As you walk throughout the central part of the Baltic city of Riga, capital of Latvia, it is somewhat hard to miss seeing the Latvian Freedom Monument, and that’s a good thing. I used it as something of a directional landmark to judge where I was whenever I could see it while I was there.
The Freedom Monument (Brīvības piemineklis) is a 42 m-(138 ft-) high monument with a woman standing atop, who the locals have nicknamed ‘Milda,’ holding three stars over her head. Located in the center of Riga, on “Freedom Boulevard” (Brīvības bulvāris), the monument serves as a great navigational aid; she stands right at the border of Riga’s Old Town and the new. Once standing in the middle of a busy street between Rainis and Aspazija boulevards, Milda’s was soon closed off to vehicular traffic, becoming the popular pedestrian plaza that it is now; another visibly-pleasing feature is that the plaza runs right over a canal, offering some nice views in either direction.
The Latvian War for Independence took place between 1918 and 1920, a weird, 3-way war that pitted Latvia and her allies against the Russian SFSR on one side and a German-led army on another. Latvia was supported by many allies, key among them Estonia and the U.K. Germany initially was to support the Latvian cause, though later split off to try to dominate the land for itself. The war ended in 1920, with Latvia emerging the victor, and in 1922 the Latvian prime minister established a contest for a memorial of the war and those who died in it. Due to outcry, that contest yielded no clear winners, nor did the second contest following. The third contest, in 1929, finally had a winning contestant in sculptor Kārlis Zāle and his design Shine like a star! (Mirdzi kā zvaigzne!).
Well, first of all, her local nickname of ‘Milda’ comes from a regional goddess of the same name. Milda is a Baltic goddess of love, courtship, friendship and freedom, the latter being the reason that this monument received this particular name. She’s abundantly popular in Latvia’s southern neighbor, Lithuania, where a similar statue can be found, along with a ‘Milda Festival’ each May. The three stars which Milda holds aloft were intended to represent the three constitutional districts of Latvia: Vidzeme, Latgale and Courland. On the front base of the statue inscribed on one of the travertine panels is written a dedication by the Latvian writer, Kārlis Skalbe, “For Fatherland and Freedom” (Tēvzemei un Brīvībai).
Guard of Honor
Each hour, there is a changing of the guard, adding to the visitor’s experience when coming to see this essential destination. The guard, part of Latvia’s Company of Guard of Honor, rotate back and forth amongst themselves hourly, in a ceremony commanded by the chief of the guard. The guard is not required to be on duty during poor weather conditions, so keep this in mind if you venture to Riga during the deepest part of winter.