Inspirational

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'I' stands for 'INSPIRATIONAL' in CHARMING RIGA

Rīga is often called “The City that Inspires” since over the years both local and foreign celebrities have lived and found inspiration here.

Riga11 Catherine I of Russia by Nattier
Catherine I of Russia
by Jean-Marc Nattier, 1717

For instance, Peter the Great, the Emperor of Russia was a big fan of Rīga and visited the city regularly. He married Latvian Martha Skavronskaya who after his death became known as Empress Catherine I. Peter’s Palace in Rīga was presented as a gift to Peter the Great from the municipality of Rīga. Being a very enthusiastic monarch, Peter the Great ordered the construction of a new port in Rīga as well as created a general plan for the development of the city including planning many parks and boulevards, and planting some trees himself. It is believed that, when the tower of St. Peter’s Church was struck by lightning and caught fire in 1721, Peter the Great, who was in Rīga at the time, participated in the fire fighting personally and ordered the rebuilding of the church afterwards.

Other celebrities who were Rīgans or have lived in Rīga include Richard Wagner who lived briefly in Rīga (1837-1839) and was the music director of the Court Theatre. For two seasons he was able to conduct many of his favourite works as well as those of others, e.g., Vincenzo Bellini's opera 'Norma'. Wagner once claimed that he had been inspired to write 'The Flying Dutchman' following a stormy sea crossing he made from Rīga to London, though apparently some reading of old legends had done more to the inspiration than the crossing of the restless Baltic Sea.

German writer and philosopher Johann Gotfried Herder is another name to mention. Despite having lived in Rīga for only 5 years from 1784 until 1789, it is here that his scientific and literary activities began and developed, and where he produced his first major works.

Sir Isaiah Berlin the British social and political theorist, philosopher and historian, regarded by some as one of the leading thinkers of the 20th century was also born in Rīga.

Riga12
Art Nouveau building designed by Eisenstein
in Elizabetes Street

Mikhail Eisenstein, the famous Russian architect also worked in Rīga at the beginning of the 20th century. His legacy is the one that stands out among many others, since there are many wonderful buildings in Rīga that show Eisenstein’s architectural genius. Rīga is also the birthplace of his son Sergei Eisenstein who is one of the most famous film directors to this day.

Another name definitely to mention is Philippe Halsman – a famous Latvian-born American photographer. His studies of photography in Rīga became the groundwork and basics of his technique inspired by the diversity of Rīga life and splendid Art Nouveau architecture. As he said himself, Rīga experience essentially influenced the formation of his creative touch. Halsman has taken pictures of many famous movie stars, politicians, scientists and artists. His pictures have been on the cover of Life magazine 101 times (an unbeaten record)! Perhaps you have seen photos from his 'Jumpology' series with celebrities doing jumps. Salvador Dali’s picture was exceptionally interesting and complex.

Riga Hallsman

Even if Rīga has not been Europe's centre of culture and science, it has actually produced a number of well-known doctors and medical scientists who either were born, or worked in Rīga.

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For instance the outstanding Rīga-born chemist Wilhelm Ostwald who discovered the fundamental laws of homogenous catalysis of acids and bases. Justus Christian Loder, German anatomist and surgeon was also born in Rīga. His Tabulae anatomicae became one of the largest and most comprehensive anatomical atlases in its time. Moreover, he was the personal physician to the Prussian Royal family and Russian Tzar Alexander I. Another renowned chemist who has spent many years in Rīga is Pauls Valdens (Walden) who is best known for Walden inversion (the inversion of a chiral center in a molecule in a chemical reaction) and for being the first chemist to determine the origin of oil (petroleum).

Today we are proud of the many famous musicians and performing artists who are natives of Rīga and call it their home. In terms of opera and classical music such names as conductors Andris Nelsons and Mariss Jansons, ballet dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov, violinists Gidon Kremer and Baiba Skride, singers Elīna Garanča, Inese Galante and Egīls Siliņš come to mind.