Powder Tower (Riga)

Powder Tower in Riga


Description of the Powder Tower in Riga

Powder Tower in Riga is one of the last remaining parts of medieval city walls and defence fortifications that once protected the city against the attack from foreign armies and sea pirates. In 1330 the Sandtower (German: Sandturm), the forerunner of the Powder Tower, was first mentioned. In 1515 the tower was converted into canon tower. When Sweden conquered Riga in 1621, the Zandtoren (Sand Tower) was razed to the ground. In 1650 the tower was rebuilt, now as a powder tower. The tower measured 25 meters high and got a diameter of 14.5 meters. The walls were three meters thick. During the conquest of Riga by the Russians in the Great Northern War in the year 1710, the Poder tower was hit by nine cannonballs, which caused almost no damage. Powder Tower has been reconstructed on several occasions and since the seventeenth century it has taken its present name because of the powder that was stored there. Its current aspect dates from 1650. Powder Tower was reconstructed between 1937 and 1940 when it was incorporated into the structure of the Latvian War Museum according to a design of A. Galindoms. It measures 25.6 meters in diameter.


The initial stage of history

The tower was first mentioned in an annalistic source in 1330 in connection with the conquest of the city by the troops of the Livonian Order. Especially for Master Eberhardt von Monheim, a hole was made in the fortress wall with a cannon shot, through which the suzerain drove into the newly conquered Riga with pomp. The members of the order council decided to improve the fortification system of the city, and in the place where the historically significant Great Sandy Road entered the city center, a tower was erected, which was named after the features of the surrounding relief - Peschanaya. There is an assumption that the tower appeared before the order conquest, at the end of the 13th century. The name of the tower was connected, among other things, with the fact that the delta of the Riga River was framed by long sand dunes. According to them, the trade route got its name, and later - the tower and bastion. Initially, it had a horseshoe-shaped, “open” shape, but already in the middle of the 14th century it was rebuilt and acquired a cylindrical shape, which it has retained to this day. In the medieval period, the tower guarded the city from the north and was a strategically important point of defense.

Initially, in the early period of the city's history, the Sand Tower limited the so-called Russian Compound (German: Russische Dorf), the territory of which extended to the place where the building of the Seimas of Latvia is now located. The neighboring tower was named Russian - after the area where Russian artisans lived and Pskov and Polotsk merchants stopped. In total, the medieval city was guarded by 28 towers, at different times they acquired different names. As for the Sand Tower, already during the next restructuring, which took place on the instructions of the master of the Livonian Order, it was rebuilt into a six-story one, and between the fifth and sixth floors, the fortification masters equipped a special “pantry for catching cannonballs”. This contraption consisted of criss-crossed oak and pine logs that "captured" projectiles flying from above and held them in the openings between the logs.

Despite these fortification tricks, the tower was heavily damaged during the fighting of the Swedish-Polish war in 1621. Despite this, the Swedish authorities took measures to reorganize the system of city fortifications, and the tower was rebuilt. Perhaps it was from that time that they began to call her Powder. There is a widespread version of the origin of the new name, according to which the tower was adapted for storing gunpowder in relatively peaceful times. However, this version seems not quite logical: after all, if a shell had hit the tower, in which the stocks of gunpowder were concentrated, it would have had the most sad consequences for the whole city. Moreover, it was shelled many times: the first time it happened in 1656 during the siege of the city by the troops of the Russian Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich during the Russian-Swedish War - then 9 cores hit the tower. The Powder Tower received the next "portion" of cores in 1709, when the siege of the city began by the army of Boris Petrovich Sheremetev, the commander of the Russian Tsar Peter the Great, who also took an active part in the siege of Riga. The urban legend says that the cannonballs on the Powder Tower were fired by the hand of the Russian autocrat himself, who thereby, firstly, personally took revenge on the "hated" Swedish city, which at one time gave him an inhospitable reception (the times of Governor E. Dahlberg), and in secondly, he gave the official signal for the beginning of the siege of the city. As a result, Riga was taken, and three cores on one side, as well as nine cores on the other, remained within the walls of the tower to this day.


Tower use

Russian empire
During the Russian Empire, the tower was abandoned. There were no wars, and by the middle of the 19th century, the question arose of dismantling the system of city fortifications, which territorially hampered the development of the city. By order of the Governor-General of the Baltic region A. A. Suvorov in 1856, a large-scale plan for the reconstruction of Riga was adopted. It was assumed that all elements of the fortress wall were to be torn down. An exception was made for the Powder Tower in order to leave this example of fortification for history. As a result, the tower was empty for about 30 years before the question of its status received a new decision.

In 1892, the space of the tower was transferred to the Rubonia student corporation, whose members professed the ideas of aggressive nationalism. Alfred Rosenberg (Hitler's ally, Minister of the Occupied Territories), Arno Schickedanz (Reichskommisar) and the "Godfather" of the Munich Beer Putsch M.E. von Scheubner-Richter were prominent members of the Rubonia.

The then mayor of Riga, Ludwig Kerkovius, met the requests of the students of the Riga Polytechnic, and they, in turn, undertook to overhaul the building at their own expense, which was done. Part of the money spent on repairs was raised by the students from the sale of a large amount of pigeon droppings that had accumulated in the tower during its inactivity to the owners of the surrounding garden plots.

After the repair, the tower began to be used in a new way. The “pantry for catching cannonballs” turned into a hall for fencing. Also in the tower were equipped with several dance halls and a pub.

Independent Latvia
The Powder Tower served as a student entertainment center until 1916. Students who did not want to leave their homes even with the outbreak of the First World War were asked to vacate the premises of the tower. The museum of the Latvian Rifle Regiments (Latvian Riflemen) was opened in the tower, which later replaced the Military Museum. According to other sources, the Military Museum did not immediately settle in the tower, but at first it was reoriented for the needs of the district police department. This continued until 1938, when the self-proclaimed President of Latvia, Ulmanis, decided to transform the building of the police department into the city's Military Museum. Restoration work continued for about 2 years, as a result of which the tower acquired its modern look. Next to the Powder Tower, the building of the Military Museum was built, designed by the architect Galindom in the neoclassical style.

Soviet period
With the establishment of Soviet power, another use was again found for the tower: the Nakhimov Naval School was opened in it. In 1957, the tower housed another museum, this time the Museum of the October Revolution, the main ideological museum of the republic.

After the restoration of independence
After independence was declared in 1991, the Soviet museum was replaced by the Latvian Military Museum, whose exposition is located in the Galindom building and partly in the Powder Tower building.

According to unofficial information, under the building of the Powder Tower there are underground military bunkers, equipped before the Second World War and still classified.