During our last trip to Latvia, we visited multiple abandoned manor houses, ‘muizas’. The buildings varied a lot and we could only guess their past and many previous purposes. We found clues, but it would have been short-sighted to assume that these buildings only had a single purpose, given that many of them had hundreds of years of history behind them.
One type of a building resembled the Scandinavian ‘folk house’ which were used for mass gatherings, weddings and political meetings. For example, we visited one manor house in Latvia where we found an entrance like that of a movie theater. From the second floor we found label cards written in cyrillic letters, which had been used in library shelves to categorize books - a library then? Besides serving as a ‘culture house’, (‘kultūras nams’) little information could be gathered online to verify the true purpose of this particular building. Another one we visited had a collapsed theater stage and a large room with benches for the long-gone viewers of the shows. According to online sources, this building also had many purposes ranging from postal office to a school and to a ‘culture house’.
Clear signs of the Soviet occupation could be seen in many of the places we visited. A red star painted to the facade of a manor house, or a ceiling rosette with a hammer and sickle above a theater stage - the classical symbol representing proletarian solidarity. From a cabin of one of the manor houses we found an old soviet diploma dating back to 1956. The next one had a soviet army coat hanging next to the front door. Clearly many of the manor houses have soviet history, and from this era, information is hard to come by.
Architecture of the houses differed from a simple wooden ‘folk house’ to a majestic Neo-Gothic style castle. Many of the Neo-Gothic manor houses have been restored and serve as hotels or private residences. Still, some of the grander manor houses are decaying and share similar pasts acting as culture houses and schools. Some are sold to Russian oligarchs with high hopes, but left to rot. Some are on the market for everyone to see.
For us, it seemed that these buildings drift in time, and serve a purpose suitable for a particular era. A manor house might accommodate a rich nobleman and its theater stage and gardens are used for culture and celebration, just to give room for a political turmoil turning it into something useful for the masses - a post office or a school. Items left behind like clothes and documents are clues about the latest, or the last purpose of the building. Visiting these places has turned into a recreation, urban exploration. At least now someone cares about them.
K.P / 9.6.2019