A cemetery, or strictly speaking two cemeteries, north of Riga
city centre. Apart from being quite atmospheric in themselves, the main reason for dark tourists to head out here is a marvellous Soviet
relic (a golden soldier!) as well as some grand old mausoleums now in enchanting states of dereliction.
What there is to see: Coming from the south, the first part of this unusual double site that you will come to is the Orthodox Pokrov cemetery proper.
Here you'll see plenty of headstones in Cyrillic as well as a few Latvian ones (including a couple of recent celebrity newcomers on this pitch). On the eastern side is a war memorial. In the centre stands a typical Orthodox chapel (a brand new Orthodox church lies just south of the cemetery).
But the key attraction to the curious dark tourist coming to this place is the section with the Soviet
war graves to the north of the chapel. And overlooking them all is an exceptionally noteworthy Soviet relic: a gold soldier statue.
This is a classic socialist-realist
depiction of a Red Army soldier, but completely plated in gold. He's the usual keen type of wild-eyed, forward-marching soldier, long coat flying behind him, and with a machine gun in one hand and a big flag in the other. And yes, the flag has the hammer-and-sickle symbol of the Soviet Union
in it, albeit also all in gold rather than the usual red and yellow.
The Russian inscription on the pedestal proclaims “eternal glory to the heroes who fell in the battle for the freedom and independence of our motherland” – a notion that most Latvians probably find rather cynical given that the country lost
both its freedom and independence to the USSR in WWII
North of this Soviet section lies what used to be called the Great Cemetery, where many of Riga's rich and famous elite used to be buried in the 18th and 19th centuries. Much of this cemetery was destroyed by the Soviets during their occupations of Latvia
, but some remarkable bits and pieces remain. Keep your eyes open for some unusual grave monuments here!
Most noticeable, however, are the several ruined grand mausoleums, many with German inscriptions on them – so I presume they must have been family tombs of rich Baltic Germans. Some are still halfway intact, but most look precariously derelict. A few are half collapsed already.
Towards the north of the ex-cemetery I found a rather odd art installation, but one that had clearly been quite badly vandalized. A somewhat battered information panel nearby tried to explain the significance of the monument (which apparently is called Mother Earth's office 1/10), but lost itself in rather cryptic esoteric drivel. So I left none the wiser as to the real background of this odd find.
Anyway, the main reason to come out here is definitely the golden soldier, and that one I found still in remarkably good shape. There were even fresh flowers laid down by his feet. So I presume it is still a kind of pilgrimage site for old communists
or maybe Russian minority Latvians with a nostalgia for “the good old days” of the USSR
This is perhaps not an essential dark-tourism sight, but if you have the time it may be worth it, especially for those on the lookout for leftovers from the Soviet era.
some 2 miles (3 km) north of the Old Town centre of Riga
, between Miera and Brīvības iela. The two parts are bisected by Senču iela – and it is this street that the golden soldier faces.
Access and costs:
a bit out of the centre of Riga
but easily reached by tram; free.
Details: You could walk it all the way from the city centre, first along Brīvības iela and then Miera iela when it branches off to the left. This leads right to the south-western corner of Prokov Cemetery.
Tram line No. 11 basically takes the same route, so if you don't fancy the walk this makes for a convenient alternative. Get out at at Mēness iela for Pokrov Cemetery or Kazarmu iela for the former Great Cemetery.
The former Great Cemetery can be explored freely at any time; Prokov Cemetery has a fence around it but should also be accessible during normal daylight hours.
Time required: depending on how much you are into cemeteries, between just a few minutes to take a quick look at the golden soldier only, or up to an hour and half or so for exploring the rest of the two (ex-)cemeteries as well.
Combinations with other dark destinations:
in general see under Riga
Tram line 11 continues all the way up to Mezaparks (cf. Kaiserwald
) passing by the Forest and Brother Cemeteries
, so you could continue the theme with ease in one day. These other parts do require much more walking, however.
If you even decide to walk it all the way from Pokrov Cemetery (like I did) then keep your eyes open for the old Brasa prison on the left as you cross the flyover across the railway line.
On the right-hand side of the northern half of the flyover I spotted some kind of junk-yard-cum-sculpture-park with a few rather large and weird works of art, some of them clearly still in progress, including one that incorporated parts of a tank!
Combinations with non-dark destinations: Tram line 11 also makes some of the more outlying attractions of Riga accessible, including the zoo as well as the huge woodlands of Mezaparks. In the middle of this can be found the vast open-air arena which is Riga's mass concert venue for that typical Baltics pastime: song festivals.
Closer to the cemeteries you can spot a few examples of art nouveau (Jugendstil) architecture, especially on Miera iela. These may not be as flashily refurbished as those in the city centre, but they do feature the odd remarkable detail worth looking out for.
But most of the real mainstream tourist attractions are of course back in the centre of Riga
- Pokrov cemetery 01 - more or less intact part
- Pokrov cemetery 02 - newly restored church across the street
- Pokrov cemetery 03 - war memorial
- Pokrov cemetery 04 - Soviet war graves
- Pokrov cemetery 05 - Soviet golden soldier
- Pokrov cemetery 06 - Olympic bench
- Pokrov cemetery 07 - praying
- Pokrov cemetery 08 - derelict mausoleums
- Pokrov cemetery 09 - some are quite dilapidated
- Pokrov cemetery 10 - art installation of sorts also in a bad way
- Pokrov cemetery 11 - park-like ex-cemetery part