How complicated could the history of one park be? Uzvaras Park proves, that in time, even an open square can experience events worthy of a movie. For 400 years already, various passions have vibrated around this area in Pārdaugava, and for the last 200 years, various powers have tried to make it a gorgeous recreation place. Peter’s Park, Victory Park, the XXII Congress of the CPSU and again Victory Park – Uzvaras Park – the territory has been known differently over the course of time! There have been many ideas of what to build on such a temptingly large plot of land: Song festival stage, concert hall, Riga culture and sports centre, exhibition house, circus, puppet theatre, stadium, velodrome, shooting range, swimming pool, sports and meeting palace, 130 mansions, playgrounds, pavilion … However, one of the most grandiose plans was once made by Kārlis Ulmanis, who wanted to create a monumental stadium, that would symbolise the greatness of the country and be comparable in size to Berlin Olympic Stadium. Needless to say, none of this came true, and today Victory Monument, which is the subject of sharp discussions, and the track have found their place in Uzvaras Park, where cyclists and skaters rule in summer, and cross-country skiers in winter. In spring, the people of Riga are attracted by the flowering Japanese cherry tree blossoms – Sakura, but that’s all – Uzvaras Park is mostly uninhabited.
Strategic military object
From the 17th to the 19th century, the current territory of Uzvaras Park was desired by the armies of different countries. Just like the keys to Riga itself, the vast meadows that once stood here proved to be worthy of a fierce battle. It all started in 1621, when during the Polish-Swedish war, the Swedish army, led by Colonel Samuel Kobron, built a fortification at the entry of the Mārupīte in the Kīleveins ditch, near the present Torņakalns – it was called Kobron sconce, but it was forbidden to build up the meadows, because they formed an esplanade of sconces that extended all the way to Raņķa embankment. At the beginning of the Great Northern War in 1700, Kobron’s sconce was occupied by the Saxon troops, then the Russians came, and Peter I occupied Riga and joined Vidzeme to the Russian Empire. Kobron’s sconce was even extended in the 19th century, during the Napoleonic War and the Crimean War. But in 1868, the Riga-Jelgava railway line was built through the territory of Kobron’s sconce.
Mežaparks No. 2 or the idea of summer house blocks
In 1908, when Riga had already been part of the Russian Empire for almost two hundred years, the construction ban was finally lifted and permission was given to build up Torņakalns Esplanade. This area had every opportunity to become a proud residential area, similar to Mežaparks. This was exactly the idea of the author of the project, the park gardener Georg Friedrich Ferdinand Kufalt. He also designed Ķeizarmežs (Mežaparks), and according to the same model, he planned summer house blocks in the territory of the current Uzvaras Park in order to obtain funds for the construction of the park by selling building plots. In the lower places with poor soil, walking and riding paths, wide lawns with trees, sports and playgrounds were planned and the park was to be surrounded by a bypass with a double-lined alley. The project gained momentum: the future park was inaugurated in 1910 during Nicholas II’s visit and was named Peter’s Park, while the Tsar and his daughters planted memorial oaks. They have been cut down, but a silver shovel made especially for this occasion is stored in the Museum of the History of Riga and Navigation.
Small gardens or a monumental stadium?
After the First World War, many family gardens were established in the place intended for the plots of mansions. Riga became the capital of the Republic of Latvia, and its development planning also changed – the new government saw Peter’s Park as an excellent place for the construction of important public buildings. In 1923, it was renamed Uzvaras Park, honouring the Latvian army’s victory over Bermont’s troops. In the 1930s, the improvement of the park resumed, and the remaining swampy area was drained, but between Bāriņu and Altonavas streets, a large area was created for military parades and folk festivals, which had previously taken place in the centre of Riga, on the Esplanade. In the summer of 1938, the IX Nationwide Latvian Song Festival took place in Uzvaras Park.
However, in terms of scope no idea can surpass the vision of Kārlis Ulmanis – he wanted to create a square that would witness the restored prosperity of Latvia with army parades, and a square designated for the song festival, that could accommodate about 200,000 participants, a Central Stadium with 25,000 seats, a separate sports and a training ground, sports and meeting palace. From the 44 projects submitted to the competition, the jury selected the project of architects Frīdrihs Skujiņš and Georgs Dauge, which envisaged the construction of the several tens of metres wide Victory Alley with a 60-metre-high Victory Tower at the end. At the top of the tower, during the solemn processions, the Fire of Victory would be lit, but at the foothills there would be a sanctuary in memory of the heroes of people. On the right side of Victory Alley, it was planned to build a festival area for parades and mass events with grandstands and a permanent Song Festival stage (instead of the current Bellevue Park Hotel Riga). However, that was not all – the project also included a place for a bicycle rink, a sports hall with a capacity of 10,000 people and a port in Āgenskalns Bay. The people had donated 3 million lats for the construction, but the Second World War put an end to the grandiose plans.
Art exhibition space or monument?
After the Second World War, the architect Vladimir Schnitnikov proposed to establish a culture and recreation park with a permanent song festival stage in Uzvaras Park. However, the choice was made in favour of Mežaparks, and then the Soviet authorities lost interest in Uzvaras Park for 15 years. In the early 1960s, it was renamed the Park of XXII Congress of the CPSU, providing the creation of an extensive entertainment and sports infrastructure, including a concert hall. However, this turned out to be too much of a task and was already considered ineffective at the end of the 1960s. Some improvements were made to the park – drainage works, a pond was dug and a lawn was sown, the Mārupīte bed was transformed, and this landscape has survived to this day. In 1967, a closed architectural design competition was announced for the construction of an art exhibition centre in the park territory, inviting the best Latvian architects, however, this project was not implemented either. The only notable event during the Soviet years was the unveiling of the Victory Memorial and Monument in 1985, which partially resolved the issue of the development of Uzvaras Park due to a lack of funds, and symbolically strengthened the Soviet regime’s presence in Latvia.
Skiing track, observation wheel and …?
Since the restoration of the independence of Latvia, Uzvaras Park has not been affected by major changes. In 2006, the first artificial snow cross-country skiing track in Riga was opened here, but in 2012, 114 Sakura trees were planted in a solemn ceremony; a gift from Japan to Riga. Sakura flowering is the time when the park is visited the most.
It will probably only be surpassed by the Riga observation wheel, attracting lovers of glorious views: There will be no Victory Tower in Uzvaras Park, but already in 2022, the Riga wheel will raise the residents and guests of the city to the same height of 60 metres, bringing a number of positive changes to the park’s infrastructure. With the creation of the observation wheel it is planned to develop the surrounding area by improving the lighting system, improving paths, benches, facilities and additional landscaping, as well as installing video surveillance for security purposes. According to the new concept, it is planned to renovate the network of paths in the whole part of Uzvaras Park between Mārupīte, Slokas Street and Raņķa Embankment, reviving and restoring this very forgotten “far end” of the park. Hopefully, the Riga observation wheel will break the circle of unfulfilled ideas and will be the beginning of new, good changes in the entire territory of the park.
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