1940 was not the first time that Latvia played enforced host to the Russian/ Soviet bear. In 1710 Russia, under Tsar Peter I (Peter the Great), defeated Sweden in the Great Northern War and took control of both Latvia and Estonia from Sweden. Peter is reputed to have personally launched the first shells in the siege of Riga, in November 1709. Russia held Latvia for over two hundred years, until WWI.
Peter the Great visited Riga on a number of occasions, and indeed legend tells us that he first visited it secretly in 1691 when he was almost shot by the Swedes as he examined Swedish fortifications.
On later visits (as Tsar) he stayed at 9 Palasta Street, not in the house depicted here which was built in 1869 but rather an earlier palace, from which the street derived its name – Palasta (Palace), at this address. A plaque lets the visitor know of Peter the Great’s association with the site.
This is the only existing reminder of Peter the Great that I believe is on public display in Riga. At least it is the only one I am aware of. St Peter’s Church is named after Christ’s disciple and not Peter the Great.
By way of digression, though an interesting one, I am aware of one reminder of Peter the Great which is in Riga though not on public display.
Unsurprisingly, Riga used to have a large statue of Peter the Great. It was erected on 4 July, 1910, where the Freedom Monument stands today, in honour of the bicentennial of the taking of Latvia from Sweden. Five years later it was put on a ship bound for St Petersburg, where it would be melted down and converted into munitions for WWI efforts.
En-route, the ship was torpedoed and sunk by a German submarine. In 1934 the statue was recovered and returned to Latvia. Then independent Latvia had no need for Peter who was consigned, in pieces, to a warehouse. Since independence (1991) there have been various attempts to have the, since restored, statue put back on public display.
In the dead of night on 17 August 2001, at the time of Riga’s 800th anniversary celebrations, Eugene Gomberg, the businessmen who had restored the statue, secretly put in on display in Kronvalda Park. The Council went into meltdown and it was removed, three days later, to a private parking lot behind Gomberg’s office, where it has remained ever since. Picture 3 below (copyright Aleksandr Galiullin – 2013) shows the restored statue of Peter I on private property in Riga.
While Peter liberated Latvia from Sweden, his three month siege of the city resulted in the deaths of more than 60,000 people through war, starvation and disease. Should he be honoured or not?
Life would have been a lot easier had Russia taken the statue when offered it in early 2001.
It remains to be seen what happens next.
Location (of plaque in Picture 1 – not statue): 9 Palasta Street
This blog entry is one of a group (loop) of entries on the Old City area of Riga. I suggest you continue with my next entry – From Soviet Union to European Union – or to start the loop at the beginning go to my first entry – SamaraH Hotel Metropole – Riga.