The road to Moscow

Maskavas forštate (or Maskatchka) is many things. It’s a name Latvian mothers use to scare young kids. “If you don’t stop playing the computer games I bought you to keep you under my control and go to bed, mamma will send you to Maskatchka to be eaten by the bums there!”

Be very afraid. House on central Maskavas Iela, near Maza Kalna Iela.

Be very afraid. House on central Maskavas Iela, near Maza Kalna Iela.

It has also been my hood since I moved here from my former residence near Antonijas Iela in late 2008. The name roughly translates as little Moscow, but locals usually refer to it as a no go area, similar to West Beirut and tell me not to go there. It’s not totally untrue, Maskavas does rank highly in terms of recorded crime. It doesn’t really mean a lot to me. I grew up in Belfast during The Troubles, when up to a hundred people a year were getting killed in my city, which is half the size of Riga. Having come through that, Maskavas seems tame in comparison.

Despite its dodgy reputation, Maskavas is one of the most historic parts of the city. There are lots of older churches, the remains of the main Jewish synagogue and the site of the former Riga Ghetto (though you’ll find no trace of that, we couldn’t even find a memorial near there.)

So, on 22 February it was time to see what all the fuss was about. Starting off near my house, there’s the Latgale market (Latgalite to locals.) A flea market where you can buy everything so people say, though I’ve never seen the kalishnikovs and rocket launchers that can allegedly be purchased there.

the most glamorous market ever

the most glamorous market ever

Close to that is the remains of the former main Jewish synagogue. On 4 July 1941, during the burning of the Riga synagogues, 300 Jews were herded into it and burned to death by members of Pērkonkrusts, a pro-Nazi extreme right Latvian organisation. It was one of several atrocities committed in the area.

memorial to those murdered

memorial to those murdered

remains of Great Choral Synagogue

remains of Great Choral Synagogue

Heading from there, there’s a nice cobbled street leading to the church on Jēzusbaznīcas iela and Elijas Iela. Going along Elijas Iela, there’s the Latvian Academy of Sciences, a wedding cake building very similar to the one in Warsaw

DSC01161 Warsaw (Riga versus Warsaw.)

One of many reasons people would come here is the Central Market, full of, well, what you’d expect to find in a central market.

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Maskavas Iela itself has a dodgy reputation, though the bottom end of it, nearest the centre, has been well redeveloped in the last few years. The shabby buildings have been replaced by a more modern riverside part

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Further down, Maskavas Iela gets a bit shabby, especially once you pass Lacplesa Iela. It’s hardly the type of place you’d expect famous actors to appear. Weirdly though, Daniel Craig (of James Bond fame) made a film here in 2004. Archangel was based on a Robert Harris book and featured an implausible plot about the discovery of the son of Stalin and dodgy accents in both Russian and English.

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For all that, it’s weird to see Craig running along Maskavas Iela, past Riga trams. (Riga can also be seen at 4:36 in the same video.)

Fans of Russian Orthodox churches will be in their element here. There are loads of them in the district.

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The first one is on Gogola Iela, near what I consider to be the district’s best bar, Banuzis, at Gogola 15.

Banuzis

Another attraction in Maskavas is the “Big Lido” at Krasta Iela. A self service buffet place selling more Latvian food, which has a really good beer cellar and other additions like a skating rink.

Of course the district is probably better known for its shady people and places. Maza Kalna Iela, the site of a former street market, is one of them and not a place I’d like to be hanging round on a dark night.

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Unplanned, we ended up crossing the border into Ķengarags. Named after a local farmer, Ķenga, and the horn (rags) shape that the Daugava makes here, it’s Riga’s second biggest district. Built during the Soviet period, it’s a bit of a concrete jungle,

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though there are a couple of better places. Krievu Sēta“, the Russian Lido here, is less well-known than the big lido nearby, but does have a selection of more Russian dishes and a colourful Russian theme going on.

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Probably the second place worth going to here would be the riverside part of Ķengarags, with views up and down the Daugava.

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You can even play outdoor chess and outdoor table tennis here, wowee!

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Ultimately though, despite its size, Ķengarags is more of a place for living than visiting. Ahem.

With all that done, it was time to hit the road to Moscow and home.

31 districts done, 27 left.

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7 thoughts on “The road to Moscow

  1. That’s the smallest memorial I’ve ever seen. I’ve never been to Russian Lido – might give it a go! And that first market – wow. That would have let to another ‘most depressing’ rant on my part I think 🙂

  2. Thanks for the offbeat Daniel Craig movie tip! I’d not heard that, but it’s now on my “to watch list.” And great colors in that photo of Daugava!

    • I’d never heard of the film either, it was a student who lived near there who told me about it. To be honest, it’s not that good a film, but it’s interesting to spot places in Riga and apparently some of the actors playing supporting roles in it are famous Latvian actors.

  3. Thanks for the Craig note, it was interesting to see it really being there on Maskavas street. How did you even remember it is the place?

    A couple of notes from a resident (been living for 6 years near the only Catholic church in the district that apparently escaped you):

    – The “shabby buildings” opposite Central market haven’t been replaced, rather they’ve been renovated, Those are the original 19th century warehouses, but the area had been used for ship loading/unloading since 14th century. The area is called Spīķeri and is a sort of art/bohemian/hipster event place now: http://www.spikeri.lv/spikeri/vesture/

    – There ARE references to Riga Ghetto in the district. The same Spīķeri area contains the actual Riga Ghetto museum, which is in a small wooden ghetto house, moved there from a bit further away. Located riverside, at the end of Spīķeri houses in the direction of Lāčplēša street.

    – “Mazā Kalna iela” is kinda famous ever since the locally megapopular Latvian band “Labvēlīgais tips” made their song “Mazās Kalna ielas samurajs” /Samurai from Mazā Kalna street https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pQGR40fqai8&feature=kp

  4. I’ve been to the catholic church on Katolu Iela since then and have the pics, I must update the blog to add it or maybe I’ll do a Moscow part 2 post. Thanks for the info about the Ghetto museum, we were wondering where it was. Spīķeri was a bit livelier a few years ago, when they moved more things over from Andrejsala, but in the end, a few of the cafes and bars there shut down and now it’s pretty dead at night, but is an interesting place to walk down.

    I’d never heard of the Craig film until a student of mine, who lived on Katolu Iela, told me about it. I watched it and more or less knew where it was, since I used to walk down Maskavas Iela every Friday to do a class. Apparently some of the actors playing smaller roles in the film are very famous Latvian actors. I think some of the other scenes are filmed at the edge of Riga, around Dreilini/Plavnieki.

  5. Pingback: Pilsētas Kanāls, Riga – Hidden Waters blog

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