The green wall. The canal greenery and Bastion Hill
In 1850ies, medieval Riga fortifications were destroyed with the permission from Russian tsar Alexander II. In modern times, historical walls were not needed for the city. The world evolved fast, so the historical walls did not serve the basic functions anymore. Therefore, a hill was heaped up instead of the sand bastion, formerly known as Gliemežnīcas kalns (Cockleshell's Hill), kept its name as Bastion Hill up to these days. Similarly as medieval city walls, Bastion Hill, the canal and its greenery had to separate the old city from the new one: modern Riga.
The greenery serves its purpose as a peaceful, lively dam embracing Old Riga and inviting to walk on bridges and spend some time sitting on park benches.
Several plants, not quite common to our climate zone, have been planted in the canal greenery with inconsistent success. Some plants even remain from the second part of the 19th century when Georg Kuphaldt was the first director of Riga gardens.
The American Coffeetree planted by Kuphaldt himself still grows between The Opera and the main building of University of Latvia. The unique, strangely smelling Ginkgo tree with special healing qualities lies opposit the bridge that connects those two, previously mentioned, buildings. Gingko is one of the world's oldest plant species. The Canal Square opposit The Opera House is a particularly romantic place where magnolia from the period of 1970ies and China decorative shrub Forsythia suspensa grow.
Next to the bridge that gets us from The Opera House over the canal, one of the youngest monuments in Riga, The Mayor of Riga George Armistead with his wife and dog established by Queen Elizabeth II, is set. She dedicated the monument to Armistead, whose country origin is Great Britain, in the first part of the twentieth century. One of the most splendid fountains of the capital is set at Opera Square. A naked nymph with a big shell above her head as well as children and dolphins playing at her feet „wallows” in the middle of the figure complex which has been created in 1880ies.
The new fountain is an original copy from the nineteenth century. The sight with the fountain and The White House in the background is now a classic Riga postcard picture.
Bridges, both big and small, are an essential part of the canal sight. The three biggest bridges came first, we often don't even notice them. Three big bridges over the canal were built in times when the medieval wall was taken down connecting Krišjāņa Valdemāra Street, Brīvības Street and Krišjāņa Barona Street with Old Riga. At first, the small pedestrian bridges over the canal was created from wood. The bridge next to Bastion Hill was built too clumsy and steep, so in winters people often fell and slipped. Because of that, the bridge soon was called „the eight wonder of the world”, etc.
The greatest activity of the canal bridges is the newest tradition for newly-weds to lock the keys on bridge parapets in order to keep good longterm relationships.
Tons of keys with a rusty names on it attract many tourists to Bastion Hill bridge. Park supervisers, on the other side, stay worried about the aesthetics of the park. Indeed, a „stay-together-forever” concept seems quite short-term considering the fact that the keys are taken down from time to time for the last 10-15 years.
The mysterious Bastion Hill from Saulkalne dolomite, sands and old Riga walls seems pretty attractive place in the city centre. The romantic shape of Bastion Hill was highlighted in 1880ies when a cafe-pavilion wa opened. The artificial cascade adds a dusty park sweetness since the nineteenth century's end. It formerly was created from decorative travertine rock pieces with the last great renovation more than five years ago.
In 2008, this work received sharp critical responses from architects and urban environment professionals saying that the new cascade is tasteless, degrading to surroundings and does not fit the historical appearance. In 2008, members of The Latvia Association if Architects told "Diena" that this is not a decent cascade renovation. Much rather, it is a serious rebuilding without agreements required. Even taking down the cascade was suggested that time.
The green oasis is not for Riga residents only. Nature makes the rules, as well. The one that tries to adjust to the city rhythm. The one that exposes the city in order to fulfill its needs.
It's hard to imagine someone who had not fed the ducks near the canal. The real challenge was to get closer to the proud, noble, independent swans. A swan house was created by the canal in 1890ies serving its purpose as a splendid luxury in the green city wall. Back then, Riga Bird Breeding Association gave to the city two pairs of swans. At first, the house floated on a pontoon, but later it was anchored to Bastion Hill bank where it was set till 1996. As soon as the swans living in the house died, it was decided to take down the destroyed "swan residence". Former Mayor of Riga Andris Ārgalis renovated it with his private funding allowing two swans, Jānis and Līga, to live in there. The swans are gone now, but the house still keeps empty waiting some new residents.
Still, beavers are the on and only revolutionists at Riga city canal trying to create their own republic by ignoring city rules and nature regularities. "Beavers of Riga canal make Riga City Council worried," told the news a year ago. Beavers could not care less about The Opera House greenery or a hundred year old tree. If their pier is a must, it will be made! Last year, two beaver families lived in the canal. The local authority decided to shut their eyes at them. Though, the metal fences around canal trees is a nice try to get along with nature by keeping the greenery clean.
If one gets lucky, beavers may be noticed at dark night hours or by riding a canal boat. All in all, it's the best way to keep the counter-streem to the harsh city rhytm by enjoying the canal greenery in its true brilliance.