17th-century pedestrian tunnel surprises archaeologists

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An underground walkway dating to the 17th and 18th centuries was discovered beneath the lot at 24 Jēkaba street in Old Town Rīga, LSM learned from archaeologist Mārtiņš Lūsēns Friday.

“Archaeology never ceases to surprise us,” Lūsēns expressed his pleasure at the finding.

The filled-in tunnel, which possibly used to be dozens of meters long led from the city’s center to the Jēkabs half-bastion. It was used to facilitate walking between the locations without having to clamber over the fortress embankments above-ground that protected the town from invasion at the time. The tunnel segment visible to diggers now is about 3.5 meters long.

Work on the securing the findings of this historic discovery will continue for the next two weeks as the tunnel is worked into charts and maps depicting Riga’s layout during the 17th and 18th centuries.

Similar fragments of underground tunnels were found earlier this summer at the square of the Latvian National Opera, prior to that at the Pancake Bastion, Smilšu bastion and hotel Rīdzene. As a particularly interesting finding, the archaeologist cited the Mine Gallery, a tunnel intended to house a store of gunpowder barrels for detonation in case of an invader breaching city walls, meant to inflict maximum destruction as a last-resort.

The best idea of Riga’s former underground pedestrian tunnels can be gleaned from historic maps and charts. As the city experienced reconstruction after reconstruction, the development of its infrastructure and other improvements, the signs of these former tunnels simply disappeared under foundations.

Riga’s artificially created canal ringing the Old Town signals the border of the historic military fortress, beyond which buildings were razed and security zones cleared – including the landscaping on the Esplanade and other downtown parks. During the 1870s the fortification systems were torn down.

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