House of the Blackheads – Riga, Latvia - Atlas Obscura

House of the Blackheads

The reconstruction of this prominent building fulfilled a long-written command. 

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For centuries, the House of the Black Heads has stood at the heart of old town Riga, dominating the Riga Town Hall Square.

However, this impressive building has humbler beginnings. Constructed in 1334, the building was originally known as the New House and its appearance was of a common medieval building. The structure underwent several reconstructions over the centuries resulting in the magnificent example of architecture that stands today. The design, in particular the opulent Dutch Renaissance façade, features various architectural styles and artistic trends covering various periods. 

The House of Black Heads was designed as a venue for meetings and banquets hosted by the Brotherhood of Blackheads; a guild of unmarried merchants, shipowners, and foreigners residing in Riga. The house was known for its wild parties and the Brotherhood is credited with displaying the first public Christmas tree in 1510. A stone marker outside the building marks the location.

This building was one of the town’s many structures damaged or destroyed during World Wat II bombardments. The only surviving section was a medieval cellar discovered during the building’s reconstruction in the mid-1990s. The House of the Blackheads was fully restored in 1999.

The House of the Blackheads now plays host to a museum and has a grand ballroom used for cultural events. Items on display include those that once belonged to the Brotherhood of Blackheads.

The presidential residence for the president of Latvia was temporarily located in the building from 2012 to 2016.

The re-building of House of the Blackheads fulfilled a saying once written on the building’s entrance: “Should I ever crumble to dust, rebuild my walls you must”.

Know Before You Go

Museum on site, tours offer a view of the medieval cellar.

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