th century after suffering severe damage during battle between the Livonian Order and local citizens, survived another 500 years through foreign occupation and warfare, only to sustain major damage as a fire ripped through its upper floors late in the evening of June 20 after construction workers left the site at the end of the day, ahead of the midsummer holiday weekend.
The castle, a medieval fortress that houses both the presidential residence and the National History Museum of Latvia, was already undergoing restoration work at the time.
President Andris Berzins has been residing elsewhere in Riga’s Old Town.
Nearly all the large halls sustained damage in the fire, reported LETA. The Red Hall burned down almost entirely. The White Hall also sustained heavy damage. The State Festival, Ambassador Accreditation and Coats of Arms halls have also been damaged. The blaze damaged the castle’s roof, roof constructions and attic the most, as well as part of the fourth floor, and 200 square meters on the 3rd floor.
The blaze was put out after more than five hours of intense firefighting work, though not before it consumed an area of 3,200 square meters. State Fire and Rescue Service spokeswoman Viktorija Sembele said that the fire was localized at 3:53 a.m. in the morning of June 21.
Culture Minister Zaneta Jaunzeme-Grende told the press that the fire has not caused irreversible damage to the castle’s museum collection. Jaunzeme-Grende said that the Latvian National History Museum, which holds about one million items, had about 40,000 items damaged, but “ not irreversibly.” She added that no items from the Latvian National Art Museum’s collection were damaged.
Nonetheless, she said that the first work to be carried out will be to gather and carry out burnt items, as well as items that are soaked, as well as preserve items that can still be restored or rescued.
State Fire and Rescue Service Chief Oskars Abolins said that the priority of firefighters was to rescue the museum collection. He said that flames did not reach the area where the museum items were located, but confirmed that some water damage is possible.
Marite Straume, spokeswoman for construction company Re & Re which is working on the castle renovation, told TBT that there is a procedure where at the end of each day, a group including the military police walk through the site for a final inspection. This was completed as usual, after 6 p.m. on June 20, with nothing out of the ordinary reported.
The National History Museum of Latvia collection is in a different part of the castle than what caught fire, and sustained no damage, said Straume. The section that caught fire consisted mainly of offices and presidential meeting space.
Commenting on the fire on TV3, former President Vaira Vike-Freiberga said that the lack of interest in preserving Latvia’s cultural heritage has plagued Latvia since regaining independence.
“All of the previous governments are equally to blame for the fact that the cultural heritage items were damaged during the fire. No one has done anything to ensure the adequate storage of these items,” Vike-Freiberga said.
Whether it was carelessness at the site, problems with old wiring, arson or some other cause, it is still too early to say for certain what sparked the conflagration. All versions are currently being considered, stated Interior Ministry State Secretary Ilze Petersone-Godmane.