Mikhail Eisenstein's art nouveau building at 2a Alberta Iela in Riga

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Alberta Iela

Top choice in Central Rīga

Like a huge painting that you can spend hours staring at, as your eye detects more and more intriguing details, this must-see Rīga sight is in fact a rather functional street with residential houses, restaurants and shops. Art nouveau, otherwise known as Jugendstil, is the style, and the architect responsible for many of the buildings is Mikhail Eisenstein (father of filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein).

Named after the founder of Rīga, Bishop Albert von Buxhoevden, the street was Eisenstein's gift to Rīga on its 700th anniversary. A jolly man, his bon vivant personality comes through in his exuberant work. See the full range of his talents on display in five adjoining buildings he designed from No 2a to No 8.

In particular, note 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 three heads on Alberta iela 4 are, well, head-turners. 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, while ferocious lions with erect, fist-like tails keep watch on the roof. The enigmatic woman's face over the entrance may be the most-photographed image in Rīga.

Further down the street, the Rīga Graduate School of Law at Alberta iela 13 attracts photographers like a starlet at Cannes. Another Eisenstein, it mixes Jugendstil with the Italian Renaissance – the facade has far too much texture: true art nouveau gives facades the flatness of a theatre backdrop. 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.

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