Riga

Riga's Unlikeliest Statues

12 Jun 2018
You haven’t been to Riga unless you’ve seen the Freedom Monument and if you’re interested in Latvian history we can recommend a dozen other statues and monuments of important Rigans that should be visited. Yet, oddly enough, the Latvian capital, for some reason, has honoured several international luminaries who have little or no connection to the city as well as some unlikely foreigners who have made their mark on the 800-year-old metropolis. You’ll probably be surprised to know that Englishmen, Scots and even ancient Uzbeks have their own statues in the heart of the city.

Mirzo Ulugbek (AKA Ulugh Beg)
The ruler of vast swathes of Central Asia including parts of present-day Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan and grandson of the (in)famous Timur (or Tamerlane), Ulugh Beg (1394 - 1449) was also a famous mathematician and astronomer in his day. In fact, he built the Islamic world’s largest observatory in Samarkand. Today you can take a gander at his fierce, yet learned visage on the left bank of the Riga canal near the pedestrian bridge in the Kronvalds Park. The bronze statue on a red granite pedestal was a gift from the Embassy of Uzbekistan.

Mr. & Mrs. George Armitstead (and dog)
Although the British are perhaps better known in Riga as the loud lads wearing outrageous costumes who insist on observing their nostalgic custom of getting completely wasted by 23:00 (note: pubs are open quite late in Riga, especially at the weekend), one Brit in particular has left a good and lasting impression on the city’s inhabitants. George Armitstead (1847 - 1912) was born in Riga and after studying abroad in Switzerland and even Oxford, he eventually returned to Riga where his wealthy family owned businesses and properties. He was elected mayor of Riga in 1901 and presided over an unparalleled period of construction, reform and prosperity until shortly before his death in 1912, when he was finally awarded honorary citizenship of the city he transformed. A bronze statue of Armitstead, his wife Cecile and their dog was unveiled by Queen Elizabeth II in the Latvian National Opera gardens in 2006.

Alexander Pushkin & Anna Kern
Although the illustrious romantic poet never once set foot in Riga, a bronze statue of the literary genius graces the southern bank of the Riga canal in the Kronvald Park right next to the pedestrian bridge. So why a monument to a Russian writer in Riga? A tenuous and oft disputed story does actually connect Alexander Pushkin to the Latvian capital. While in St. Petersburg, the troubled author met Anna Kern (1800 - 1879) with whom he had an affair. That much has been more or less proven, but it’s also been widely rumoured that he dedicated one of his most famous poems to this Russian socialite who eventually moved to Riga as the wife of General Ye. F. Kern. He wrote several love letters to her over the course of a year and a half, but is said to have later despised her. A small statue of the scandalous Anna Kern, who died in abject poverty in Moscow, is located next to the Ave Sol concert hall, which was once the church of the Russian garrison over which her former husband presided.

Prince Michael Andreas Barclay de Tolly
The man with the poshest and most foreign-sounding of possible names was actually a German-speaking descendant of a Scottish family that settled in the Baltic region of what was then the Russian Empire. Although he was born in present-day Lithuania he was raised farther north in parts of Latvia and Estonia, which were then known as Livonia. He distinguished himself as an officer in the Russian army and fought in battles all over Europe, most famously as the Commander-in-Chief of the largest Russian army tasked with defending the homeland from Napoleon. He was eventually sacked, but then distinguished himself again at the Battle of Borodino and later commanded the forces that occupied Paris in 1814. He was made a field marshal and finally, a prince in 1815. Barclay de Tolly (1757 - 1818) was honoured with a statue in the Esplanade Park (just opposite the Radisson Blu Hotel Latvija) in 1913, but the original bronze monument was lost at sea when the city was plundered two years later. A new bronze statue was erected on the original granite pedestal in 2001.
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