Alberta Iela

Top choice architecture in Central Rīga

Image by philip100 Getty Images

It's like a huge painting, which you can spend hours staring at, as your eye detects more and more intriguing details. But in fact, this must-see Rīga sight is a rather functional street with residential houses, restaurants and shops. Art nouveau, otherwise known as Jugendstil, is the style, and the master responsible for most of these is Mikhail Eisenstein (father of filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein). Named after the founder of Rīga, Bishop Albert von Buxthoeven, the street was the architect's gift to Rīga on its 700th anniversary.

At Alberta iela 2a, constructed in 1906, serene faces with chevalier helmets stand guard atop the facade, which noticeably extends far beyond the actual roof of the structure. Screaming masks and horrible goblins adorn the lower sections amid clean lines and surprising robot-like shapes. Most noticeable are the two stone satyr phoenix-women that stand guard at the front. The facade of the building next door is in much better condition.

The three heads on Alberta iela 4, two doors down from 2a, will surely capture your attention. If you look carefully, you’ll see a nest of snakes slithering around their heads, evoking Medusa. All six eyes seem transfixed on some unseen horror, but only two of the faces are screaming in shock and fear. Two elaborate reliefs near the entrance feature majestic griffins, and ferocious lions with erect, fist-like tails keep watch on the roof.

Further down the street, the Rīga Graduate School of Law at Alberta iela 13 epitomises Jugendstil’s attention to detail. Peacocks, tangled shrubs and bare-breasted heroines abound while cheery pastoral scenes are depicted in relief on Erykah Badu–like turbans atop the giant yawning masks. The triangular summit is a mishmash of nightmarish imagery: lion heads taper off into snake tails (like Chimera), sobbing faces weep in agony and a strange futuristic mask stoically stares out over the city from the apex.