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The Freedom Monument
42 meters tall in the very heart of Riga stands a symbol of Latvia – the Freedom Monument, adorned with the inscription “For Fatherland and Freedom”/„Tēvzemei un Brīvībai” and dedicated to the Latvian heroes in the fight for freedom 1918-1920.
The striking composition consists of 13 sculptures and bas-reliefs depicting Latvian history and culture. Overlapping monolithic square forms give the massive monument its distinct look, with narrowing upward, becoming a 19-meter tall obelisk, with the figure of Freedom at the apex (9 meters tall) - embodied by a young woman holding three golden stars high above her head. These symbolize the provinces of Kurzeme, Vidzeme and Latgale.
Noted Latvian statesman, prime minister in 1922, Zigfrīds Anna Meierovics, had the idea for a “memorial marker” saluting the triumphant fight for freedom.
He ordered instructions and rules drawn up for an open competition for projects thereof. It took several rounds to finally select sculptor Kārlis Zāle's project “Shine Like A Star!”/„Mirdzi kā zvaigzne!”. The construction job got under way in 1931, and on Latvian Independence Day, November 18, 1935, the finished memorial was unveiled. Latvia's Freedom Monument – financed by the people.
With WWII bringing two superpowers to rule in separate periods, the meaning of the Freedom Monument was sullied. For Nazi Germany, it was dedicated to the struggle against Communism, but for the U.S.S.R., the fair maiden was Mother Russia, with the three stars representing the three Soviet Baltic republics - Latvian SSR, Lithuanian SSR and Estonia SSR.
During the Occupation's 50 years, the monument remained standing tall, despite such disrespectful slights as having a busy trolleybus end-station set up right nearby. As the winds changed, so to speak, and the National Awakening Movement took hold in the late 1980s, it became quite clear that the monument (in tandem with other symbols) had not lost its significance. Quite the contrary – it was the setting chosen for the defiant demonstration on June 14, 1987, organized by the Latvian human rights group „Helsinki-86”. As we do today, flowers were placed at the foot of the monument in memory of the June 14, 1941 victims of mass deportation to Siberia.
One might call the Freedom Monument's location perfect, fully complementing the srroundings. In 1990, automobile traffic (Aspazijas Boulevard-Brivibas Boulevard) was shut down, allowing for an appropriate forecourt and rear area to be formed.
Approaching the forecourt, a small bridge across the 3.2km City Canal is located between the monument and Old Town, with picturesque Bastejkalns Park (est. 19th cent., after the fortification walls were razed) next door. To the south, beyond the forecourt area's cafe and the “Laima” Clock, is the National Opera House. The clock itself is a living legend – the most popular meeting point. The young woman atop the monument faces Old Town, and the mighty Daugava beyond.
A two-man Honour Guard stands at Freedom Monument daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., changing every hour on the hour. The flower-placing ritual at the foot is practiced by practically everyone, only the scale of the ritual differs, like on Deportation Day (June 14) and Independence Day (November 18) when multitudes gather, completely covering the foot and steps of the monument with colourful blossoms.
Renovation was last conducted in the period 1998-2001.