Heritage of the historical house of Benjamins
The historical house of the legendary Benjamins family was fully restored and became a luxurious Europa Royale Riga hotel.
We are pleased to introduce and guide you through the history of the Benjamins’ House.
The history of the Benjamins’ House goes back to 1876 and it is related to the wealthy merchant’s family called the Pfabs. The house was designed in the eclectic style by the architects V. Beckman (1832 – 1902) and H. Ende (1829 – 1907) who had been invited from Berlin and had got their inspiration from the Italian Renaissance in Florence. The grandiose brick house with its beautiful terrace and extensive garden was unique for its day and clearly visible in the entire area. For northern Latvia, each ray of sun is worth its weight in gold. And the German architects knew how to use the excellent location of the site to make the sunlight enter the interior of the house and to play with the sumptuous ceiling decorations, the ornamental friezes and to sparkle in the stained glass and chandeliers. The morning and evening rays of the sun mark out the beautiful architectural lines and the chiaroscuro enlivens the adornments, relieves and sculptures. A young sculptor A. Volk (1851 – 1926) was also invited from Germany and it is his art that does not allow us to forget the first owners of the building. Two allegoric girls gracefully adorn the arch above the entrance; one holds a flame but there is a flax spinning wheel by the other girl – the base of the Pfabs’ family wealth. On the balcony two shield bearing lions demonstrate the pride and self-confidence of the family. The Vestal virgin in the niche of the wall – a terracotta copy of the antique statue – is the protector of the home. In the 1920s the Pfabs lost the profitable Russian market and their prosperity began to decline, the large house intended for presentations ruined the health of the owner. Having lived there for 52 years, the family was compelled to leave their magnificent mansion.
There has never been a crowned royal couple in Latvia; however, the uncrowned one was certainly Emilija and Antons Benjamins. In 1928 they bought the Pfabs palace and so the most legendary page in the history of this house began. In 1911, the couple founded the most popular daily newspaper “Jaunākās Ziņas”. Their rapid advance towards millions continued with the publication of the family magazine “Atpūta” in 1924. This magazine even nowadays can be considered as outstanding, interesting and unsurpassed as to its contents. And so the new press magnates of Latvia in their splendid house established what was to be undoubtedly the most influential salon in Riga. Its sumptuous doors were opened only for the selected caste – diplomats, ministers, deputies and other celebrities.
The editors of the newspaper were able to cause crises of the ministers’ cabinet, to choose new ministers and distribute influential directorial posts. The State President was unmarried and so the country did not have “the first lady”.. This vacant place was occupied by Mrs. Benjamiņa self-assuredly and without any timidity. There was an unwritten rule in Riga, that every new artist who wanted to rise in his career had to perform the first concert at the Benjamins’ salon.
The hosts of this building carried out alterations of the interior of the house, built in the Neo-Renaissance style. They engaged the most outstanding Latvian architects, stained-glass artists and painters of the 20s and 30s who imparted to the building the characteristic features of their epoch. They installed the most magnificent treasure of the house, the largest Venetian chandelier in the entire Baltic States. There was silk wallpaper, the finest grand piano in Riga, tapestries, crystal, silver, roses in winter … here everything had to be unsurpassable.
In 1940 the Benjamins House was nationalised and in 1945 it became the home of the Writers, Composers and Artists’ Union. Initially the creative unions were strongly subjected to the Stalinist ideology but a silent opposition to the regime was forming there. In 1965 the Writers’ Union established a new tradition - the Poetry Days. The dissemination of literature among the people started, the influence of art in the society reached its highest apex, creative persons were honoured and loved, books were printed and read at a large scale.. There were literary parties, concerts and exhibitions. In 1987 this was the place where the heads of the People’s Fronts of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia came together, the singing revolution had started. The barricade days of 1991 became a special testimony to the love and faith of the people and creative unions. One farmer had brought a slaughtered pig, which was carved and served on the terrace, women writers cooked soup and fed the defenders of Latvia. The doors of the building were open day and night for the guards of Riga.
In 2006, the Benjamins’ House opened its doors as Europa Royale Riga hotel. Considerable construction work and renovation has been carried out in order to transform this mansion with its special history and unique layout into a functional, comfortable hotel with 60 bedrooms. Not only the building itself but seven of its rooms have been also declared cultural monuments of national importance and therefore the external appearance of the building and the group of representational rooms of the Benjamins’ House where the restaurant and bar is located, were retained without changes.
The majestic premises in the city centre are still a favourite meeting place of the state presidents, ambassadors, ministers and deputies. Historical heredity in the magnificent mansion goes on. The building has an active and attractive public life with corporate parties, pre-Midsummer Day festivities for hotel guests, jazz concerts on the summer terrace, weddings and, birthday celebrations, Christmas art fairs. The frequently heard sentence “I’m here for the first time” is true, because till now only specially invited guests visited this house but now Europa Royale Riga hotel welcomes everyone, giving visitors the chance to breathe in the air of history.