A History of Roosters in Riga

A History of Roosters in Riga
10 July 2023

If you have seen a photo of the skyline of Riga, then you might have noticed the rooster perching on top of major churches in the heart of the Old Town. These roosters you see in Riga serve as the weathervanes of the churches and can be very commonly spotted all across the city. However, they are not officially the national animal of Latvia; another bird, the white wagtail, is. So why and how exactly did the rooster become such a significant part of Latvia? Now, the rooster is an iconic symbol in Riga and Latvia, with a rich historical and cultural significance deeply rooted in the country’s folklore and traditions. It holds a special place in the hearts of Latvians and has come to represent their national identity and heritage.

The origins of the roosters in Riga can be traced back to ancient times. The rooster was associated with the sun and the arrival of a new day, symbolizing hope, awakening, and the triumph of light over darkness. It was believed that the rooster’s morning crowing would bring good luck and ward off evil spirits, defending people against evil.

During the 19th century, as Latvia experienced a national awakening and sought to assert its cultural identity, the rooster became a popular motif in folk art and embroidery. It adorned traditional costumes, household items, and was featured in decorative patterns. The rooster’s image became synonymous with Latvian craftsmanship and was a source of pride for the people.

The rooster’s symbolism gained further prominence during the struggle for independence in the early 20th century. As Latvia fought for its freedom from foreign rule, the rooster emerged as a symbol of resilience, bravery, and national unity. It embodied the spirit of the Latvian people who were determined to protect their language, culture, and traditions.

There is a tradition with regards to the rooster’s weathervane sitting on top of St. Peter’s Church. The rooster has been replaced seven times by now, and every time that it is replaced, a glass of wine is drunk on the back of the rooster, then the glass is dropped. The glass that smashes into shards symbolizes the number of years and longevity of the weathervane rooster that has been newly erected. The weathervane also used to appear black on one side and gold on another. The gold side showing was thought to represent the weather permitting sailors and ships to enter the port, while the black side was supposed to warn seamen of the dangers entering the port at that particular time. 

The rooster has become an enduring symbol of Latvia due to its deep-rooted historical significance and cultural associations. From religious beliefs to the fight for independence, the rooster has come to represent the spirit and identity of the Latvian people. Its presence in traditional art and contemporary culture serves as a reminder of the country’s rich heritage and the resilience of its inhabitants. 


Yeap, currently studying Russian at Liden & Denz Riga

(Photo credits to the author)

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