Freedom Monument (Riga)

Freedom Monument (Riga)


cnr of Brīvības iela and Raiņa bulvāris
Change of Guards: 9am- 6pm daily, every hour

Freedom Monument (Riga)The Freedom Monument is a monument built in memory of those who died in the freedom struggle of Latvia in Freedom Square in the center of Riga. It is a symbol of Latvian statehood, unity, independence and freedom of the Latvian people.

The monument, unveiled in 1935, is 42 meters high and made of gray and red granite, travertine, reinforced concrete and copper. The composition of the monument consists of thirteen sculptures and bas-reliefs depicting the history and culture of Latvia. The massif of the monument is made of monolithic quadrangular forms arranged one above the other. Towards the top, the shape of the monument narrows and turns into a 19-meter-high obelisk, at the top of which is the 9-meter-high statue of Liberty - a young woman holding three gilded stars in her hands.

After the Second World War, the authorities of the Latvian SSR considered the possibility of demolishing the monument. It is believed that the monument was saved by Vera Mukhina, who believed that the monument was an artistic value, the destruction of which would offend the most sacred feelings of the Latvian people. Although the monument was not demolished, its symbolic meaning began to be interpreted according to Soviet ideology. However, the Freedom Monument still remained a symbol of national independence for the people, and on June 14, 1987, three years before the restoration of Latvia's independence, the first anti-Soviet demonstration took place near it, attended by about 5,000 people - the laying of flowers at the Freedom Monument Soviets organized by Helsinki-86 in memory of the victims of the regime's mass deportations.



The idea to build a monument dedicated to the Freedom Struggle appeared in 1922, when the Prime Minister of Latvia at the time, Zigfrīds Anna Meierovics, asked to develop the rules for a competition for the construction of a "memorial pillar". After several competitions, the project "Shine like a star!" by Kārlis Saale was chosen. Construction works began in 1931 and were financed by public donations. The monument was opened on November 18, 1935, the 17th anniversary of the declaration of the Latvian state.

After the Second World War, when the Soviet occupation resumed, there were plans to demolish the monument; documents related to these plans have disappeared, although it is possible that some documents have survived in unclassified Russian archives, but for now historians have to draw conclusions based only on oral testimony. The first attempt took place already in 1945, when the Council of People's Commissars of the Latvian SSR made a proposal to restore the monument to Peter the Great. Considering that this monument used to be located only a few meters from the current location of the Freedom Monument, its restoration would automatically require the destruction of the Freedom Monument. It is not known how the discussion of this plan ended, but it is believed that the monument was saved by Riga-born sculptor Vera Mukhina - her son claims that Mukhina participated in the meeting where the fate of the monument was decided and, when asked for her opinion, said that the monument has outstanding artistic value and its demolition would offend the most sacred feelings of the Latvian people. However, no documents have been found to confirm that it really happened.

In the summer of 1963, the KGB of the Latvian SSR and the Central Committee of the LKP considered the possibility of blowing up the monument, but it was decided that the demolition of the monument would only cause indignation and tension in society, however, in this case too, there is no written evidence that it actually happened. During the times of Soviet Latvia, the meaning of the Freedom Monument was interpreted according to Soviet propaganda - for example, it was claimed that the three stars held by Mother Russia and symbolizing the three Baltic Soviet republics - the Latvian SSR, the Estonian SSR and the Lithuanian SSR, while the monument itself was built after the Second World War as a nation thanks to the leader of the USSR, Joseph Stalin, for the release. Later, however, such claims were hushed up, for example, in an encyclopedia published in 1988, it was claimed that the monument was built to mark the liberation of the working people from the yoke of the German barons and the autocracy of the tsar.

Despite the propaganda, the Freedom Monument was a powerful anti-Soviet symbol during the occupation, becoming one of the most important figures of the Awakening movement. On June 14, 1987, about 5,000 people placed flowers at the monument without authorization.


Appearance of the monument

Freedom RigaThe sculptures and bas-reliefs of the Freedom Monument are arranged in 13 groups representing the history and culture of Latvia. The massif of the monument is made of monolithic quadrangular forms, arranged one above the other and narrowing towards the top, turning into an obelisk. The rear part of the monument is surrounded by a 1.8 meter high red granite staircase with ten steps. The staircase is surrounded by a three-meter-thick railing, on which there are two 1.7-meter-high and 4.5-meter-wide travertine bas-reliefs - Latvian archers (13) and Latvian nation - singer (14). Two more steps form the platform on which the monument stands, its diameter is 28 meters; at the front of the monument, this platform forms a small rectangle, which is used for placing flowers and honor guard. The base of the monument consists of two red granite blocks: the lower one is 3.5 meters high, 9.2 meters wide, 11 meters long and monolithic, while the upper one, which is 3.5 meters high, 8.5 meters wide and 10 meters long, is decorated with four groups of sculptures with three sculptures in each group, set in rounded niches at the corners of the block, while its sides are covered with travertine panels. On one of the travertine panels in the front of the monument, between the groups of sculptures Tēvzemes sargi (9; depicts an ancient Latvian soldier with two 20th century soldiers kneeling next to him) and Job (10; depicts a fisherman and a craftsman, between whom stands a farmer holding a a scythe decorated with oak leaves, which symbolizes strength and masculinity), carved Kārlis Skalbe's dedication to the Fatherland and freedom (6). On the side panels there are two bas-reliefs - 1905 (7; depicts the events of the 1905 revolution) and Battle against the Bermontians on the Iron Bridge (8; depicts the battle against the Bermontians on the Riga Iron Bridge). In the rear part of the monument there are two more groups of sculptures - Servants of the Spirit (11; depicts the ancient Latvian crook, holding a crooked staff - krivuli, he passes on the wisdom accumulated over the centuries to a scientist and writer) and Family (12; depicts a mother with two children). Higher up is another block of gray granite, 6 meters high and wide and 7.5 meters long, surrounded by four 5.5-6 meter high groups of sculptures: Latvija (2), Lāčplēsis (3), Chain Pullers (4; depicts three men bound in chains and trying to break them) and Vaidelotis (5; depicts a young man with a wooden stick, a young man with a sword lowered to his side and stuck into the ground, showing the superiority of spirituality over physical strength. The sculpture also contains the ancient mysticism of the people - a horse's skull, which symbolizes deliverance from all evil). Above this strip of sculptures is a 19 meter high travertine obelisk, which is 2.5 meters wide and 3 meters tall at the bottom. In the obelisk's front and back parts, the middle line of the monument is emphasized by a strip of glass. At its end is a 9-meter-long image of Liberty made of copper (1) in the form of a young woman holding three gilded stars in her hands, symbolizing freedom and Latvia's cultural and historical regions; the image's belt is also gilded. The entire monument is built around a reinforced concrete frame, which was originally reinforced with lime mortar and lead and bronze cables. During the restoration, some of these materials were replaced with polyurethane binder. Inside the monument is a small technical room that can be entered through a door at the back of the monument. It houses the wiring, access to the sewers, and the stairs leading to the top of the monument. The room is used as a warehouse and is not open to the public, but at the beginning of 2008, the idea appeared to set up a small exhibition in this room, to be shown to high-ranking foreign officials who lay flowers at the monument during state visits.



The Freedom Monument fits well into the surrounding environment, forming a unified architectural, scenic and artistic whole with it. It is located in the center of Riga, at the beginning of Brīvības boulevard, near Old Riga. In 1990, the 200-meter long part of Brīvības boulevard between Aspazijas and Rainiš boulevards was closed to traffic, creating the Brīvības monument square. Part of this square includes a bridge over the 3.2-kilometer-long City Canal, which winds through parks and boulevards. In the park to the north of the monument is Bastejkalns, which was created in the 19th century by excavating the city's protective ramparts, and to the south of the monument is the Latvian National Opera. On the other hand, at the western end of Monument Square, there is a cafe and Laima laikrodis, which is the most famous meeting place in Riga. The front of the monument faces Old Riga and the Daugava behind it. Initially, it was planned to build an oval square around the monument, which would be surrounded by an approximately 1.6-meter high granite wall with benches inside, while thuja trees were planned to be planted along the wall from the outside. In the eighties of the 20th century, the possibility of implementing this plan was discussed, however, the construction of the square was not started.



The idea of ​​building a memorial to those who fell in the freedom struggle appeared already at the beginning of the twenties: on July 27, 1922, the Prime Minister of Latvia at that time, Zigfrīds Anna Meierovics, ordered the development of rules for the competition for the creation of a "Memorial Pillar". In the 1922 competition, sculptors Burkardas Dzeni, Emīla Melderis, Kārli Zāli, Teodoras Zaļkalnas and architects Eiženas Laubis and Ernests Štalbergs were invited to participate. Laube's project, which planned to build a 27-meter-high column surrounded by a classical balustrade with bas-reliefs of Krišjānis Baron and Atas Kronvaldas, as well as symbols of state power, was recognized, but this project was rejected after receiving a protest signed by 57 cultural workers. In October 1923, another competition was held, using the name "Freedom Monument" for the first time, in which Marta Liepiņa-Skulme and Kārlis Zāle shared the victory. In March 1925, a closed competition was announced again, in which E. Laube, M. Liepiņa-Skulme, E. Melderis, K. Zāle, T. Zaļkalns participated. Zaale's and Melder's designs were recognized as the best, but due to disagreements among the jury, the final decision was not made. Finally, in 1929, another competition was announced. Out of 32 works submitted in this competition, the works of K. Zaale, T. Zaļkalnas and K. Baumani (Zemdegas) were recognized as the best and they decided to build the monument according to K. Zaale's project "Shine like a star!". The construction of the Freedom Monument began on November 18, 1931, although with the design corrections of the supervising architect Ernests Stahlbergs. The image of freedom is forged in the workshop of Swedish sculptor Ragnar Myrsmeden (Swedish: Ragnar Myrsmeden) in Stockholm, while the stars of the monument are forged by metal artists Arnolds Naika and Jānis Zibens.

The construction of the monument was financed by funds donated by private individuals. The place where one of the main monuments of the city - the bronze statue of Peter I - was already located was chosen for the construction. The monument was opened on November 18, 1935 by the then President Alberts Kviesis. At the time, it was estimated that 308,000 man-hours were spent on breaking and processing the stones alone during the four years of construction - it would take one man 130 years to complete such work, even with the most modern machinery of the time, and the total weight of the materials used was said to be 2,500 tons - 200 wagons would be needed to move this amount of material by rail.



Over time, the monument suffered from frost and rain, as well as from air pollution. Although the street around the monument was closed to traffic in 1990, there are streets with busy traffic near the monument. High air pollution with nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide was found near the monument, which causes corrosion of the monument's materials when combined with water. In addition, the water has caused cracking of the reinforced concrete frame of the monument and rusting of its steel armature and monument fasteners, which have also been damaged by vibrations caused by traffic. Porous travertine has begun to crumble over time and its pores have filled with soot and sand particles, causing the travertine to blacken and creating a breeding ground for mosses and lichens. Also, the condition of the monument has deteriorated due to irregular or inept restoration works. In order to reduce future damage, in 2001, during the restoration, part of the monument's fastenings were replaced with polyurethane binder and the monument was waterproofed. It was also determined that the state of the monument should be re-evaluated every two years.

The monument has been restored several times, two restorations took place during the Soviet era (in 1962 and 1981), after regaining independence, the monument was restored from 1998-2001, largely with donated funds. , the restoration was completed with an official reopening on July 24, 2001. During this restoration, the Statue of Liberty and its stars were cleaned, restored and re-gilded. The base of the monument, the obelisk, the stairs and the interior were also restored, but the stone materials were cleaned and re-stitched. The foundations of the monument were also strengthened to prevent them from sinking. A few years after the restoration, it was discovered that the gilding of the stars had started to deteriorate due to an incorrectly chosen restoration technique. The stars were restored during the restoration of the monument in the spring of 2006.



Following the initiative of the former President of Latvia Valdas Zatlers, the Freedom Monument Illumination Fund was founded on October 4, 2018, whose mission is to organize the development, coordination and implementation of the Freedom Monument Illumination Project. With the campaign "Light for our freedom" the foundation is publicly collecting donations to implement the illumination of the monument. In order to promote fundraising, the foundation has officially obtained the status of a public benefit organization, providing the opportunity for donors to receive tax benefits.

Conceptually, the project is planned to be implemented on three levels: daily lighting will illuminate the monument in the dark hours of the day; festive lighting will illuminate the monument and its square on national holidays and other festive occasions, while the special lighting is conceived as a work of light art, which will be realized on special festive occasions with the latest lighting technologies.

In order to implement the project, the Freedom Monument Illumination Fund has concluded a tripartite cooperation agreement with the legal owner of the monument - the Riga Monuments Agency and the National Cultural Heritage Administration. The Riga Monuments Agency is entrusted with the implementation of construction works, and the National Cultural Heritage Administration is entrusted with the general supervision of the project in the field of protection of cultural monuments.

As part of the first stage of the Freedom Monument lighting project, for the first time in history, a photometric survey of the monument has already been carried out and an electronic 3D model of the monument has been created. The creation of this model is not only the basis for further work on the development of the lighting design, but also provides a high-precision reproduction of the monument model in the interest of preserving the cultural and historical heritage.

Internationally acclaimed Latvian architect Austris Mailītis, lighting artist and lighting equipment engineer Normunds Bļasāns, as well as light and video projection artist Māris Kalve are involved in the development of the lighting model. Valdis Zatlers, Pēteris Cielavs and Sandis Bērtaitis have undertaken the organizational management of the fund, while the supervision of the fund is carried out by Rūta Dimanta, Raimonds Graube and Kristīne Saulīte.