One of the symbols, often associated with Riga, especially its Old part, is a rooster. Anyone hanging around Old town and looking around and above will notice golden roosters on the tops of churches scattered through Old Riga. Rooster, a very old symbol of Riga with its decorative role nowadays, had a functional purpose before – since the 15th century it served also as a weather vane. Since Riga has always been a port city, its economic activity many centuries ago depended on the weather conditions, and the weather wanes were a tool for getting a weather forecast on a daily basis.
The weather vanes are often met not only in Riga, but also in other cities in the northern Europe. Translated from Dutch, word “vleugel” means “the wing”. The weather vane is a tool used for determining the direction and speed of wind. The first weather vane in a form of a rooster appeared on the top of St. Peter’s church in 1491. It was the highest broach in Europe, its height reached 123 meters. The sailing developed and the need for weather vanes disappeared with time. However, the roosters stayed on the tops of churches and now are the symbols of Riga. The rooster, which can be seen now on the St. Peter’s church, is the seventh since its predecessors. It is also the largest among other roosters of Old Riga. Other churches distinguished with this Riga symbol are Dome cathedral, St. John’s church, and St. Jacob’s cathedral. The oldest rooster is positioned on the top of St. John’s cathedral. It is more than 500 years old and it witnessed many historical periods of Riga.
There is a legend why exactly the rooster has become a symbol of Riga. Many centuries ago, during the construction of the Dome cathedral, one autumn night, Kurshi invaided Riga. Riga could be completely devastated and burned, if not the roosters – their crow awakened the guards. The citizens heard the screams and confronted the invaders. After this the roosters were put on the highest broaches of Riga churches, which please the eyes of Riga residents and guests until nowadays.
They say that the weather vanes were painted in gold and black from two different sides. When the rooster faced the city with its black side, the weather was not expected to be good for the ships to come to the port. And it was believed that the golden side of the rooster promised a favourable weather conditions and a trading day. But at the truth, it was the weather, not the people, which made one side of the rooster black – during the restoration process it was found that the roosted was golden in the beginning, and one of its sides became black due to the influence of a sea wind.
Nowadays roosters, the symbols of Riga, can be seen not only over Old town, but also in many Riga souvenir shops – on various products, like cups, t-shirts etc.