Brothers' Cemetery (Riga)
Eternal fire and statue of Mother Latvia in the background.
|Number of graves||>2800|
The Brothers' Cemetery or Cemetery of the Brethren (Latvian: Brāļu Kapi), also sometimes referred to in English as the Common Graves or simply as the Military Cemetery, is a military cemetery and national monument in Riga, capital of Latvia.
It was built as an integrated combination of sculpture and landscaping between 1924 and 1936, to designs by the sculptor Kārlis Zāle, many of whose sculptures feature prominently, by the architects P. Feders, A. Birzenieks, P. Kundziņš, the landscape gardener Andrejs Zeidaks, the sculptors J. Cirulis and F. Valdmanis and others.
The cemetery consists of an area of 9 hectares in northeastern Riga, 5 kilometers from the city center. It borders the First Forest Cemetery and Rainis Cemetery. The memorial expresses national gratitude to the fallen heroes through cultural references to the Latvian nation. The main gate of the cemetery is 10 meters high and 32 meters wide. To either side of the entrance, on 2 meter high platforms, is a sculptural group 3.3 meters high representing a pair of dying ancient Latvian horsemen. The riders and horses in the righthand sculptural group have straight stances; one of the horses has its head thrown back, and upward movement dominates in the group. This is in contrast to the lefthand group, which is dominated by downward movement as expressed through the bowed heads of the riders and horses; the riders have lowered their shields and the flags they are carrying. Above the entrance the dates 1915 (when the first burials in the cemetery were made) and 1920 (the last year of the Latvian War of Independence) are displayed; between the two dates the gate is decorated with the coat of arms of Latvia. From the main entrance the 205 meters long Road of Thoughts leads through an avenue of linden trees to the Terrace of Heroes, encircled by an oak grove planted in 1923. The terrace, paved with slabs of tufa, is about 73 meters wide and 78 meters long; in its center is placed the 1 meter high altar of eternal fire. As the Terrace of Heroes rises above the Road of Thoughts it hides from sight the central burial ground, which is on a lower level than the Road of Thoughts, until one has crossed the terrace, which thus provides a panorama of the burial ground and forms a barrier between the worlds of the living and of the dead.
On 26 September 1914 Riga City Council received a request to set aside burial grounds, which could later form a separate cemetery, for soldiers killed in action during World War I. The dunes next to the Forest Cemetery were chosen for the purpose. The first soldiers buried there, on 15 October 1915, were J. Stūris, A. Havernass and I. Timms. As the war continued, more and more burials were made, and it soon became necessary to plan them so that the graveyard could be extended to meet the continuing need. Such a plan was made by Andrejs Zeidaks, then the head gardener of the city.
In 1920 a committee for overseeing cemeteries and battle fields from World War I was formed, which became responsible for the development of the Brothers' Cemetery. The development of the memorial can thus be roughly divided into two periods. First was the period of landscape development, which lasted until 1923, when the landscaping was developed according to Zeidaks' ideas. Meanwhile the architectonic and artistic development of the cemetery was being discussed. In 1921 and in 1922 two closed design contests took place. The sculptor Kārlis Zāle, who was visiting Riga to participate in the design contest for the Freedom Monument, was invited to take part in the second contest for the cemetery as well. He won, and the second phase of development began, which lasted until 1936. In this period the landscaping was supplemented by architectonic and sculptural elements to form a unified ensemble in accordance with Zāle's design. The architectural works were directed by P. Feders; the architect A. Birznieks and the sculptors M. Šmalcs, N. Maulics and P. Banders were also involved.
The foundation stone of the memorial was laid on 18 November 1924. The first sculptural group, of dying horsemen, was unveiled on 20 November 1927, the second on 2 September 1928. The famous sculpture of Mother Latvia and her dead sons was unveiled on 13 October 1929. Construction of the main gates began in 1930. Statues of soldiers with shields symbolizing the four regions of Latvia were carved later. In 1936 the coats of arms of the 19 districts and the 59 cities of Latvia were carved in the wall of the cemetery. The cemetery was formally dedicated as a memorial on 11 November 1936 in the presence of the then President of Latvia and the government.
The cemetery contains more than 2,000 burials, mostly of soldiers who were killed between 1915 and 1920 in World War I and the Latvian War of Independence. It also contains, as reburials, a number of graves of Latvian Legion soldiers killed during World War II and of holders of the Lāčplēsis War Order (Latvian: Lāčplēša Kara ordenis), awarded for extraordinary merit during the Latvian War of Independence.
See also 
- Apsitis, Vaidelotis (1982). The Common Graves. Riga.
- "Rīgas Brāļu kapi: Vispārēja informācija" (in Latvian). Riga Monument agency. Retrieved 2008-03-31.
- Avotiņa, Austra; Daina Blūma, Asja Līdaka, Ināra Ņefedova, Edvarda Šmite (2003). "6. Latvijas Republika (1918-1940)". Latvijas Kultūras vēsture (in Latvian) (2nd edition ed.). Zvaigzne ABC. pp. 246–247. ISBN 9984-36-448-8.
- "Brāļu kapi". Latvijas Enciklopēdija. Vol. I. Riga: SIA "Valērija Belokoņa izdevniecība". 2002. p. 746. ISBN 9984-9482-1-8.
- "Brāļu kapi". Enciklopēdija "Rīga". Riga: Galvenā enciklopēdiju redakcija. 1988. p. 204.
- "Brāļu kapu komiteja". Latvijas Enciklopēdija. Vol. I. Riga: SIA "Valērija Belokoņa izdevniecība". 2002. p. 747. ISBN 9984-9482-1-8.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Brāļu kapi|
- (Russian) History of the Cemetery
- (English) Brāļu Kapi, English summary
- (English) many photographs of the site