The history of Riga's Great Guild Hall (Lielā ģilde) goes back to the 14th century. The building is not only a historical monument, but also the home of the Latvian National Symphony Orchestra (LNSO) and a lively meeting place for lovers of classical music. The Great Guild's roots extend even further back to a time when the current edifice had not yet been built, with the founding of the Riga Brotherhood of the Holy Spirit in the 13th century. This brotherhood was open to most traders and craftsmen, except for weavers and bathhouse attendants.
Eventually, two separate groupings arose, which met in halls named after the German cities of Münster and Soest. This indicates that the first members of the brotherhood were possibly from these two German urban centers. Later, the brotherhood formally branched off into two separate socioeconomic groups, with the great Guild uniting German merchants and the Small Guild uniting German craftsmen. The merchants of the Münster Hall obtained their official statues (Schragen) in 1354, considered the year of the Great Guild's foundation.
New uses for the Great Guild Hall
The building that is now known as the Great Guild obtained its current form between 1854 and 1857, when it was rebuilt in a Tudor Gothic style supervised by the architects K. Beine and H. Schöll. The edifice was first assigned to serve as a concert hall during the Soviet occupation of Latvia, but a fire destroyed its top floor 1963. The Great Guild was reconstructed two years later by a design of the Latvian architect Modris Gelzis (Modris Ģelzis), with changes added to offer the auditorium with superior acoustics.
A café that operates during concert performances is in the vestibule by the Münster Hall. It has four stained-glass windows devoted to the Paris World Fair of 1937. The Latvian artist Cīrulis designed these cultural artifacts from the folkloric style. They depict the fields of construction, shipping, trade and craftsmanship, which were important sectors of the Latvian economy during the prewar independence period (1918 - 1940).
The interior of the Münster Hall has not changed a great deal since its construction in 1330. Aside from relocating a musician's balcony that was originally donated to the Great Guild by two of its members in 1646. Although musician's no longer perform on the balcony, DJ's sometimes spin their tunes there at various functions. For nearly 700 years, the hall has hosted social events such as balls, meetings and concerts. Practically all the wedding celebrations of Riga's wealthy class took place in the Münster Hall until the 18th century. The hall's original 17th-century crown-shaped chandeliers still hang from the ceiling, while the painted coats-of-arms of the former Hanseatic League cities also date from that period.
It is also worth visiting the Fireside Chamber, built in 1521 and which was formerly known as the Bride's Chamber. This is where newlyweds spent their first wedding night after celebrating together with their guests in the Münster Hall. The room has been rebuilt several times over the centuries and now serves as a rehearsal hall for the musicians of the LNSO. The auditorium, for its part, continues to host concerts by the LNSO and other musicians, including world-class performers.
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