On a history cross. Viesturdārzs or Song and Dance Celebration Park

On a history cross. Viesturdārzs or Song and Dance Celebration Park
Kaspars Garda, Rīga 2014
23-08-2013 A+ A-
As summer is almost gone, our Riga park walks have come to an end, as well. But you, on the other hand, can still visit all those places when the bright and sunny autumn days and foggy late afternoons come. This time, the story will be about the oldest Riga public garden called Riga Song and Dance Celebration Park. Riga people name it Viesturdārzs (Viesturs’ Garden). The park has gone through as many titles as possible, more than any other green area in Riga. The First Emperor Park, Peter’s Island Garden, Hindenburg’s Park, these are only few titles that had changed during all political authorities that ruled in Riga.

Beginnings of Song and Dance Celebration Park are found in 1700s when Russian military forces led by Peter The Great came in Riga soon after The Great Northern war. Riga had been destroyed a lot, though it still was a brilliant trophy being the most important Sweden’s port. Besides, Russian tsar needed to build a new residence with a large and contemporary garden. Former Gustav’s Island was chosen in order to create the new His Majesty Garden at the castle-front fortress or so called Forburg Garden, later called The First Kaiser Garden.

They say Peter The Great drew first park drafts himself by an example of contemporary Dutch and French gardens, but the place was chosen in order to go towards the West and the sea.

 

The Second Kaiser Garden was created closer to the sea, at the Alexander height or in current Sarkandaugava. It was Peter’s idea to move Riga economic centre in Sarkandaugava and Mangaļi, because he found it a more comfortable place for a new Riga port. A part of this garden is now a territory of Riga Psychoneirology Hospital garden at Tvaika Street.

Plans were made splendid, but it’s another story. Current Song and Dance Celebration Park gained great shape during Peter’s domination in Riga. Branches of Daugava river were made swan lakes, but several unknown European trees and shrubs were brought in as well as a summer house built for Peter The Great.

Peter The Great was Russian Emperor in 1721 when he planted an elm in the park. Nowadays, a stool of this elm is girded with a metal enclosure, and a memorial stone lies beside. Later, Miķelis Šindlers, that time gardener, made this park the finest example worth to copy for the rich suburbian estates.

A hundred years later, around 1841, a descendant of Peter’s, another representative from Romanov Dynasty, tsar Nicholas I gave the current Song and Dance Celebration Park to Riga city, and it was named City Garden.

During the upcoming changes, the park was divided into two parts again. One part was open to Riga citizens during days where several competitions and athlets’ performances were shown, but in winter, a skating-rink was available in order to keep a physical form and so called „ice hill” for riding with sleds.

A significant addition for the park improvement was an open-air platform founded in 1873 when Song and Dance Celebration was held for the first time. The famous Riga architect Janis Friedrich Baumanis created a platform for 1000 singers dedicated to this celebration event. In there, a celebration concert and choir competition were organized. 11 000 viewers attended the first concert, they listened to 16 songs, 12 of which were works created by Latvian authors, mainly folk song arrangements.

 

A hundred years later, in 1973, the park went through changes and gained a new title, as well as the important events of 1873 were remembered. The park was named officially as Song and Dance Celebration Park.

The current rectangle basin with fontains was built together with a stone wall and sculptural ensemble with famous Latvian composers’ reliefs on it. Such composers as Alfrēds KalniņšEmilis MelngailisJāzeps VītolsJānis CimzeJurjānu AndrejsEmīls Dārziņš and Pēteris Barisons are seen. In 1990s, after Latvia became an independent state, a text from Latvia hymn: „Dievs, svētī Latviju!” („God, bless Latvia!”) was written on the monument wall.

Traditionally, Latvian Song and Dance Celebration is opened at this park when paying a homage to celebration chief conductors.

 

During 1920s-1930s, the park was named after the legendary Zemgale leader Viestarts or Viesturs, this is why Riga people call it Viesturdārzs much more often than Song and Dance Celebration Park.

By the second part of 1930s, a political decision was made in order to put monuments from several „foreign authorities” times in this park, because it was no longer possible to keep them in the city centre, but to destroy it all would be considered a barbarian act.

That is how current Alexander’s Gate was put in there, inherited from The Russian Empire. This symbol of a victory was built by an example of Triumphal arch in Paris when Alexander I celebrated a victory over Napoleon in 1818. Formerly, the arch was put at Lielā Smilšu iela (The Great Sand Street), later it was moved to Aleksandra iela (Alexander Street), then relocated to Brīvības iela (Brīvības Street) where VEF Bridge is now built. For some time, Alexander Gate showed off next to Biķernieki woods, finally, it was moved to Song and Dance Celebration Park in 1936. 

 

Victory Column standing next to Riga Castle and Monument to Peter The Great were due to meet similar fate, but transporting was not realized as World War II came in. Nowadays, some details from Victory Column lie around Riga Crematorium, but Monument to Peter is now seen at some private Teika courtyard.

Song and Dance Celebration Park is located between Eksporta, Hanzas and Rūpniecības iela relatively far from Old Riga. This is why you can really sense a Sunday holiday feeling more than anywhere else in Riga. People really can get some rest from daily routine in there. Children play some games, but seniors have conversations while sitting on benches. If you visit the park in some summer weekend, you may as well witness some happy moments in life. Northern District Registry Office operates not far from the parks, and newlyweds often drink champagne and make some photos after the registration is over.

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