The Cat House in Riga

What is the legend of the two black cats on a house in Riga Old Town and why does this building in Riga have two black cats on its roof? And why have these cats become the unofficial symbols of Riga? Nobody knows for sure, although there are plenty of stories relating to their placement atop the house’s turrets.

Whilst sightseeing in Riga you may come across ‘The Cat House’. Sometimes called Black Cat House or Riga Cat House, this building has become the unofficial symbol of Riga. The house itself dates from 1909 (architect: Friedrich Scheffel) and is a mixture of styles, most notably its medieval twin turrets, on which the cats are perched, and its elaborate Art Nouveau portal surrounding the main entrance. It stands on Livu Square in the centre of Old Riga opposite the Great Guild hall.

Stories regarding the origin of the two black cats centre on the building owner’s relationship with the members of the Great Guild, and the Riga Town Council. One legend suggests that he was denied entrance to the guild and in disgust had two scared cats with arched backs placed on his house, posteriors pointed towards the offending guild. The cats were only turned around when he finally gained admittance. Another suggests that he had problems getting permission to build the house from the town council, and the cats’ bottoms pointed in their direction until a court order led to their reversal.

Nowadays the two black cats point nowhere in particular, but are constantly posing for the passing snap-happy tourists. They have become a symbol of the city of Riga, due to the popularity of the legend, but also possibly due to most Latvians’ love of cats, and the number of cats you can see when walking the streets of Riga.

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