The Riga Brethren Cemetery
The Riga Brethren Cemetery (‘the RBC’) is the most important and outstanding Latvian memorial ensemble. It is dedicated to the soldiers who fell during World War I and the Latvian Freedom Fights (1915-1920). Ca. 3 thousand heroes, including 300 unknown soldiers, lie buried in the Cemetery ground.
The RBC is situated in the north-east of Riga, 5 km from the City Centre, covering 9 hectares of area. It took 21 year to complete the cemetery. The RBC was completed in two important stages:
- 1915–1923: the scenic part of the Cemetery was created according to proposals by Andrejs Zeidaks, director of the Riga Gardens company.
- 1923–1936: the memorial landscape was turned into a landscaping, architectural and sculptural ensemble according to an idea proposed by the Brethren Cemetery Committee. The architectural section works were led by professor and academician P. Feders. The sculptural section of the RBC was created according to a plan by sculptor K. Zāle. Architect A. Birznieks, sculptors M. Šmalcs, N. Maulics, P. Banders and others took part in the arrangement of the ensemble, too.
The RBC memorial ensemble was consecrated on 11 November 1936 (Lāčplēša diena: the Latvian Freedom Fighters’ Remembrance Day). The ensemble consists of three parts:
- The Reflection Path with a 205 m long linden tree avenue;
- The Heroes Terrace with the Holy Fire Altar and an oak grove;
- The Cemetery which ends in the Wall of Latvia with a sculptural group, the Image of Mother with fallen sons (also known as Mother Latvia), which adds the finishing touch to the ensemble.
The Image of Mother Latvia is visible in the background at a distance of 457 metres as soon as one steps over the Cemetery threshold. It is only after passing over the Heroes Terrace and coming to its side that the sunken cemetery is exposed in all its glory and tragedy. In approaching the symbolic, impassable threshold, with the living on the one side and the dead on the other side, the long Reflection Path has come to an abrupt end.
The RBC memorial ensemble, with its deep artistic expression and the idea expressed in it, is the national pride of Latvia. This is the first ensemble of its kind in Europe.
The ensemble expresses, in the language of landscape, sculpture and architecture, the gratitude of the nation to the fallen heroes. The presence of the nation is expressed by:
- Landscape, using elements characteristic of the Latvian landscape, farmstead and folklore: linden, oak, birch trees, the rosehip, etc.;
- Sculpture, introducing images of heroized ancient Latvian warriors and complementing them with heraldry featuring the administrative divisions of Latvia (which existed in 1936): four areas of the country: Kurzeme, Zemgale, Vidzeme, Latgale; 19 districts and 59 towns. The urn beneath the image of Mother Latvia contains 517 handfuls of soil, a handful from each parish;
- Architecture, built from travertine, a local building material dug out from the subterranean depths of Latvia.
The Brethren Cemetery contains 13 sculptural groups expressed in high relief and bas-relief. Two pairs of Grieving Horsemen stand in the entrance gate. The large Latvian coat of arms, two crosses and figures of years ‘1915-1920’ hover above them (destroyed during the Soviet occupation).
Two expressive groups of the Injured Riders are situated on the sides of the Cemetery: death seems to have drained the force of the ancient warrior but the horses, possessed by a supernatural force, are trying to return them to life. Two Brothers are placed in the introductory section of the central grass parterre of the Cemetery. The final resting place of sculptor K. Zāle lies at their feet. The Wall of Latvia which ends the ensemble is the richest in terms of images. Four figures down on their knees symbolise the Latvian regions. At the top of the wall above them, there is the Motif of Fight in which the figures of the former fighters slide by in a strange vision. The central part of the Wall of Latvia ends in the image of Mother Latvia, an image featuring the grief of the nation and its gratitude to the fallen heroes. Situated below it is the Grand Cross (destroyed during the Soviet occupation). A sculpture of the Ancestors is placed in the unfinished Riflemen Gate.