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  About Riga / History of Riga / People of Riga  

People of Riga

Riga’s inhabitants have always been proud of the achievements of their contemporaries who have made the city known around the world. Many dynamic and different personalities have lived in Riga, each of whom has worked in accordance with their own understanding, conviction and the temper of their times. Some have grown up in Riga and then left for the wider world (the ballet dancer Barishnikov), while others have come from far away to devote their life to Riga (Bishop Albert). Some have made only brief whirlwind appearances but they are still remembered in Riga (the composer Wagner). Others have walked the streets of Riga barefoot all their lives and have only been discovered by Riga late in the day (the painter Irbe). Different times, different people, joined together by Riga.

Albert Buxhoevden
Preacher and politician, founder of Riga. Born into a low-ranking aristocratic family in Germany. Mayor of Bremen, ordained as a bishop in 1199. Made Bishop of Ikšķile in 1199, then Bishop of Riga in 1201. Under his leadership Riga’s first fortifications were built, the Order of the Brothers of the Sword was established, the Sistine Monastery of Daugavgrīva was founded, and the first titles were granted. Bishop Albert was the strategic architect of the 13th century colonisation of the Baltic. He died on 17 January 1229, was interred in the Riga Dome Cathedral, and in 1773 was reburied in the Great Cemetery.

Basilius Plinius
Poet and physician. Born in Riga into the family of the Dome School inspector. His origins may have been Latvian (with the surname Pliene). B.Plinius was educated in Riga and Wittenberg, and wrote tracts on magnetism, colour theory, and also poetry. His most famous poetic work “In Praise of Great Riga, Metropolis of Livonia,” was published in Leipzig in 1595 and reissued in Latvian in 1997 under the title “A Song of Praise for Riga.” It describes the geographical location and architecture of Riga and the lives of its people. All of his poems were written in Latin.

Nicholas Mollines
The first publisher and printer of books in Riga. He was born in Antwerp, Belgium, where he worked as a book printer from 1575 to 1587. In 1588 he moved to Riga where he set up the first printing press on the orders of the town council. He published around 170 books including spiritual literature, calendars, school books, council proclamations, book on history, law and scientific subjects, philosophical tracts, as well as panoramas and plans of Riga. His books were mostly published in Latin, with a smaller number in German as well as a handful in Swedish and Finnish. Mollines published the first book in Latvian, a Handbook of the Lutheran Church (1615). He died in Riga during an outbreak of the plague.

Johann Gotfried Herder

Johann Gotfried Herder
German Enlightenment philosopher, writer, folklorist. He studied theology at the University of Königsberg (1762-1764). From 1764 to 1769 he was a teacher at the Riga Dome School for subjects including science, mathematics, French, stylistics and history.
In his works written in Riga, Herder emphasised the importance of the historical viewpoint in evaluating literature and art. His findings on the correlations between a nation’s language and poetry and its history were set out in his “Tract on the Origins of Language” (1772.) Herder was the first person to use the term “folk song,” which was thereafter employed in the study of folklore. He collected the songs of many nations, including those of the Latvians, and published them in thematically arranged collections (1778, 1779). In his main philosophical work “Ideas on the Philosophy of the History of Humanity” (1-4, 1784-1791) he developed the concept of the uninterrupted progress of human history and the progress of society toward humanism, with special emphasis on rationality and justice. Herder’s work influenced the development of German classic philosophy.
There is a monument to Herder in Riga opposite the former Dome School, and the surrounding square is also named after him.

Johann Christoph Brotze

Johann Christoph Brotze
Researcher of the local Baltic region, educator. He was born in 1742 in Gerlitz, Germany, to a family of Czech immigrants. He studied at the Universities of Leipzig and Wittenberg, earning a doctorate. He arrived in Riga in 1768 and from 1783 worked for 46 years at the Riga Imperial Lyceum.
Throughout his life Brotze studied the history of the Baltic region and collected ethnographic materials. Of great significance are materials collected by Brotze on the history of the Latvian and Estonian people, architectural monuments, items of clothing, coins, and sketches and written descriptions of daily life. This is reflected in the ten-volume (with an index) “Various Monuments, Prospects, Coins, Coats of Arms and Other Materials of Vidzeme,” collected from 1770 to 1818. He died in Riga in 1823.

Johann Steinhauer
The first Latvian industrialist and the biggest Latvian landowner in Riga in the 18th century. From 1743 he worked as a crown mast selector, then from 1756 he was the owner of the Hermalina estate and sawmill. In 1765 he established the first paper factory in Riga. Steinhauer was involved for a long time in court proceedings with the Riga City Council in his attempts to win the right for representatives of all ethnic groups to trade in Riga, and managed to gain the right to supply ships in the port of Riga with timber. His son was officially accepted into the building owners’ guild in 1784.

David Hieronymus Grindel
Chemist, pharmacist, doctor and the first Latvian scientist. He was born in 1836 in Riga and was descended from a family of mast selectors and timber merchants. He studied science in Jena. He worked as an apothecary in Riga, served as Professor of Chemistry and Pharmacy at the University of Tartu from 1804 to 1814, was rector of the university from 1810 to 1812, and was a corresponding member of the St.Petersburg Academy of Science. At the age of 44 he started studying for a second time in the medical field and from 1822 worked as a doctor in Riga.
Grindel founded the Riga Pharmaceutical Society (1803) and in Riga he published the first pharmaceutical journal in the Russian Empire, "Russisches Jahrbuch der Pharmazie" (1803-1810). He wrote many articles about pharmacy, chemistry and botany, studied Baltic flora, and published the first analysis of the waters at the Kemeri sulphur springs.
He died in 1836.
The name of the “Grindex” pharmaceutical company is derived from his surname.

Philip Paulucci
General Governor of the Baltic with his seat in Riga. A marquis, he was born in Modena in northern Italy. He served in the armies of various states, including that of Russia from 1807. From 1812 he was the military governor of Riga and was also the General Governor of Vidzeme and Kurzeme until 1829.
Paulucci made great efforts to restore the suburbs of Riga burned down in 1812 (including the so-called Petersburg’s Outer Riga, now the Vidzeme district.) As a result, Outer Riga gained the layout that can still be seen today. During Paulucci’s time, work was begun on the landscaping of the Vērmanes Park, and street lighting and numbering of buildings were introduced.
After 1829 Paulucci returned to Italy where he died in 1849.

Richard Wagner

Richard Wagner
Composer. He spent almost two years in Riga between 1837 and 1839 and was the musical director of the Riga German Theatre. In this role he produced over 20 German, Italian and French operas. According to legend, he found the inspiration for “The Flying Dutchman” on the stormy Baltic Sea when he was leaving Riga, when he was in a depressed state of mind due to unpaid debts. The former premises of the German Riga Theatre are now used as a concert hall bearing the Wagner name, and the street on which it is located is also named after him.

Augusts Dombrovskis
Latvian industrialist and philanthropist. He was born into a family of fishermen in 1845 at Ķengarags near Riga. Self educated, he worked in a sawmill and saved enough money to open his own sawmill at Mīlgrāvis in 1887. He spent the profits from this venture on establishing and supporting various cultural and educational institutions in what is now Vecmīlgrāvis, including an elementary school and kindergarten (1900) and a high school (1908.) He also built the house of the "Ziemeļblāzma" temperance society (1904, 1913) and the so-called House of Wordsmiths,”(1907) where Latvian writers and artists could live and work for free.
He died in 1927 and is buried in the garden of the "Ziemeļblāzma" house.

Georg Friedrich Ferdinand Kuphalt

Georg Friedrich Ferdinand Kuphalt
Landscape architect. He was born in Germany in 1879. From 1880 to 1914 he was director of parks and gardens in Riga. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries he designed new parks and gardens and remodelled existing ones: the Vērmanes Garden (in 1899, with the first rose garden in Riga), Arkādijas Park (1900-1911), Strēlnieku Park, Dzegužkalns Park (landscaped in 1901), Miera Park (1905-1908), and the Esplanade (first plantings in 1902). Significant changes were also made to the green areas along the canal embankment, with rockeries, running streams with cascades and waterfalls established in 1889. In 1900 several very rare species of trees were planted. Kuphalt was also responsible for the Meža Cemetery (1899) and the first stage of the Mežaparks suburb (1901). He also supervised the development of the Russian Emperor’s gardens at Dagomisa near Sochi in the Crimea, at Oranienbaum and Tsarskoye Selo near Petersburg, and in the Caucuses. During World War I he was deported to Germany, and died in 1938 in Berlin.

Wilhelm Ostwald
Chemist, philosopher, one of the founders of physical chemistry. He was born in 1853 in Riga. He graduated from the University of Tartu (1875) and was a lecturer there from 1875 to 1881. From 1881 to 1887 he was a professor at the Riga Polytechnic Institute where he established a chemistry laboratory. From 1887 to 1906 he was a professor at the University of Leipzig.
In 1884 Ostwald discovered the Law of Homogenous Oxygen-based Catalysis, and in 1888 he formulated Ostwald’ Law of Solvency. Ostwald wrote the first textbook of physical chemistry (1-2, 1885-1887, in Leipzig), and organised and edited the first journal of physical chemistry (in Leipzig from 1887.).
In 1909 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for chemistry.
He died in 1932 in Leipzig.

Konstantīns Pēkšēns
Architect. He was born in 1859 into a farming family in Mazsalaca Parish, Valmiera District, and moved to Riga with his parents in 1869. He graduated from the Architecture Faculty of the Riga Polytechnic Institute in 1885, worked for one year in the office of the architect Jānis Frīdrihs Baumanis, then set up an independent architectural office. He took part in the re-establishment of the Riga Architecture Society (1889). He was a prominent speaker in the Riga Latvian Society and from 1990 was a member of the Riga City Council.
At the end of the 19th century Pēkšēn’s buildings followed the eclectic tradition, but in the early 20th century he became one of the pioneers in moving away from formal eclectic composition in favour of modern art nouveau. In Riga alone he designed over 230 multi-story masonry buildings. K.Pēkšēn’s buildings are the most significant elements of central Riga, creating contemporary architecture with an outlook that simultaneously reflects historical styles and the rapidly changing appearance of the city.
He died in 1928.

Friedrich Zander

Friedrich Zander

Engineer and inventor, theoretician of space travel and pioneer of rocket building. Born in Riga into a doctor’s family, he graduated from the Riga Polytechnic Institute (1914) before working at the “Provodniks” factory. In 1915 he was evacuated along with the family to Moscow and from 1919 worked at the “Motor” aviation factory. Zander first published research papers on jet movement and inter-planetary flight in Riga in 1907 and between 1930 and 1933 developed the first jet engines powered by liquid fuel. Under the direction of Zander the "GIRD-x" was sent up in 1933. F.Zander also made calculations for the trajectories of many inter-planetary flights, with especially accurate work for a flight to Mars.
He died in 1933 in Kislovodsk.
A crater on the moon is named after him.

Voldemārs Irbe
Painter. Born into a tradesman’s family, he studied at the German Trades Society School (1908-1911) and was also a pupil of the non-traditional Latvian artists B. Dzenis, J. Kuga and J. Madernieks. He painted in pastel colours, with most of his subjects being Riga landscapes. He was a deeply religious man and is remembered by the people of Riga for his unorthodox lifestyle – he disdained worldly pleasures, walking around barefoot and giving away his pictures for a pittance or for free. Modern art critics consider his work to be outstanding.

Aleksandrs Čaks

Aleksandrs Čaks
Poet. Born in Riga into a tailor’s family, he was Riga born and bred and brought the city to life in verse from his first poetry book published in 1925. He was virtually the first Latvian whose work is distinctly urban. He versified Riga’s vibrant, pulsating life in all its diversity, covering themes and personalities that had not until then been put into poetry – nightlife, horse cab drivers, vagrants and prostitutes, the poor suburbs and even the toilets in apartment blocks. The poetry of Čaks reflects a deeply felt love of Riga as it is, wonderfully summed up by the title of the poem “A Heart on the Sidewalk.” Čaks died in 1950, humiliated by the Soviet regime. One of Riga’s main streets is named in his honour, on which is located the A. Čaks Memorial Museum.

Mihail Barishnikov

Mihail Barishnikov
Ballet dancer. Born in Riga and educated at the Riga Choreography High School. In 1974 he emigrated to the USA. He has danced with many famous troupes including Britain’s Royal Ballet. From 1980 to 1989 he was artistic director of the American Ballet Theatre, and from 1990 served as ballet master for the M. Morris Ballet Troupe. Since the 80s he has hosted several American TV shows, appeared in films, and taken part in Broadway productions.

Zanders O. Tipogrāfs Mollīns un viņa laiks (The Printer Mollines and His Time) R., 1988
Paklons J. Herders un latviešu literatūra (Herder and the Latvian Literature). R., 1978
Bēms R. Apceres par Latvijas mākslu simt gados (Essays on the Latvian Art in a Hundred Years). R., 1984.
Pāvulāne, V.; Pāvulāns, V. Bīskaps Alberts un Baltija (Bishop Albert and the Baltic). Kultūras Fonda Avīze. 1991, Nr. 9, 10.-11.lpp
Stradiņš J. Etīdes par Latvijas zinātņu pagātni (Etudes on the History of Latvian Science). R., 1982
Latvijas arhitektūras meistari (Masters of the Latvian Architecture). R., 1995.

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