Mārupīte, Riga: Part Two

In Part One of my review of Riga’s Mārupīte creek, I documented the course from its sources to Maras Dikis Pond. In Part Two, we follow the creek out of the pond as it flows to its mouth at the Daugava River.

Parks Arkadijas Darzs

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In comparing Riga to New York, I consider Bastejkalns as its Central Park, and both cities have a Forest Park. If the neighborhoods of Pardaugava (left bank of Daugava) are Riga’s answer to NYC’s outer boroughs, then Parks Arkadijas Darsz (Arcadian Garden Park) must be Kissena Park. Both parks feature hilly terrain, Victorian landscaping, and a creek flowing through its grounds.

History of the Arcadian Garden

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The forested hill that is Arcadian Park takes its name from a region in Greece that is associated with pastoral idyll, an unspoiled landscape whose name is celebrated in western art and literature. The park was developed in 1852 as the private garden of Prussian Consul Christian Heinrich von Wöhrmann. His father Johann Christoph Wöhrmann, known to Latvians as Johans Kristofs Vērmans, served in the same role and built the earlier Vermanes Darsz park in downtown Riga. 

The son’s garden was famous for its collection of exotic plants, many grown in conservatories on site including grapes, apricots, peaches, and palms. Like Kissena Park in Queens, a portion of this park has exotic trees dating from its past use as a plant nursery.

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The park was acquired by the city in 1896 and subsequently transformed by landscape architect Georg Kuphaldt (Georgs Kufalds) and mayor George Armitstead into a park. What Olmsted was to the parks of New York, Kuphaldt was for Riga.

arkad 1913.jpgHis footprint on the park is the reconstructed Mārupīte, which was channeled beneath graceful arch bridges, with waterfalls and ponds, as seen in the 1913 plan below.

The plan also rerouted the stream beyond the park. Instead of meeting the Daugava at Mukusala, the stream was channeled towards Agenskalna Bay. In the coming decades, Arcadian Park received a concert band shell, and a dairy pavilion. When the second dairy pavilion opened on May 22, 1936, President Karlis Ulmanis visited the park and extolled its virtues.

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“There is no garden second to this beautiful garden in Riga. Welcome, let the public from Riga come to the garden and enjoy the beautiful nature, fresh air and relaxation. It is equally necessary for both workers and intellectuals.” -K. Ulmanis

This is the park that my grandparents and parents took me to since infancy.

Outside the Park

Marupark7.JPGThe most recent addition to the park is its football field and running track, located it is northern tip where the Mārupīte leaves the park. Here, an old section of Ojāra Vācieša Street is interrupted by the creek, with a pedestrian crossing over the water.

Here, the Mārupīte flows past a sports complex on its way to Victory Park.

Victory Park

If the botanical past of Arcadian Park corresponds to Kissena Park, I can continue the Queens comparison with Victory Park (Uzvaras parks), whose open fields, monuments, and history as a fairground are reminiscent of Flushing Meadows.

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In the Google Street View scene above, the Mārupīte is seen flowing to the left of Uzvaras Bulvaris. In the background is the Victory Monument, one of the last major Soviet architectural works in the city. I grew up thinking that the park’s name was also a Soviet “gift” until I later learned that its history of celebrating victories predates the Second World War.

The undeveloped meadow was proposed as a park in 1909 to coincide with the bicentennial of the Russian capture of Livonia from Sweden in the following year. The opening of the park in the following year brought Tsar Nikolai II to Petrovsky Park, where he planted commemorative trees.

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The park’s name honored Emperor Peter the Great, who had vanquished the Swedes. In 1915, a year into the First World War only the row of trees along Uzvaras (Victory) Boulevard was completed, connecting the park to the Pontoon Bridge leading into the Old City of Riga, a direct straight line from Petrovsky Park to the statue of Peter the Great in the Old City that was unveiled by Nikolai II that year. That statue was later replaced with the Freedom Monument. Another part of the plan that was realized was rerouting the Marupite through the park towards Agenskalna Bay.

Fairground

v park 2.JPGLikewise Petrovsky Park was renamed Uzvaras (Victory) Park in honor of Latvia’s successful war of independence that pitted the native forces against Germany, Baltic Germans, and the Bolsheviks.

In the early years of statehood, the park served as a festival site.

Grandiose Plans

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In 1934, President Ulmanis followed the example of neighboring countries by assuming complete political power and promoting grandiose building projects. On the model above, the historic Railroad Bridge and Akmens Bridge are highlighted.

More like the Meadowlands than Flushing Meadows, Ulmanis’ plan for Victory Park included a 25,000-seat stadium, sports fields, velodrome, swimming pool, shooting range, boat basin in Āgenskalns Bay, a 10,000-seat Assembly Hall  a central memorial monument. Under this plan, the Mārupīte would have been concealed beneath the massive gathering space.

The Victory Square project was still in its fundraising phase when Soviet forces returned in 1940, annexing Latvia and arresting Ulmanis. The park’s name was given a new meaning in 1946, when the Soviets celebrated their victory over Nazi Germany by holding the country’s last public execution in the park, with 4,000 spectators watching convicted SS Obergruppenfuhrer Friedrich Jeckeln hang from the gallows. In 1961, the park was given a seemingly bureaucratic renaming: CPSU XXII Congress Park, which reverted to Victory Park in 1985 when the former execution site received its Soviet Victory Monument.

Soviet Victory Monument

v monument.JPGIn my childhood, this is where newlyweds, new parents, and war veterans posed for photos, laying down flowers at the foot of the Victory Memorial to the Soviet Army.

Completed in 1985, it was the last major Soviet monument in Latvia, a collage of standard war memorial elements: a reflecting pool, obelisk-like stalks topped by stars, a Motherland figure (she has “sisters” in Kiev and Volgograd) and a trio of soldiers-liberators.

Following independence, some Latvian nationalists suggested removing the monument. In their view, the Red Army did not liberate. It reoccupied Latvia. A massive mobilization by local ethnic Russians and their supporters ensured the preservation of this monument and it remains a popular gathering place every May 9th. In an irony of history, soldier trio sculptor Lev Vladimirovich Bukovsky had served in the Waffen SS during the war. Unlike most wartime collaborators, Bukovsky successfully demonstrated that he was a reluctant conscript and was released. He also designed the memorial at the holocaust killing site in Salaspils.

Agenskalna Bay

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The Mārupīte leaves Victory Park, entering Agenskalna Bay at Ranka Dambis, a road built atop a dike separating the bay from the park. This cove of the Daugava is used mainly by small boats and yachts. In the background above is the Vanšu Tilts (Cable Bridge) completed in 1981.

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A century earlier, the bay was a busy seaport that explains for the neighborhood’s name. Agenskalns translates as Harbor Hill. Across the bay is Kliversala, a former island fused to the mainland, and Kipsala which has a university and shopping center facing the Old City across the Daugava. This is the present mouth of the Marupite but a century earlier it flowed to a different conclusion, one with much more history as seen on the 1884 map below.

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Red Tower on the Marupite

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Prior to 1915, the Mārupīte flowed out of the Arcadian Park in an eastern direction where it merged with the Kileveina Gravis before flowing into the Daugava. Between the confluence of the two creeks and the Daugava was the namesake of the Tornakalns neighborhood, a defensive tower was first mentioned here in 1248, when German crusaders were battling the indigenous Baltic peoples in their holy war. Above, the tower appears in a 20th century painting by Jēkabs Bīne. Known as the Red Tower, it served as an early warning station for Riga’s defenders, as its guards looked out for any invasions coming from the west. Next to the tower, a mill operated on the Mārupīte. This is the tower that gave its name to the Tornakalns neighborhood where I was born.

Kobronskansts Fortress

As military technology developed, the defensive tower was not enough for the Swedes to retain the left bank of the Daugava. In 1621, Scottish soldier of fortune Samuel Cockburn was commissioned to build a fort next to the Red Tower. In 1642, it was expanded into a star shape, leveling the adjacent Red Tower and channeling the Mārupīte into its moat. Cockburn wouldn’t be the last Scotsman to administer Riga. At the turn of the 20th century, it had mayor George Armitstead.

Named after Cockburn, the Kobronskansts fended off repeated Polish and Russian attacks until November 8, 1709. With the westward expansion of the Russian Empire into Lithuania and Poland, the fortress was no longer on the front line and lost its importance.

By 1872 the Riga-Jelgava railway embankment was constructed across the abandoned fort, covering and leveling some of its ramparts and filling in a portion of its moat. What remained of the fortress was left forgotten for more than a century. With the rerouting of the Mārupīte through Victory Park, the portion flowing through the moat was buried, leaving no trace of the fort on maps.

Archeology and Natural Sciences

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Despite its proximity to the Old City of Riga, the site of Kobronskansts was underdeveloped in the 20th century, used for allotment gardens and garages with trains passing by on their approach to the Railroad Bridge. In 2015, the site was again a center of activity with the completion of the University of Latvia Centre of Natural Sciences. It is an environmentally friendly structure designed in the postmodern style of the new century, reminiscent of the nearby Latvia National Library.

kalev-2Ahead of its construction, an archeological survey was conducted on the site, with a detailed map (above) showing the locations of the Red Tower, the former and present courses of the Mārupīte, the railway (purple broken line) and the star outline of the Kobronskansts. Light green indicates allotment gardens and dark green are public parks.

Last Glimpse

At Mukusala Street, we see Kileveina Gravis draining into the Daugava. Prior to 1910, the water of the Mārupīte also flowed beneath this bridge. In the background is the railway leading to the Riga Central Station. The Daugava is on the far right, out of view, where the arches of the Railroad Bridge span the great river.

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Into the Daugava

Following the theme of my book Hidden Waters of NYC, I’ve documented the hidden waterways of other cities worldwide. The publisher of my book is better known for another popular urban exploration guide, Other Islands of New York City. First published in 1996, it is now in its third edition. Like New York, Riga is a city of streams and islands. In the 18th century, Johann Christoph Brotze mapped the city’s islands, many of which have since been fused to the mainland on both sides of the Daugava. I highlighted the Old City of Riga and named the hidden waterways on the map below.

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Although a book on the hidden waters of Riga has not yet been written, there is the Latvian photographic guide Rīgas Salas (Islands of Riga) by Kaspars Goba and Gundegas Repše. The comparisons that I’ve made demonstrate that Riga would be a perfect sister city to New York.

Speaking at Length

It was a pleasure to virtually retrace the course of the Mārupīte from source to mouth as I had physically done with my grandfather at age seven. In the summer of 2017, I plan on returning to Riga with my family as a visitor.

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Kā akadēmiska un autors, es nekad neesmu īsti uz brīvdienas. Es esmu vienmēr meklē vietu, kur mācīties, un iespējas runāt. Ja kāds no maniem latviešu lasītāju var ieplānot man lekciju Latvijas Universitātē vai Latvijas Nacionālās Bibliotēkas, es būtu laimīgs iesniegt slaidrādi par manu grāmatu. Diemžēl es nerunāju latviski, but I can lecture in English или на русском.

Learn More:

If you enjoyed my historical guide to the Marupite, check out my reviews of other hidden waterways in Riga:

Sarkandaugava

Pilsētas Kanāls

Unnamed stream in Pleskodale

In the News:

New York Times reports on the last boathouse community in Manhattan.

The Wave reports on the design for Sandpiper Playground in Far Rockaway.

FastCo Design reports on the top public facility design projects in New York City.

The Guardian reports on the community-driven river cleanup efforts in the Tongkol kampung neighborhood of Jakarta.

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