One of my fondest memories of Riga is the half day or so we spent wandering around the Moscow District (Maskavas forštate), also (or rather officially) called Latgale, and in so doing discovering one of the lesser-explored parts of Riga. The Moscow District, Riga’s first suburb outside the walled Old City, dates back to the 14th century though nothing of the medieval period remains to be seen to-day.
In terms of our walk, we took a number 7 tram from Central Market to the Balvu iela stop and, starting at the Old Jewish Cemetery, we meandered and zig-zagged our way back to Central Market.
The Moscow District was, and still is, a poorer, rumbustious working class area which takes it name from the fact that it lies along the road to Moscow. It was (in the main) and still is a cosmopolitan area where Russians, Latvians, Jews and Old Believers live together.
During their WWII occupation of the city, the Nazis immediately converted the major part of the Moscow District into a Jewish ghetto into which up to 30,000 Rigan Jews were forced, prior to their being burned alive in synagogues, slaughtered in the streets or marched, after they were no longer required for, or fit for, hard labour, to the nearby Rumbula or Bikernieke forests and their deaths by firing squad. When the ghetto was finally abandoned in November 1943 the small number of Jews remaining therein were transferred to the Kaiserwald concentration camp outside of Riga or the infamous Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland.
By 1944 only around 250 Jews remained in Riga.
While the Old City and the other parts of Riga most often frequented by tourists have been tarted up, the Moscow District retains its shabbiness and air of neglect. This is exactly what makes it worth visiting. While most of the literature warns of the need to exercise special care in this area, ‘on the other side of the tracks’, I didn’t feel unsafe but I was certainly mindful of the environment and would recommend you visit it only during daylight hours. Of course the other reason you should visit during daylight hours is that you will be able to see very little in the dark!
I have written separate reviews on the following, all worthy of a special look when you visit the area:
Old Jewish Cemetery
Grebenshchikov Old Believers Church
Riga Radio and TV Tower (as viewed from the Moscow District)
Horse Drawn Tram Sculpture
All Saints Orthodox Church
Great Choral Synagogue – Memorial
Žanis Lipke and other Latvians Memorial
Riga Church of Jesus
Annunciation of Our Most Holy Lady Church
Latvian Academy of Sciences
In addition to these specific sights the most rewarding aspect of visiting here was just meandering through the quiet cobble-stoned, character-filled streets admiring the mix of Soviet flats and 19th-century working-class wooden homes all in various stages of dilapidation and decay. Many parts of the area feel like a film set and indeed have been used as such on many occasions. The images attached to this review depict a small sample of the flats and houses we encountered in the Moscow District.
Had we had a bit more time I would like to have visited the old, now renovated, warehouses of the Spikeri Quarter and the Riga Ghetto and Latvian Holocaust Museum, in the area just to the rear of Central Market. Something for my next visit.
While most tourists will visit the colourful Central Market and the much unloved Latvian Academy of Sciences you will be well rewarded for any time you invest in venturing deeper into the Moscow District.
This is the first in a group (loop) of reviews exploring beyond the Old City area of Riga. Continue to my next entry.