Gaismas Pils – Latvia’s “Castle of Light” illuminates and enthrals

Written by Phil Segall

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Rīga is home to the incredible National Library of Latvia. The “Castle of Light” (“Gaismas Pils” in Latvian) as it is known locally, opened in 2014. This iconic building houses some 4.5 million items, including the Baltic Central Library. It is immense! Its pyramid-like structure extends to an impressive 14 floors and features a massive book tower at its core, not unlike the King’s Tower at the centre of the British Library. You can access a 360° virtual tour of the building via the library’s homepage here: http://www.lnb.lv/en.

The library doubles as a major international conference and events centre – used, for instance, as a venue for a debate hosted by Jonathan Dimbleby, no less, in 2016 as part of the BBC World Questions series. The building oozes with history and culture and offers a striking array of exhibitions dotted throughout its different levels. Though these exhibitions are constantly changing, at the time of visiting these included a film/photo montage featuring kids meeting their doppelgänger elder role models, a woman’s account of being exiled to Siberia during the war (this installation was hidden within a ‘forest’ of rubber tubing for added immersiveness) and a toy exhibition showcasing some painstakingly-intricate, handmade items. There’s even an entire area of the library devoted to those studying for library qualifications!

Don’t miss the spectacular views from the rather smart events facility on the top floor. You’ll also find two pianos up there – one a modern grand and the other an older, upright model which apparently used to belong to one of the building’s designers and now sits at the very pinnacle of the tower (…ask one of the staff and they may even let you have a quick tinkle!).

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