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House of the Blackheads

Location: N56° 56` 49.6", E24° 6` 24.83" | Website: https://melngalvjunams.lv/lv

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In the heart of the Old Riga, next to the town hall there is so called house of the Blackheads, which today has become an important tourism element and pride of Riga city. 

House of the Blackheads is located next to the town hall which was first formed from the first Riga market place, and up to the 19th century it was the economical and administrative centre, although it was much smaller than it is today. Mystery performances were held in the square, different processions, competitions, tournaments and dances. But for several centuries there was also a punishment place for the criminals. The bell of Jacob’s church was always ringing when it invited to go to the event of the punishment.

In sources it was first mentioned in 1334 as the New building of the Great Guild. House of the Blackheads was built in 1334 as the part of Riga city town square ensemble, but it has been rebuilt several times since 1522. 

The house was first built for the purpose of meetings and festivities for different social organizations of Riga, but it was bought in 1713 by the Blackheads fraternity which was founded in 1416. 

First it was rented by the traders of the Great Guild, but later it was rented by the unwed traders – Blackheads fraternity. The members of the Blackheads fraternity were the young and unwed foreign traders who were not the landlords, but who actively participated in social life. Their lifestyle was somehow similar to soldiers, because they were able to protect their ships and cart caravans from pirates and robbers when they were travelling and collecting exotic oversea products. They were earning a lot, were well dressed, organized magnificent celebration, participated in tournaments, filled Riga churches with expensive altars and luxurious stools, but own festivities were adorned with expensive silver trays, and because of this publically seen lifestyle they had found their special place for the whole branched society of Riga. After receiving the rights of the landlord and forming a family, members of the blackhead brotherhood were included in elite of Riga patricians, became the presidents of the town council, members of the Great Guild and respectable members of the city society. 

Biggest reconstruction works of the building were done in 1580, 1619-1625 and 1886. 

The Blackheads had chosen Holy Mauritius as their guardian, who was painted and made in sculptures as a dark skinned warrior in his armor. The legend tells that Mauritius was a dark skinned commander of some Roman legion, who focused on Christianity, therefore he got decapitated. Mauritius was proclaimed to be saint in 4th century, and his remains are buried in St. Mauritius abbey church in Vallis city in Switzerland. 

In honor of the saint Mauritius, a golliwog figure became the token and symbol of the blackheads, including it also in coat of arms of the fellowship.  

Statue of the medieval city guardian and the legendary knight Roland was set up in the city square in 1896. Roland is considered to bet the judge of a fair trial, the protector of the accused and the fair executor of the court decision. That is why his statue was put on the market square, in front of the town hall. 

By the sketches of the architect Christop Haberland, both sides of the house of the Blackheads had additional buildings constructed between the 18th and 19th century, which expanded the Festivities hall with the premises for the active musical touring in Riga. That is when the forged portal by the doors to the second floor from the 1683 was dismantled; the ancient stairs were destroyed and replaced with an entrance to the first floor level, which we are using also today. That is how the terrace-shaped store extension emerged in front of the house of the Blackheads, which also helped to form the entrance. After 1891, sculptor A.Folc decorated the entrance with lion heads made in zinc casting, but the corner of the store – with the image of St. George. 

It was the house of the Blackheads where Riga peace treaty was signed in 1921, and where diplomats, high military command representatives from Poland, Russia and Ukraine were gathering. This event today is reminded by the gift from Polish embassy, which is immured in the wall of the staircase – a stone plate with the reminder of the role of the house of the Blackheads in 18th March of 1921during the negotiations and signing of the peace treaty between Russia, Poland and Ukraine. 

The building completely burned from the inside out during the WW II, as the result of the Wehrmacht artillery shooting on the 28th of June, 1941. It was declared after war that it is not useful to renew the building, and its ruins were blasted and cleared on 1948.