From Kube Hill to culture summer house. Esplanade through times
A place where crusaders and Livs fought
Wikipedia materials confirm that Esplanade („esplanade” in French) is 8.75 hectares big park in a centre of Riga restricted by Elizabetes, Kalpaka, Krišjāņa Valdemāra un Brīvības iela (Elizabete, Kalpaks, Krisjānis Valdemārs, Brīvība Streets). Monuments to Oskars Kalpaks, Rainis and Janis Rozentāls are located in here. Also Riga Christ's Birth Ortodox Cathedral, The Latvian National Museum of Art and Art Academy of Latvia are built at Esplanade.
During the Middle Ages, Kube Hill stood here, but a female leader of Russia Catherine II ordered to destroy it between 1783 and 1784. Instead, a sandy square for Riga garrison military force use was made. Though, military battles had been fought before. The Livonian Chronicle of Henry tells that a battle of crusades and Livs were held next to Kube Hill in 1198. The second Bishop Bertold then died on that battle.
City walls and bastions were taken down in 1857 when Esplanade land was given to the city. A small part of it was saved for several public events and a military forces training. It is now a current place of Esplanade Park. In 1901, an exhibition of city development, arts&crafts and the industry was held at Esplanade dedicated to Riga 700th anniversary
In 1884, Riga Christ's Birth Ortodox Cathedral was built at Esplanade. In 1903, a former building of Art Academy of Latvia or Riga Stock Exchange Commerce School was created, but in 1905 – Latvian National Museum. Esplanade was used for military parades, Song Celebration and other public events in times of the Republic of Latvia. From 1965, annual Poetry Days are organised near The Monument to Rainis.
The famous landscape architect Georg Kuphaldt started creating Esplanade Park in 1902. His created Esplanade green area project is considered to be one of his most splendid work. Current green area is made during 1950ies with the option to walk through the park.
Military getting on with the arts
Riga Technical University (RTU) professor Jānis Krastiņš shares his knowledge in addition to all those history facts. He has also received Cultural Heritage Grand Prix for his involvement into cultural heritage preservation. „It was just a horse riding path that was planned by Kuphaldt. Active use for other purposes at Esplanade started in 20th century. Back then, Esplanade was a free space for improvements as soon as all new quarters between Old Riga and Elizabetes iela were established,” explains Krastiņš saying that Esplanade used to be a place for military parades supervised by military authorities.
In 1920ies and 1930ies, Latvian Song Celebration and Youth Song Day was held at Esplanade. Therefore, a platform for visitors and a stage for choirs were built by such famous architects such as Aleksandrs Birznieks. „In 1901, an exhibition dedicated to Riga 700th anniversary was held. Back then, former Olavs Commerce School or The Academy of Art and The National Museum of Art were finished,” adds Krastiņš. (NB! Latvian Song and Dance Celebration at Esplanade was organised in 1888 continuing afterwards in 1923, 1926, 1931 and 1933).
While asked about Esplanade as the usual culture events place, Krastiņš says that Song Celebration was transferred to Uzvara Square during the last years of Ulmanis governance where a brand new open-air stage was planned.
„It's clear that a public ice-rink was fixed up at Esplanade during 1920- 1930. It' s all in the poetry of Jānis Ziemeļnieks. We also have pictures with The National museum of Art where the park side of the building reflects into the water of ice-rink.”
The usual Midsummer's Eve and Christmas fairs in Riga was started a short time ago considering the information Krastiņš gives. For instance, no such tradition of fairs was in times of The Republic of Latvia.
Fountains instead of a monument
In 1913, on the 100th anniversary of 1812 battles, a monument to Mikhail Barklai-de-Tolli, a leader of Russian Empire army, was set up. Certain misunderstandings were going on in 2002 when a renovation of this monument was planned.
Politics did not get away from Esplanade too far. On 14 January, 1919, 27 people shot to death for their support to The Soviet Union (so called Communards) were buried behind the Cathedrale. Esplanade was renamed as Communards Square after the order from LSSR leader Pēteris Stučka. Communards were burried in the cemetary soon after government authorities change. Then Esplanade got back its old name. When Latvia was occupied the park was called Communards Park. In 1960, „The Heroes Avenue” was created. It also has a gallery of bronze busts. In 1969, a tablet from granite was put. Those busts dissapeared as Latvia gained its independence in 1991. „I remember that several busts were fixed up on granite platforms on Reimersa iela. To be honest, those figures were made really good in terms of sculpture.”
In 1936, the Monument to Latvian painter Janis Rozentāls (sculptor B. Dzenis) was established next to The National Museum of Art also creating green area. On 11 September, 1965, The Monument to Rainis (sculptor K. Zemdega, architect Dz. Driba) was founded. On 22 June, 2006, The Monument to Oskars Kalpaks (sculptor G.Panteļejevs and architect A.Veidemanis) was founded.
Krastiņš tells that The Monument to Stalin was built in 1950ies along Kalpaks Avenue and between The Monument to Rainis and current Freedom Avenue. Two Esplanade fountains are located in there. „ In fact, The Monument was ready. The statue set up, covered with a white cloth.”
If the crimes of Stalin were exposed just a few months later, this monument would be founded. Nobody told anything about this statue. But people knew it was Stalin's statue. I saw it with my own eyes how the statue was put above the fence covered in this white cloth."
The statue was taken down soon, the fence was put away and fountains created. A decent green area was made from that time. The main principle, apart from both linden avenues, is the same it was in 1950ies," says Krastiņš noting that Esplanade and the rest of the city might be well set by the time Riga becomes The European City of Culture.
Esplanade titles through various times
1843 – Marss Square (Marsfeld).
1858 – Parade Square (Paradenplatz).
1934- 23 July, 1940. – Union Square.
February 2, 1919 to May 22, 1919, 1941 and 1944 to 1992. – Communard Square.
From 1992 – Esplanade.
P.S. Thanks for the support to The National Library of Latvia and www.zudusilatvija.lv website for giving the original photos!