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Great Cemetery in Riga

Riga plans to turn its historical cemetery into a tourist site

Riga plans to turn its historical cemetery into a tourist site

This is a question of heritage restoration apart from tourism opportunities

At the first instance, we tend to think of cemeteries as a morbid or private place, a world away from the daily concerns of the living but in reality, many of these have become part of the traditional symbolism of a city and a heritage site that attracts visitors. Think of Père Lachaise in Paris or the Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires as examples.

Officials in Riga have realized that their city, too, counts with an old historical cemetery that currently lays somewhat dilapidated but actually holds a lot of potential as an attractive leisure site if restored.

This is the Great Cemetery in Riga, established in the 18th century for the prominent German families who formed the local elite back then. Now, there are proposals to turn it into a commemorative necropolis or an eco-park.

The Great Cemetery is the largest green space in the old part of Riga

Being somewhat of an art, heritage and memory trove of the Latvian capital this burial park has itself also gone through some tumultuous moments in its 248-years history. Thanks to it being the final resting place of the city’s elite, initially Baltic Germans but later also Latvians, it was the site of many mortuaries, tombs, crypts and statues reflecting the artistic tastes of the time.

Following World War II and the subsequent Soviet re-occupation of the city, such sites that held clear references to Germans and German heritage were not looked well upon and much of the monuments were destroyed. After 1957 no more burials were performed there, and the idea was to turn the area into a public park but that never came to fruition.

The current administration is of the opinion that this is a site that holds potential and needs to be restored and its status as a place of historical memory and a link with the past upheld.

"Large cemeteries should be more than a simple park or cemetery," explained Rita Našeniece, head of the local Commission for Cultural and Historical Heritage. "We need to find a new solution that meets both the special, carefully maintained and restored memorial sites and the function of an oasis of green nature open to the public."

For the task, the Commission has gathered restoration experts and historians with the mission to develop a plan for the restoration, maintenance, public order rules and further development strategies.

Even after the destructions, the cemetery still contains more than 40 burial sites of prominent figures from Riga’s history, such as former mayor George Armitstead, painter Voldemārs Zeltiņš and intellectuals from the 19th-century Latvian national awakening.

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