SANCTUARY FOR NATION SOLDIERS
Location: N56° 58` 57.2", E24° 8` 54.74"
On 18th of November, 1918, which was seven days after the WW I it was the first time in history when Latvians were able to create their own country and in Riga Second theatre (today known as National Theatre) the most excellent politicians declared independence of Latvia and formed a temporary government. But during the battles for freedom the new country had to defend itself both against the communists who had their power in Russia, and German army which was on our land at that time. The battles for independence were happening until 1920. In 1920 it was started to discuss about architectural and artistic embellishment of warrior’s cemetery in Riga.
Warrior’s cemetery complex in Riga is one of the most excellent memorial ensembles of the 20th century in the world which has been created in style of the 20th century modern architecture. At the end of the 30ies of the 20th century warrior’s cemetery in Riga was purposefully created as the central sanctuary or necropolis which carries the memory of fallen Latvian soldiers putting an accent of the buried soldier affiliation to the units of the first national army (Latvian riflemen squadron in Russian army during the WW I and Latvian armed forces later called Latvian army during the Latvian battles for freedom). Warrior’s cemetery with its artistic and architectural execution and also with its location in the capital city had become one of the identity symbols of the new national state. Latvian riflemen and warrior’s cemetery in Riga is a perpetuation of soldier life, the end of their sufferings and heroism of the fighters. It is the biggest sanctuary of our nation soldiers which was started to be constructed and taken care of in autumn of 1915, when German army was standing behind the gates of Riga. It happened during anxious times when thousands of volunteers joined Latvian riflemen battalion and our first units were off to front. The creation of the cemetery ensemble can be connected with the name of Andrejs Zeidaks. Thank to A.Zeidaks caring and professional activity the cemetery have been created after a specific order and plan since the very beginning. A new span in formation of warrior’s cemetery started with participation of sculptor Kārlis Zāle who offered an individual style of modern art in original forms with a deep and emotional subtext. He improved warrior’s cemetery with sculpture elements and many people are considering warrior’s cemetery as an artistic expression of K.Zāle. Architects also played an important role, especially academic Pēteris Feders who worked from 1924 until his death in 1936. The crucial step of P.Feders must be remembered – moving figure of the Mother in layout made by K.Zāle from the central platform to the back wall of the grave field. It brought an understanding in spatial organisation of warrior’s cemetery, without which the today’s shape would not be possible.
The monumental gates of the warrior’s cemetery can be seen from afar – the border of the life and death. This kind of symbolic border is very ancient starting from the first legends of different nations about the life after death, paradise and spirit realm. In the old county farms gates meant the border between the outer world and the small farm world. In Latvian cemeteries gates also divide the world of the dead from the world of the living. The grand avenue is starting behind the gate (path of contemplation) where equal size lindens are growing in three lines by each side. They are symbolising brides and mothers who are seeing off their fallen men on their last walk. There used to be a briar-rose hedge through the whole avenue under the lindens – the hedge which blooms red during the summer and pinks its fruits during the winter portrayed the difficult and bloody path of the soldiers. The image of Mother can be seen through the gate isle. The sorrow of the Mother can be symbolically felt. Oak trees are surrounding the terrace of the heroes – symbol of power and endurance. These oaks are our men, the guardians of our mother land who are protecting the peace of the fallen soldiers standing in beautiful lines around the altar place – fire. A view to a grave field opens when passing the Holy fire and walking up the terrace stairs. It is hidden from the visitors until then, and the visitor who visits this place for the first time would never imagine that there could be something else over the edge of the terrace – only the image of the Mother can be seen in the distance. And suddenly a light, sun-lit field emerges from the deep of the distance. Memory plates are lining in belligerently straight lines surrounded by elegantly sheared hedges and a lot of simple, beautiful and small wintergreen plantation typical for small Latvian countryside cemeteries. The road further goes through the sidewalks. It is like a moment of contemplation when we are kind of walking underground in to the world of the spirits. The ornamental design of the footpaths, hedges and flowers can now be seen in a foreground.
The first burial places on the upper cemetery was started to form in 1915. Only when the grave lines who were made in parallel of this slope were full, perpendicular graveyard lines oriented at the end of the grave field were made. Together there are five burial lines on the upper cemetery, formatted in two groups. The upper cemetery is marked off not only with the stairs which are leading down to the “valley of the dead” but also with architecturally formed walls where so called chambers are successfully composed who have both memorial and practical meaning. Memorial plates and he masks of the known and unknown soldier are immured in the side walls and in the wall under the upper platform. The memorial plates are made from German limestone and there are texts carved on them expressing the respect to the fallen fighters mentioning also their names. The slopes of the upper cemetery are made from turfs and planted with hedges. The last sculpture group “Two brothers” made by K.Zāle has been placed at the bottom of the cemetery turned against the image of Mother. The sculpture is showing two collapsed bodies – father and son. The soul of the warrior’s cemetery ensemble – sculptor K.Zāle (died in 1942) has been buried directly in front of this sculpture.
The lower cemetery marked off with three meter high walls and rhythmically interrupted arches made on the both sides – by pools with the flowing water – are kind of leading us to the world of peace. The graves which are arranged in straight lines are marked off only with the edges, and each grave is marked with an identical form Rauna dolomite plate with an engraved name, surname, rank and dates of birth and death of the deceased.
Thujas are growing through the sides of the cemetery and trimmed hedges and magnificent flowers are blooming between the lines of the graves.
The composition of the Mother image with two sleeping injured soldiers is a full plastic statue which are not so many in the cemetery ensemble. Large spruce trees are growing behind the image of Mother and oaks and birches can also be seen. The whole arrangement is deeply based on our folk-songs, legends and feelings of the after world, which in general creates a powerful emotional impression.
Allaži calcareous tufa was chosen as the main material for the complex. Its benefits were: easily obtained and sufficient reserves of local calcareous tufa, good options for material processing and also suitability both for making the sculptures and finishing of the walls, gates and architectural elements. The raw material and foundation of these constructions was limestone which resource in Latvia was unlimited. A simple bricks are used in some places as well.