Great Cemetery

Riga, Latvia

The Great Cemetery (Latvian: Lielie kapi, German: Grosser Friedhof) was formerly the principal cemetery of Riga in Latvia, established in 1773. It was the main burial ground of the Baltic Germans in Latvia. Between 1771 and 1772, Catherine the Great, empress of the Russian Empire, decreed that from that point onwards no-one, regardless of their social standing or class origins, was to be buried in a church crypt or churchyard; all burials were to take place in the new cemeteries to be built throughout the entire Russian empire, which were to be located outside town boundaries.

Against this background the Great Cemetery in Riga was founded in 1773. It served as a burial ground for over 170 years for almost all Baltic Germans who died in the city between 1773 and 1944. Additionally, numerous Latvians of upper social status were buried there as well. The cemetery was divided into three section: Lutheran, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox Christian. One of the first to be (re-)buried there was the founder of the city, Albert of Riga, whose remains were exhumed from one of the city's main churches and transferred to the cemetery in 1773.

Burials at the cemetery were drastically reduced after Hitler's forced transfer, under the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, of tens of thousands of Baltic Germans from Latvia in late 1939 to occupied areas in western Poland. Burials at the cemetery continued on a much smaller scale until 1944, principally among those Baltic Germans who had refused Hitler's call to leave the region.

After World War II hundreds of headstones and graves were removed or destroyed by the Soviet authorities during the second occupation of the Baltic states. In 1957 the cemetery was closed completely for any further burials and began to fall in disrepair. In 1967 or 1969 the city council decided to bulldoze large sections of the cemetery in order to transform it into a public memorial Park. The Russian Orthodox section of the cemetery, later named Pokrov Cemetery, is the only area which was not added to the territory of the Memorial Park and therefore was the only part to remain well preserved.

Today a significant number of Baltic German and Latvian graves and family plots, including a restored crypt built in 1777 and the graves of Krišjānis Baronsand Krišjānis Valdemārs, have survived the post-war destruction. However, many of these graves are in an abandoned or neglected condition. The city of Riga is currently discussing exchanging St Peter's Church for the Great Cemetery so that the city can properly take over maintenance.

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Address

Indrānu iela 24, Riga, Latvia
See all sites in Riga

More Information

en.wikipedia.org

Rating

4.2/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

Damian Dessler (9 months ago)
Really big and old cemetry which is nie a Park. There are a lot of old graves.
Dan RaizPhoto (12 months ago)
Very interesting place. The cemetery was founded in 1773. Many famous Latvian public figures and cultural figures were buried here. At present it is a memorial park. While here there is complete chaos, empty crypts and burials, between them the paths along which people walk. Who likes the unusual, come))). #localguides
Olga Grygarova (2 years ago)
This is old cementary with some leftovers of previous century monuments. It is quite contrasty.. if that would be kept in proper way, could be interesting place to visit ans to feel touch of history.
Ivars Dimdiņš (2 years ago)
One of the oldest and formerly largest cemeteries of Riga, dating back to 1780s. Almost all of the burial sites were destroyed by the Soviets in the 1960s, but what is left behind is mostly being cared after by volunteers and it is slowly regaining it's old glory.
Mairita Vimba (2 years ago)
Great to walk around but no infrastructure there
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The Porta Nigra (Latin for black gate) is the largest Roman city gate north of the Alps. It is designated as part of the Roman Monuments, Cathedral of St. Peter and Church of Our Lady in Trier UNESCO World Heritage Site. The name Porta Nigra originated in the Middle Ages due to the darkened colour of its stone; the original Roman name has not been preserved. Locals commonly refer to the Porta Nigra simply as Porta.

The Porta Nigra was built in grey sandstone between 186 and 200 AD. The original gate consisted of two four-storied towers, projecting as near semicircles on the outer side. A narrow courtyard separated the two gate openings on either side. For unknown reasons, however, the construction of the gate remained unfinished. For example, the stones at the northern (outer) side of the gate were never abraded, and the protruding stones would have made it impossible to install movable gates. Nonetheless, the gate was used for several centuries until the end of the Roman era in Trier.

In Roman times, the Porta Nigra was part of a system of four city gates, one of which stood at each side of the roughly rectangular Roman city. The Porta Nigra guarded the northern entry to the Roman city, while the Porta Alba (White Gate) was built in the east, the Porta Media (Middle Gate) in the south, and the Porta Inclyta (Famous Gate) in the west, next to the Roman bridge across the Moselle. The gates stood at the ends of the two main streets of the Roman Trier, one of which led north-south and the other east-west. Of these gates, only the Porta Nigra still exists today.

In the early Middle Ages the Roman city gates were no longer used for their original function and their stones were taken and reused for other buildings. Also iron and lead braces were broken out of the walls of the Porta Nigra for reuse. Traces of this destruction are still clearly visible on the north side of the gate.

After 1028, the Greek monk Simeon lived as a hermit in the ruins of the Porta Nigra. After his death (1035) and sanctification, the Simeonstift monastery was built next to the Porta Nigra to honor him. Saving it from further destruction, the Porta Nigra was transformed into a church: The inner court of the gate was roofed and intermediate ceilings were inserted. The two middle storeys of the former gate were converted into church naves: the upper storey being for the monks and the lower storey for the general public. The ground floor with the large gates was sealed, and a large outside staircase was constructed alongside the south side (the town side) of the gate, up to the lower storey of the church. A small staircase led further up to the upper storey. The church rooms were accessible through former windows of the western tower of the Porta Nigra that were enlarged to become entrance doors (still visible today). The top floor of the western tower was used as church tower, the eastern tower was leveled, and an apse added at its east side. An additional gate - the much smaller Simeon Gate - was built adjacent to the East side of the Porta Nigra and served as a city gate in medieval times.

In 1802 Napoleon Bonaparte dissolved the church in the Porta Nigra and the monastery beside it, along with the vast majority of Trier"s numerous churches and monasteries. On his visit to Trier in 1804, Napoleon ordered that the Porta Nigra be converted back to its Roman form. Only the apse was kept; but the eastern tower was not rebuilt to its original height. Local legend has it that Napoleon originally wanted to completely tear down the church, but locals convinced him that the church had actually been a Gaulish festival hall before being turned into a church. Another version of the story is that they told him about its Roman origins, persuading him to convert the gate back to its original form.

In 1986 the Porta Nigra was designated a World Heritage Site, along with other Roman monuments in Trier and its surroundings. The modern appearance of the Porta Nigra goes back almost unchanged to the reconstruction ordered by Napoleon. At the south side of the Porta Nigra, remains of Roman columns line the last 100 m of the street leading to the gate. Positioned where they had stood in Roman times, they give a slight impression of the aspect of the original Roman street that was lined with colonnades. The Porta Nigra, including the upper floors, is open to visitors.