09 May 2016

Journey through the Central Market

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The Central Market is the largest and most famous shopping place in Latvia, which is visited by 70 to 100 thousand guests every day. In addition, overseas visitors know the market as a popular tourist destination. While we, locals, do not always perceive Europe’s biggest indoor market as a tourist attraction, travellers want to see with their own eyes the originality of our products and the local selling and buying habits. As a matter of fact, domestic tourism in the Central Market has undergone a rapid development in recent years. During the guided tours, the participants get an insight into the market’s diverse history and visit the premises and areas of the market which are normally closed to regular visitors. What is so fascinating about the history and the present of the market?

 

Architecture of the pavilions

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The structures which were rebuilt to become a part of the five majestic trading pavilions of the Central Market were originally located in Vaiņode and served as hangars for the German army aircraft – Zeppelins – during the First World War. In the 1920s, two huge hangars were dismantled and brought by rail to the capital Riga to be used as structural elements for one of the unique and the largest European markets, which ended up having five smaller halls. Back in 1983, the market pavilions, thanks to their Art Nouveau details and pre-war neoclassical influence, were granted the status of architectural monuments. They are elements of architecture that are also a hallmark of Riga in the international environment. Besides, there are only a few Zeppelin hangars left in the world today (in France, Germany, the UK, the US and Brazil), and the pavilions of the Central Market in Riga are considered to be five of them.

Railway platform

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Not everyone has noticed a railway platform on the roof of the Meat Pavilion of the Central Market. Until the early 1990s, there were rails leading to the platform. In fact, trains could enter the Central Market station only until 1942, when the connection between the Riga City passenger station and the market was bombed out. There was a need for a railway branch, as during the pre-war time the Central Market served not only as a retail market, but also as a wholesale market. For example, the Meat Pavilion was limited only to the wholesale of meat products and meat was auctioned at public auctions. Today, the roof of the Meat Pavilion is included in the sightseeing route for group tours.

Market basement

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In daily life, we can see merely the trade places in the pavilions and the open area of the Central Market, all creating an impression of singularity. Meanwhile, the legendary Central Market basement is hidden from the eyes. It would be difficult for an uninitiated person to grasp the expanse. All the pavilions are connected below the surface by a two hectares big underground town with main streets and lateral passages linked by a 337 metres long traffic passage. This is home to warehouses where the sellers can store different products under various temperature regimes, as well as engineering utilities of the market, which can be seen only by those who work here or by participants of guided tours.

Riga-style selling and buying

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There are more than 3,000 sellers, farmers and artisans selling goods in the Riga Central Market every day. This means that the market stalls offer the largest range of the local produce and handicrafts in the Baltics. At the same time, the Riga Central Market as the standard-bearer of the Latvian markets takes care to preserve the traditions of the Latvian trade, craftsmanship and artisanal production, as well as to keep the opportunity for farmers to sell their goods in the city, contributing to the conservation of the people’s intangible cultural heritage.

 

All this creates a unique and fascinating environment of the intangible cultural heritage, which we invite you to enjoy not only as shoppers but also as tourists and discover yet unknown facts of the diverse history of the market and legendary places that are otherwise hidden from the eyes.

 

Tourist companies offering guided tours and tasting of local produce.

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