The Lions Gate
The Lions Gate
Wandering through Old Town, you’ll find the area lends itself to a small city feel. With few exceptions, you can get lost in the small tunnels and alleys and back passages leading in all different directions. And as busy as it gets with other tourists and foreigners, there are always opportunities where you get to stop and drink in the beauty of a solitary alleyway.
Located at the end of Aldaru iela, the Swedish Gate represents the small city feel of the larger urban area. You can often find it either populated by large groups, or standing silently, showing a more still and peaceful side of the area. To the common tourist it hides in the plethora of back alleys and passageways, but to the educated visitor, it represents some of the oldest remaining architecture in Riga. Built in 1698, it and the wall that surrounds it are some of the last remnants of the former outer wall which predates the actual gate, having been built between the 13th and 16th centuries. All other gates that previously led through the wall were torn down through the years as developments in artillery machinery rendered them obsolete. While dated so far back in construction, the gate, and that portion of the wall with it’s 2nd floor living spaces were restored during the Soviet period, hence its rather “new” appearance.
The name “Swedish Gate” (Zviedru vārti) is in reference to “The Good Swedish Time” when the Swedish Kingdom used the city as one of it’s three major ports. Popularly regarded as a time of great prosperity for the city, Riga natives held relative autonomy from the Swedish rule but benefitted greatly from the huge influx of traders and merchants. While not originally built to celebrate the Swedish control of the city, it has been changed to reflect that time period.
Notable aspects of the gate? First off, it’s a beautiful gate: you can’t miss it. Second, two inverted cannons sit on either side of the walk on the side opposite Aldaru iela. Also can’t miss those. Over both entrances are also small lion heads, one of the national symbols of Sweden.
If you’re in Old Town, make sure to stop by this.
Mark Kennedy, currently studying Russian at Liden & Denz Riga