What is now the National Theatre of Latvia opened in 1902 as the Riga City 2nd Theatre, the city’s second Russian language theatre. On 18 November 1918 the declaration of Latvia’s independence from Russia, after almost 200 years of occupation, was read from the stage of this theatre.
In 1919 the theatre was re-named as the National Theatre of Latvia and Poet Janis Akuraters, as the director of the Art Department of the Ministry of Education, stressed the importance of art in maintaining the character and spirit of the country during the long period of occupation recently ended:
“Along with the political victories and freedom we have obtained the freedom of our culture and art as well. The life of our nation has been hard, and if now, we recall our history, we must wonder how we as a nation have preserved our character and spirit. What saved us? It was our art.“
Alurnaters went on to outline the importance of the role of the theatre in promoting national drama. This became the theatre’s mission and focus and remained so until 1940 when Latvia was once again occupied, this time by the Soviet Union. Post 1940 the theatre was renamed the Andrejs Upitis Latvian SSR State Academic Drama Theatre.
In the run up to Latvia regaining independence in 1991, in 1988 the theatre again became the National Theatre of Latvia and resumed its role of promoting national drama which it continues to do today.
The building is one of Riga’s most beautiful, with a mixture of Baroque and Art Nouveau features. Particularly appealing to me were the figures of Atlas on the front façade, as human columns, holding up the theatre’s central balcony. My Reader may recall that in Greek mythology Atlas displeased Zeus and his punishment was to bear the weight of the celestial heavens forever. Following on from this, in architectural terminology an Atlas (plural Atlantes) is a male figure used as a column to support a balcony or similar projection on a building.
Address: Kronvalda bulvāris 2
Directions: Just outside the Old City – east side.
Phone: +371 67006300