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To the Livonian shore to meet the Livonians

21.08.2017

It might be an illusion but the sand seems whiter there, the waves seem to crash more powerfully and smoked flounders taste especially good.

Let’s go to Northern Kurzeme, where the Livonian shore lies on either side of Cape Kolka, between Ovīši and Ģipka. The best place would be Mazirbe, where the Livonian Culture Centre resides.

The white-bricked building of the Culture Centre that is recognised as a national architectural monument seems a little bit awkward in the Latvian environment, and it is.

The Livonian Culture Centre was built during the First Independence Period (opened in 1939), and for its strongly functional style we have the Finnish architect Erkki Huttunen to thank.

The contribution of the Latvian architect Visvaldis Paegle was mainly adapting the project to the Latvian construction standards of the time.

The financing of the construction was rather unusual too. The Livonian Culture Centre was built using Finnish, Estonian, Latvian and Livonian resources, with Hungarians chipping in a little.

Once a year, on the first Saturday of August, Mazirbe welcomes a lot of visitors from near and far, and one can hear not only Latvian but also Finnish, Estonian, Livonian and sometimes, if you get lucky, some Hungarian too.

 

Many years ago, a big part of the territory that nowadays is called Latvia, was inhabited by the Baltic Finns, including the ancient Livonian or Liv folk (these are synonyms), which was very important for the forming of the Latvian nation. Taking part in the annual Livonian celebration at the Cultural Centre in Mazirbe is a way of reminiscing about your roots and is a symbolic demonstration of the fact that the Livonians or Livs are still alive.

There is no precise answer to the question of how many Livonian descendants are out there. The small nation at the shore of the Baltic Sea has not been fortunate, as during the Soviet occupation the Kurzeme shoreline was a closed territory meaning development was impossible. Having no choice left whatsoever, the younger Livonian descendants, of which there already weren’t many, were forced to leave their homes and their traditional occupations.

The Livonians have never had their own country but they do have an anthem and a flag. The blue-white-green flag, created in 1923, is a symbol of the Livonian environment: the fishermen earned their livelihood at sea (the blue colour at the bottom of the flag), and when gazing homewards, they would see the coast (the white colour in the middle) and the forest (the green colour in the upper part of the flag).

The Livonians have their own language and culture, as well as their own particular architecture, preserved from 12 ancient fishermen villages.

Even though the wind blows more furiously at the coast than anywhere else, the Livonian coastal buildings are tirelessly standing their ground and over the years have not lost any of their charm. The coast attracts those who don’t like the bustle and commerce of resorts, and is a place where one can enjoy unpretentious flower beds in the middle of sand dunes.

The Livonian coast is a true pearl that has luckily not been discovered by millions of holiday-goers. The beaches are mostly covered in white and silky sand but in Ovīši, in front of the still functioning lighthouse, finished in 1814, one can see wonderful pebbles, smoothened by the sea and spread along the coast.

The Livonian coast is an essential part of the Slītere National Park, with its deep forests, marshes full of cranberries, ever-present wild animals and a rich population of birds.

It must also be mentioned that the Livonians always provide a heart-warming welcoming and spoil their guests with both Kurzeme traditional carrot pies called sklandrauši and authentic home-smoked fish.