BEST PLACES TO DIE IN RIGA. The story of the most macabre locations in town.

At first, it all began like a pun in 2014. Planning to place little plaques around the city, saying "This is the best place to die in Riga", the campaign would satire both storytelling, growing tourism, and Instagram culture (when people travel for places only so beautiful you could die on the spot). The seminal idea turned out to be half a dozen tours every spring run for several years after.

Back then Riga Tourism Bureau only promoted Old Town and its boring, replicated stories, while most of visitors were still the elderly (hence the dark, close-to-the-passing jest about the plaques). Also, not so many locals were involved in joining city tours - mostly because an idea of suburbs being irrelevant or dangerous was in the air. Therefore, in 2016, the silly idea of plaques turned into a real guided tour, firstly run before Valpurģi Night - a medieval Christian celebration that has turned into a popular alternative to the Halloween in the Central, Eastern, and Northern Europe. That includes Latvia.

Although Saint Walpurga, an English Christian missionary after whom the event is titled, was hailed by the Christians in Germany for battling "pest, rabies and whooping cough, as well as witchcraft," most of nations, celebrating this night, very much enjoy the opposite of what it resembles - dark humour, blasphemy, "summoning of the witches", loud carnivals, alternative and adventurous music concerts or festivals, cemetery visits, and other Gothic and grotesque activities.

Hence the tour: a 3-hour and 18-km long macabre cycling across the central part of Riga, ironically yet respectfully contemplating on famous or infamous places connected to death throughout the existence of Riga for more than 800 years. Chopping, sinking, falling, hitting, hanging, shooting, burning, killing, exploding, burying and plaguing, both terrifying and extraordinary.
Funny or not, but turns out that many fatalities in Riga took place on the 13th day of the month, adding more "fun" to the story.
It all was meant to be a single ride on 30 April, 2016. Surprisingly, after the event was posted on Facebook, it would reach more than 1,2k interested (that'd mean a lot even to bigger gigs back then). One tour, eventually, would become six with few reruns during the following years. Turns out people are fond of dark themes there, especially in a contemporary representation.

A "photoshopped"postcard used as an event image during the tours.

Now the spring of 2020 has come, and itself seems quite grotesque to say the least. The coronavirus lockdown, bringing very strange and eerie feelings to most, will define its own best places to die in Riga in the near future, but it also feels like a "perfect" time for our Latvian dark humour to re-emerge. A saying states - if we cannot laugh in dark times, what else is left?

So, here is a map with shortened facts of the best, worst, and most popular titbits from the ones included on rides we once had. All are listed in the most convenient and closest possible order to the tour, giving you another chance to enjoy Valpurģi night in the darkest way possible. To make it more thematic, we asked one of the most famous Latvian contemporary artists, Kristinans Brekte, to contribute for the icon art.

Should you be looking for a peculiar reason to explore the city during the infamous lockdown or any time after, let the "BEST PLACES TO DIE IN RIGA" show you the way!

Town hall square was the central space for public executions and humiliation, run from XIII century until 1863, and mostly used for decapitation. The executioner was always accompanied by an adjunct, and by 1847 the number of his servants,  hired from outside the city, reached 61. Important to mention - executioner's office took care of the city's street cleaning and waste collection. Since 1801, torturing and public hanging was annulled by the Tsar's orders and the executioner's profession marked  as disgraceful. DEATH TOLL - pick a number.

On 11 March, 1666 the tower of St. Peter's church (along with its rooster) collapsed due to strong winds, lighting storm and even an earthquake. DEATH TOLL - 8.

A XV - XVI century legend states there were two Catholic monks that wanted to become saints and asked to be built into a wall of St. John's church, leaving only a little cross-shaped space for breathing and accepting gifts from by-passers. Needless to say, both of them died soon after, and if the legend is true, the upcoming Reformation (bringing Lutherans to Riga) made martyrs forgettable until the next legend stating they were unveiled in the 1840's when the church was mildly reconstructed. DEATH TOLL - 2 or none.

On 17 August, 2000 two anonymous bombs exploded in the shopping centre, injuring 28. In 2001 a suspect Leonards Butelis (Gromovs) was arrested and tried, but later released in 2004 due to lack of evidence. DEATH TOLL - 1.

On 19 February 2011 a man shot another man to death in a movie theatre over eating popcorn too loud and being admonished about it. DEATH TOLL - 1.

In 13 January, 1906 an attack occurred on the former Tsar's Police Administration. 14 revolutionaries succesfully carried out the liberation of a kingpin social-democrat Jānis Luters and other revolutionaries. DEATH TOLL - at least 1 policeman.

On 14 August, 1987 one of the most famous Soviet actors Andrei Mironov collapsed on the stage while playing Figaro. Two days later he died of congenital cerebral aneurysm. DEATH TOLL - 1.

On 20 January, 1991, during a month long barricades protecting Riga from re-invasion of the Soviet military forces, an armed attack occurred at the vicinity of the ministry, killing multiple cameramen, policemen, and a passer-by teenager. DEATH TOLL - 5 (+3).

On 13 December, 1709 a gunpowder tower with 1200 barrels of powder with a nearby storage of 1800 grenades caught fire. It was an end to a 9-month-long siege by the Russian army mixed with the Plague and flood, ending the Swedish reign. DEATH TOLL - 800+.

On 13 November, 1943 a terror act, organized by the pro-soviet underground, was carried out, when explosives,  put into a litter bin and planned to blow up a pro-Latvian demonstration, went off earlier than planned, only killing few passers-by an a kid. DEATH TOLL - 3.

In September, 1774 a standing man was found built into a wall of the church, when cleaning religious buildings out of crypts doe to new regulations after the plague. Turns out a possibly wealthy man was already dead when built into the wall in the mid-1600's, probably waiting his space to be freed in the crypt and then probably being forgotten. DEATH TOLL - 1.

On 13 August, 1950 an over-crowded river ferry "Majakovskis" would sink. Packed with people returning from and willing to go to Ķīšezers lake on a sultry day as well as fulfilling their proletarian duty and participating on a factory and transport workers' summit, the incorrectly reconstructed ferry would fatally sway from waves created by a passing boat. DEATH TOLL - 147+.

The suspension bridge is the most famous location for suicides. If some unsuccessful tries have taken place almost every year since the Millennium, the most famous lethal fall occurred on 7 June, 2012 when a 20-year-old man climbed the cable and jumped down the bridge  landing on the road. DEATH TOLL - 1+.

On 13 December, 2013 the first and only construction worker would fall from one of the two highest skyscrapers in the city being built over a decade. DEATH TOLL - 1.

The location of the obelisk erected to celebrate the victory over Nazi forces in Latvia and the official beginning of it's re-occupation was carefully chosen due to the last public execution taking place here on 3 February, 1946, when German and SS officers were tried on a day announced to be a holiday. DEATH TOLL - 7.

On 19 September, 1943 a youth camp of Nazi army Airborne division was bombarded by Soviet planes. Not taking the raid seriously, the boys would create panic instead of running for shelter. Many would die in explosions and would drown in the nearby pond; there is evidence some diversants would signal crucial locations to the planes by torches. DEATH TOLL - 41+.

During the deportations in 1941 and 1949, around 100,000 Latvians, Lithuanians and Estonians would be stuffed in cattle wagons and transported by the soviet forces to hundreds of labour and death camps, and prisons across Siberia. Torņakalns station was one of the central starting points for many in Riga. DEATH TOLL - 57,549+ (in Latvia alone).

13 January, 1905 can be marked as the beginning of The Revolution in Imperial Russia in Latvia. On this date, a 40,000-strong workers' demonstration moving across the city would be ceased by the Military police, surrounding the demonstrators and opening fire. Although many would blame the Empire, the first shot was performed from the crowd, killing a policeman. More than 200 people were injured. DEATH TOLL - 72+.

LIELAIS KRISTAPS (former location)
Turns out that the famous statue of St. Cristopher, beloved by Rigans for centuries, would also become a killer in 1824 when, on 9 December, it would fall on a passing-by soldier due to a strong storm. DEATH TOLL - 1.

On 4 July, 1941 the most known Synagogue in Riga was burnt to the ground by the newly entered Nazi forces. Although the number of people burn alive in the building was only few dozen, the fire would jumpstart the infamous wave of deaths brought by Nazis and spanning for three years. DEATH TOLL - 20-30.

One of the deadliest in Latvian history and the deadliest in recent years, a railway catastrophe took place on 2 February, 2005. Two trains, one arriving to Riga and other departing for depot, collided, injuring 29. DEATH TOLL - 4.

In 1941 and then for several years after 1945 unofficially, many political detainees were killed in the basements of the KGB house (then ČEKA). Furnished in rubber-like textile and tiled floor with drains for blood, the shooting in the basements would take place at night with ventilation engines covering the excess noise. DEATH TOLL - 186+.

If the street gained its name due to public humiliation posts erected on the top of the dune here and torn down only by 1849, for half a century (since 1677) the "hill" was also used for public hanging, and the bodies and their parts were picked up at nights by pharmacists. DEATH TOLL - pick a number.

A famous pre-hippie painter was accidentally killed near this spot when a bomb dropped by Soviet air raid exploded in a nearby house on 10 October, 1944.

After the Bubonic Plague, in 1773 a new tradition was established across the Imperial Russia for cemeteries only being placed outside urban locations. The Great Cemetery would become the largest in Riga and also the most prestigious place to be buried by the wealthy and intelligent. DEATH TOLL - not sure if anyone actually died here.

Some extras (planned, but not included in tours):

On 16 February, 1976 the deadliest railway catastrophe in the history of Latvia took place here when two trains collided, injuring 61 passengers. DEATH TOLL - 46.

On 21 November, 2013 a supermarket "Maxima" would collapse, leaving several dozens injured and becoming one of the largest building-related tragedies in Europe in the last 20 years. DEATH TOLL - 54.

A credible legend states this patch of land surrounded with a ditch was once a common grave for those dying of Plague in 1709 - 1710 that killed more than a half of the city (along with war against Russia and the flood). DEATH TOLL - 5000+.

On 31 August, 1910 one of the greatest Latvian composers of all time most likely committed suicide the Anna Karenina way by throwing himself under a train when being accused with plagiarism. DEATH TOLL - 1.

On the night before 12 October, 1934 the first Latvian Archbishop of the Latvian Orthodox Church, Jānis Pommers, was murdered at his home with documents and the house partially burnt down. The cruel homicide was tied to his fight over the juridical status of the church and it being insulted as an unnecessary part of the Latvian Republic and a leftover from the Russian Empire. The perpetrators were never found, yet the "Jānis of Rīga" was canonized as the only Latvian Orthodox saint since 1981. DEATH TOLL - 1.

Biķernieki forest is the largest mass grave in Latvia during the Nazi occupation, when Jews, political and war prisoners, as well as patients from psychological facilities were being killed. DEATH TOLL - 35,000+.