Brethren Cemetery in Riga

The Brothers Cemetery (Braļu Kapi) is the biggest and most impressive memorial park in Latvia. It is dedicated to the solders that died in World War I and the Latvian War of Independence (1915-1920). Whilst being one of the most important monuments in Latvia, it is also a beautiful place to visit in its own right with wide fields, avenues of trees, impressive sculptures and an eternal flame.

The official opening and ordination of the Brethren Cemetery Memorial Complex took place on the 11th of November, 1936. However the planning that led to this ceremony had lasted 21 years. Already in 1914 Riga’s city council had received a request to set aside a special burial ground for the soldiers killed in the Great War. The first soldiers were buried in 1915 and by 1917 there were close to 1000 graves. The official name of the cemetery at the time was the ‘Brothers Cemetery of the Latvian Riflemen’s Battalions in Riga’. The Brothers Cemetery’s landscape design was made by Andrejs Zeidaks. Construction work began in 1922 after a closed design contest took place. Kārlis Zāle, who also designed the Freedom Monument, had his entry chosen.

In his design for the memorial park, Kārlis Zāle used contemporary art trends, Latvian folk symbols and local sandstone. The cemetery is divided in 3 parts: the Road of Reflection, the Heroes Terrace with the eternal flame, and the graveyard. The complex begins with a grand stone gate, above it you can see the coat of arms of Latvia and on each side is a sculpture of a wounded horseman. Upon entering the gate you follow a 205m long avenue lined with linden trees, symbolising mourning women. In the original plans there were to be no burials in this part of the cemetery, but during Soviet times some high ranking party officials requested to be buried in the cemetery. Possibly to protect the memorial from the overzealous soviet authorities, this was allowed and they can be seen on the left. Originally around the Heroes Terrace 100 oak trees were planted; the oak tree in Latvian folklore is a symbol of the home of the Gods and of manliness. From the terrace you can see the burial ground surrounded by a sand stone wall with some beautiful sculptures. At the end of graveyard is a wall with the coat of arms of the cities and provinces of Latvia. Mother Latvia towers above the complex, looking down at at her sons who lie at her feet. Kārlis Zāle has managed to sculpt them in such a way that it seems that they have not died, but are just asleep, ready to wake up when country will again need their help.

On memorial days thousands of Latvians are coming to the Brothers Cemetery to light a candle for their heroes. In dark winter evenings, it looks very impressive when whole memorial is lit up by candlelight. You can reach the memorial complex by taking tram 11 from the city centre to the stop Brali Kapi, or by bike along the Mezaparks bike track.

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