The hidden beauties of RigaUrban explorations in Latvia
Photographer Aleksey from Latvia explores hidden places: He climbs into abandoned ruins or up on tower cranes, and he experiences the threats of the cold war when penetrating former bunkers or military training grounds. Read More
Riga is full of hiddden beauties. But Riga also hides the secrets of it’s history. Former military buildings tell the story of Soviet and Cold War times. Lean back and enjoy an atmospheric time travel through Aleksey’s stunning pictures.
Urban exploration: The way I do it
To start with, let me shortly introduce myself: I am a professional photographer from Riga, Latvia with a passion for nature, animals and industrial views. I’m spending most of my time traveling and living in the wild, in a constant chase for new pictures.
Everyone can do it:
not only tough guys from survival shows on Discovery channel
One of my passions has become to do urban explorations. I climb or crall to abandoned buildings and hidden places in Riga. Although I haven't been doing this through all my life, it turned out to be something really spectacular.
I realized that everyone can do it, not only tough guys from survival shows on Discovery channel! And I wish to encourage you to take a different point of view too. So let me tell you a bit about how I do it – and then let the pictures speak for themselves.
Starting off on Facebook
First of all: What is Urban exploration all about?
“Urban exploration: the exploration of man-made structures, usually abandoned ruins or not usually seen components of the man-made environment.”
Yes, the good old Wikipedia. There is a very nice and detailed article if you want to get some more theoretical knowledge about the subject. But in fact, the best way to get to know about urban exploration is to speak with the people who do it. Those people who know the hidden places and know how to get there, who know how to do it safely and without troubles. And actually, this is the way I got myself into this hobby.
But where to find those people? I did it using facebook. Some months ago I saw the pictures from one guy who has climbed up a tall factory pipe. When I visited his profile it turned out that he has been in all crazy places! Like former blast shelters, industrial towers and all sorts of abandoned buildings. This really amazed me and one of the first thoughts that came to mind was “what if I could get there with my camera - it would be a whole new world of possibilities!”.
And it actually turned out to be.
Up in the air:
Climbing Riga's towers
View the photo gallery on the next page >>
A different world is hidden below your feet
I wrote him a mail, and from the next day we've been climbing up and down with some more urban explorers from Lithuania for the 3 days. We've seen 9 locations: several blast shelters, factories, an army training ground and an abandoned botanical garden. Though I was tired and exhausted, I must admit, that this was one of the greatest impressions during all my life!
Just imagine yourself living in your home city, walking the same old sidewalks and suddenly realizing that a different world is hidden below your feet. A world with it's own history and atmosphere! Or imagine yourself standing atop of a 100 meters former electricity tower with a lot a space beneath your feet and seeing the city from a completely different angle. „Breathtaking” is only one of many excitement words that comes to your mind at that moment.
After the first raid came others, I met a lot of interesting people and made new great friends. Moreover, the chain has grown as some of my friends who were never thinking of doing something similar joined this hobby. And as new good hobbies always do, it brought a lot of positive changes in our lives.
One of the greatest impressions during all my life
Beneath your feet:
Inside Riga's former bunkers
View the photo gallery on the next page >>
Former Soviet bunkers
Re-sensing the Cold War
When talking about the most interesting locations I’ve been to, I would name a former 200 meter high military communication tower; the abandoned secret city of Skrunda; a large old central heating station in Riga; and some other towers that gave me a new view on my city.
Apart from bringing home great photographs, these explorations were also a good physical test and training. And sure it’s a lot of fun feeling like in one of those spy movies!
But it also revealed a lot of historical facts to me. I had never come across the topic of the Cold War in such a way, even though I was always interested in the history of my home city. Because anything that had to do with military defense was a top secret during the Soviet Union times. Of course, I knew there was something going on. But I wouldn’t have ever expected that the Cold War military infrastructure that is left nowadays, is so huge and diverse!
And what struck me was not only this knowledge. When you are standing there yourself, something inside of you changes. In those places I felt feelings I never felt – especially this strong fear of war.
Just imagine the abandoned kindergarten we walked through, with the tiny children boots still in place. And on the walls, the tutorials and guidences about what to do when the atomic bomb hits. I felt not only the fear of losing my own life and the lives of my close people, but of losing the world we are living in.
The secret city of Skrunda:
Skrunda-1, a former Soviet radar station and one of the most secret places in the Balkan, has become a ghost town after the Russian troops left.
Explore the abandoned city through the photo gallery on the next page >>
It disappoints me so much when I see society not paying much attention to this aspect of our history. In Latvia, we don’t have museums documenting these times, although hundreds of former bunkers and blast shelters are still around. Those buildings are being neglected. There is not even a sign for it being a „historical monument”, and only the thieves get in to steal everything that can still be sold.
Hopefully, the times when this kind of buildings were needed have passed. But showing people the real price of peace and the horrors of an approaching war could perhaps help prevent new aggressions. The people who are exploring those places are trying to preserve history with their own means. They have classified collections of documents, plans, gear and other artifacts, that otherwise would be destroyed. Those collections I’ve seen are worth several museums. And I believe there will be a use for them!
The secret city of Skrunda
Today, my photographic focus has turned. But although now I’m spending most of my time searching for landscapes and underwater views, I really love to discover from time to time a new piece of our history, or to get a new breathtaking view.
„But isn’t it dangerous?” - you may ask
It’s really a spectacular hobby. And no doubt, you can find many other secrets and hidden beauties in abandoned places! I encourage you to explore this big and diverse world we are living in. It’s not always necessary to travel far or going only to exotic locations. You can open a whole new world nearby!
„But isn’t it dangerous?” - you may ask. That’s why I pointed that the best way to start seriously exploring your area is to find an experienced man who would be a guide.
If you want to know more, you’ll find many more pictures on my webpage. I want to thank all my good friends who made this possible – especially Arturs Milevics, who was my guide and is one of most experinced urban explorers in Baltic coutries.
Aleksey Stemmer held a speech about his explorations at re:publica conference. Watch the video stream.