Viestura dārzs: From the Russian Empire to the Latvian Identity

Viestura dārzs: From the Russian Empire to the Latvian Identity
01 August 2023

Viestura dārzs is a hidden gem of Riga that carries mementos of Riga’s history. Nestled close to the Art Nouveau quarters and a mere 20-minute walk from the Old Town, this park may look unassuming at first sight, but it actually holds a treasure trove of history dating back to the days of the Russian Empire. A visit to Viestura dārzs is therefore equivalent to taking a step back in time. The park is said to be the oldest in Riga, this year being 302 years since its inception. Read on for some fun facts about the park and its monuments!

 

A sign at an entrance to the park with links to the audio guide

Audio Guide to Viestura dārzs

An audio guide to the park is available in Latvian, English, Russian and German. The QR codes to the audio guides are located along the entrances to the park. It provides an engaging narrative about the park’s history and its significant landmarks, allowing visitors to absorb the information at their own pace. I was very impressed by how well-presented the audio guide was, with transcripts in all languages available along with a map to guide your journey along the park. I took the opportunity to practice my Russian listening skills, which I would recommend if possible as I found it to contain more information than the audio guide in English!

 

The stone commemorating the site where Peter the Great planted an elm in the park

Viestura dārzs and Peter the Great

Peter the Great is often credited with the establishment of Viestura dārzs, as he sought to built a dacha (summer residence) close to the sea. One of the most remarkable and historically significant features of Viestura dārzs is the elm tree planted by Peter the Great. The tree is not there anymore, but a plague instead stands to commemorate the very spot where Peter the Great planted the elm tree. The elm was planted by Peter the Great in 1721 to mark the Russian empire’s expansion into Livonia (present-day Latvia).  According to the audio guide, the inscription on the stone is written in Russian and German as follows: “Czar Peter the Great, bringer of fame and wealth to Russia, planted a tree here with his own hands in 1721.”

 

The Triumph of Arch built in honor of Czar Aleksander I

Viestura dārzs and Czar Alexander I

Aside from Peter the Great, the history of Viestura dārzs is also related to Czar Alexander I. Along your exploration of Viestura dārzs, you will encounter the Triumphal Arch, a striking monument along Hanza Street. This is said to be the only Arch of Triumph in the Baltic States. Czar Alexander I built the arch to commemorate Russia’s victory over Napoleon in 1818. The history of this Arch of Triumph as told by the audio guide was very interesting, as the arch was initially installed in a different location: on Freedom Street, a major road in Riga until today. Due to the unpractical design of the arch for roads back then, the authorities sought for different reasons to move the arch paying tribute to the Czar’s success. The arch has been moved twice since then, thus ending up at Viestura dārzs today!

 

Viestura dārzs

A monument dedicated to renowned national composers

The First Song Festival

Another fun fact about Viestura dārzs is that it hosted the very first Song Festival, the start of a national heritage that holds a special place in the hearts of Latvians. Being the very first Nationwide Song and Dance Festival, held here for the first time in 1873, it was an event of immense cultural and historical significance for the country. The festival marked the beginning of a tradition that continues to this day, bringing people together through the power of music and dance. There is a pond and a monument dedicated to the first Song Festival, hence why the park was also called the Song Festival Park (or officially: the Park of the First Latvian Song Festival) before it was renamed as Viestura dārzs! 

 

The park’s historical value is complemented by the dedication of local authorities and preservationists who have worked diligently to ensure its authenticity. By maintaining the original layout and safeguarding the historical landmarks, they have succeeded in preserving Viestura dārzs as a living history book for future generations to explore and cherish. It serves as a reminder that beneath the modern veneer of Riga, lie layers of captivating narratives waiting to be discovered. If you are interested in going off the beaten road in Riga, I would strongly recommend a trip to Viestura dārzs for some rest, recreation and exploration of history. It is truly a park that bears witness to the march of time and the resilience of a city that has triumphed over the challenges of history. 

 

Yeap, currently studying Russian at Liden & Denz Riga

(Photo credits to the author)

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