A small museum about the crucial days of January 1991 when the citizens of Riga
tried to defend their city from the threat of an attack by the Soviet
army that had been sent in to put an end to Latvia
's (and Lithuania
's and Estonia
's) independence movement.
Though there was some violence, the barricades in the Old Town held and it all ended well for the Baltics. So this is yet another shrine to this success. Well worth popping in when in Riga, provided you know a bit about the historical background. That's because this is not an educational museum, but primarily an “atmospheric” one.
What there is to see: This small museum has a very visual approach, quite different from most other exhibitions on this or related topics. There is very little interpretative text, and what there is is almost entirely in Latvian only, except for a few general captions in English and some bits in Russian.
So to get the most out of this museum, especially if you do not speak Latvian, you should either be pretty familiar with its subject matter already – or take a guided tour (see below
You can prepare yourself by learning about the story of the barricades e.g. in the Occupation Museum
; and the Museum of the Popular Front
can also be good for preparation. Both of these are much more educational and informative than the Barricades Museum, where it is all rather about recreating the atmosphere of those dramatic days.
Once you've found the building (it's a bit hidden) and climbed the stairs to the first floor you are greeted by a whole-wall painting of the map of Latvia
(in red). Past the reception desk and into the first exhibition room proper, the map theme is continued to your right (this time the whole Eastern Bloc
Straight ahead the whole wall is filled with banners presumably used during the demonstrations of 1991. Most are in Latvian, some in Russian. Thanks to plenty of symbolic illustrations several of these banners are pretty clear in their meaning even if you do not understand the words. The general thrust could be summarized as: “USSR, hands off the Baltics!”
The rest of the first room is furnished like a kitchen, with appliances of the kind that people would have had in the 1980s (don't ask my why – maybe it's just to contrast private life at home vs. fighting in the streets, I don't know).
Partly partitioned off from the kitchen part is a bookcase with several volumes that are presumably all about the same historical topic. I spotted one by Mikhail Gorbachev, which was a bit of a surprise in this context … (see under Riga
and Vilnius TV Tower
Then you get to the heart of the museum, and as you walk in take note of the dummy Soviet special forces soldier lurking behind a partition wall in the dark ...
This main room is a recreation of the nights of the barricades in January 1991. There's a mock camp fire in the centre with wooden blocks and benches to sit on, and from here you can watch a video screen showing footage of those dramatic days, complete with an audibly dramatic soundtrack .
Next to the camp-fire mock-up is a model of the main square in the Old Town in front of the cathedral, where some of the original scenes took place. The model is tilted so that you get a kind of aerial view of it all, with illuminated little camp fires, little vehicles and the various barricades blocking off the streets leading to the square. One half of a life-size vehicle from the period completes the backdrop to this.
In the next room the protests and barricades at the other significant locations are picked up, i.e. the rallies and Soviet attacks at the Ministry of the Interior and the TV Tower. Some artefacts are on display here, including a camera and sound-recording gear … presumably those used by the journalists who were killed on Bastion Hill on the edge of the Old Town of Riga
at that time.
Also take note of the floor you are walking on: it is covered with a huge blown-up aerial photo of Riga!
Another dramatically darkened room follows in which the media reactions to the events in the Baltics from around the world are the topic. Again there's a sawn-in-half vintage vehicle (this time a Lada passenger car), screens on the wall and a CNN Sky News satellite dish. In this room it is the ceiling that also warrants special attention: this is a view of the entire planet Earth.
And that's it. A four-room visual exhibition that is effective if you know what you are looking at, but probably a bit mystifying if you don't. So do come prepared. Then it is a worthwhile addition to the other museum commodifications
of the Baltics', and especially Latvia
's, struggle for independence from the USSR
This is hardly Riga
's most significant specialist museum, but a good bonus if you have the time.
at 3 Krāmu iela, a small side street right in the heart of the Old Town of Riga
Access and costs: centrally located but a bit hidden; free/by donation.
Details: The location of the museum is as central as it can get but it's still a little tricky to find and easy to overlook. Look out for the letters “Muzejs” in red at the top of a small doorway in tiny Krāmu street.
Inside you have to climb a steep staircase to get to the entrance, which is however clearly enough marked as such.
Opening times: Mondays to Fridays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., closed at weekends.
Admission: free/by donation; guided tours for individuals in English cost 11 EUR (20 EUR for groups).
Time required: between 20 minutes and maybe a full hour or more if you can read Latvian (and Russian) too.
Combinations with other dark destinations:
in general see under Riga
A more informative counterpart to the Barricades Museum is the Museum of the Popular Front
, which is also located in the Old Town of Riga, a few minutes walk south, and offers a much wider context to the larger topic of the Latvian independence struggle. Also thematically connected is the Occupation Museum
, of course.
Ideally, both (or either of these) museums should be visited BEFORE going to the Barricades Museum, unless you are already quite familiar with the topic (see above
A location a bit further away but linked to the barricades topic and worth a visit is the TV Tower (see under Riga
Combinations with non-dark destinations: The museum could hardly be closer to the main draw of mainstream tourism in Riga: it's right in the middle of the historic Old Town, just round the corner from the big churches, cobbled squares and alleyways, merchant houses, and all the other clichés this Hanseatic city can muster.
For more info see under Riga
- Riga Barricades Museum 1 - street-level entrance
- Riga Barricades Museum 2 - door to the exhibition upstairs
- Riga Barricades Museum 3 - inside it first looks like a kitchen
- Riga Barricades Museum 4 - then it becomes a proper exhibition
- Riga Barricades Museum 5 - towards the main section
- Riga Barricades Museum 6 - mock-up
- Riga Barricades Museum 7 - model
- Riga Barricades Museum 8 - TV tower section
- Riga Barricades Museum 9 - artefacts