RIGA METRO ATLAS. A virtual tour along the never built subway.

On 27 April, 1988 the first and, by then, largest anti-government protest would take place in Soviet Latvia. Gathering around 10,000 people at Arkādijas park in Riga, the demonstrators would target plans of constructing the Riga city metro and would demand their closure. On the same day, only 42 years later, we ran our second virtual city tour along the first unbuilt metro line in town and briefly told its story.


Taking place from the early 1970's, gaining speed in the 80’s, and perishing by 1988, the story of the subway of Riga managed to face unconditional decision-making, then positive emotional thrill, then perestroika or the changes in political and social directions of the Soviet Union, and ended up being the subject of the very first civic mass movement probably in the whole USSR back then.

Every large city would have rights to have its own underground transport according to soviet truths, especially if the city is the capital of a republic and, especially if it’s Latvia - one of the best places to be during the soviet reign (as claimed by many). The number of inhabitants would grow during the occupation until reaching more than 900 thousand souls. Whereas, the traffic and regular public transport reached its limits.

The purpose of the metro would be relieving the overground transportation and connecting more people to more factories basically. Although the system would soon turn out to be the most sophisticated and expensive metro in the history of the Soviet Union; probably even further. It would soon face organisational, geological, monetary and, eventually, social setbacks leading to a total closure in 1988.

On this tour, that also turned out to be a visual podcast of sort, we briefly covered the history of Riga metro and its timeline, evaluated pros and cons of its existence and denial, and virtually visited more than 10 locations on the map of Riga. They were divided in two sections - 1) where the first line of the metro would be placed, including their originally accepted interior designs, and 2) several other locations that would be designated for the building of the subway.


Theoretically, the story of a metro in Riga began in the fifties, when a group of Latvian architects carried out the construction of a new subway station in Moscow (thus gaining first skills and experience for the future). In the sixties, though, designing new ways of faster public transportation was a hot topic for all urban planners back in Riga. (The discussion was mostly related to faster trams back then). Eventually, in 1973 a secret decision was made that there will be a metro system in the capital of Latvia - after all, it is the fastest and also the most Soviet means of transport.

Preliminary vision on the first route of the subway that would later be accompanied with a 3-line radial system typical to the Soviet Union. It was already clear then that there will be 8 stations; all of them never really changed their location (1973).

In 1974 already some preliminary drafts for the system were drawn, introducing three radial routes for the metro, and in 1976 a final decision was made, when general plans and the first scenario was completed. First geological tests and soil sampling were run from 1977 until 1978, and the seminal first plan would foresee the first route being finished completely in 1985.

Things didn't go as planned, and, at the turn of the decades, the technical-economical plan was not yet accepted. It was promised that the first, nearly 9-km-long line “Zasulauks - VEF” would be started in 1982 and finished in 1990 with all three routes rounded up by 2000. Instead, geological tests would again restart in 1981, then in 1983, and so on, until 1989.

Close to a final draft of all three lines focused toward the city centre. A recreated and corrected version by us (2014).

The plan itself would be ready only in 1984, 1985 or 1986. Then the building would be scheduled to start already in 1988, then in 1990. If so, the last version would bring all three lines to an end around the time we have this virtual city tour - in 2021 (if everything goes as planned that it never did in the USSR).

Despite technical, financial and political hurdles, parcels of land were being reserved for the construction, repair, and production facilities in 1985. A year later it would turn out the whole plan would cost roughly 300M rubbles. We might be speculating but the expenses would be between 10 to 20 times larger when calculating today - probably even more than 5 billion euros for the first line only.


Things radically changed in the turn of 1987/88 when the very first public debates on the topic of metro would be conducted. Ever. The vagueness and uncertainty of the whole designing and building process as well as a large threat of thousands of non-Latvian speaking workers entering the country soon after would cause a wild resistance in the society. Not that the city would not need a well established transport network, it just became an imaginary Goliath to be decapitated in order to stop the russification, money waste, secrecy and political dependence.

At the demonstration that gained popularity with its ironic yet also sometimes dump banners and posters (Ints Kalniņš; 1988).

On 27 April, 1988 the very first civic mass demonstration would result and took place in Riga - probably in the whole USSR back then. Gathering around 10,000 participants, a massive protest would move from Esplanāde across the river Daugava to stop at Arkādijas park. The demonstrators, organized by a movement of environment protection, would demand the termination of any metro building activity and other political and social wrongdoing being stopped.

Few newspapers would gather signatures on the matter of the subway, and by June that year there would be more than 42,000 signatures against and only 62 in favour of the construction. The whole epopee would be postponed by another evaluation of the technical specifications and the whole masterplan would quietly die by the end of 1988 without any notice.


The virtual tour is rich in information and includes 1) little insights to what were the pros and cons to building a metro in Riga, 2) a fast "ride" across the 8 planned stops of the subway as accepted for the first route "Zasulauks - VEF", and 3) sketches of the officially accepted station interior designs.

The interior competition took place in 1983, when 12 groups of renowned architects from Riga, Minsk and Moscow would submit 48 anonymous drafts. Every station would have its own phenotype - that is, particular characteristics and narrative that architects would try to ignore, and its own coded motto.

The layouts, although generally accepted, would turn out very unconventional and nonconformist to the soviet taste, very minimalistic. Many more flouncy and flamboyant sketches are travelling around the web, but the tour will present you the 8 finally confirmed designs, many of them not being online at all.

Should you have some questions along the tour, don’t hesitate and leave them below the video, and subscribe to our channel for new content coming up soon. For that, you are more than welcome to donate to our blog since it takes time and effort to produce such virtual tours. We have one larger idea in mind for our next virtual tour, and any help will be appreciated!

Otherwise, let’s enjoy the ride Riga will most likely never face.