Latvia: Kuldiga, Unique Sites



August 30, 2014

In this quiet, charming town in western Latvia, the sounds of children’s laughter emanate from the bright yellow building that serves as a library and community center here 

But in the recent past, on a fall day that is fast approaching, a date on the Jewish lunar calendar, the First Day of the month of Tishrei, the sounds of the shofar would have been heard in this building, echoing through the streets and into the homes and into the hearts of the residents of the neighborhood. 

The Rabbi or Cantor of the synagogue blasts the traditional, mesmerizing cadences from the shofar, the ram’s horn.  The cry of the horn heralds the start Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.  The congregation stands quietly and listens attentively to the familiar and plaintive tones.  The men and women pray for peace and for good health for themselves and for their children in the coming year.

Now, here in Kuldiga, (pop 13,500), the call of the shofar is heard no more. 

The memorial plaque on the library wall tells the short and tragic story – the story that can be repeated in countless villages, towns and cities across Europe:

“Eka celta 1875 gada kā Kuldigas ebreju sinagoga un darbojas tidz 1941 gadam kad holocausta laika ebreju   kopiena tika iznicinata.”

“This building was built in 1875 as a synagogue for the Jewish community of Kuldiga and served as such until 1941 when the Jews of Kuldiga were killed during the Holocaust.”  

Beyond the former synagogue-now library and churches, beyond the pastel buildings and dwellings, and beyond the flower-bedecked pedestrian mall and the bakeries filled with bread and tempting pastry, and just beyond the main street lies the unique attraction of this ancient 13th Century town.  The site is called Ventas rumba.                                                             

Ventas rumba or the Venta Waterfall is not the highest waterfall nor is it the waterfall with the most volume.  It’s no Iguassu, no Niagara.  The Venta Waterfall is distinct as the widest waterfall in all of Europe.

Here is one description:

“The Venta Waterfall (Ventas rumba) is the widest waterfall in Europe.  This 249 meter wide (817 feet) naturally formed waterfall is associated with a number of legends and historic events.  Because of the device for catching fish which was invented by Duke Jacob, in old times Kuldīga was known as a town where salmon were caught in the air.”

I catch a few photos and move on “upstream.”

From Kuldiga the road leads east to Riga, but not before I stop at another unique site in Latvia.  Just outside the sleepy town of Sabile stands the Open-Air Art Museum at Pedvale.

The Open-Air Art Museum at Pedvale was opened by sculptor Ojars Arvids Feldbergs in 1991 and is now a State Historical Monument.  Its 100 hectares are covered with tilled fields, blooming meadows, gentle slopes and deep ravines, rolling hills, a winding river, forests with birds and wildlife. It is an ideal place in which creative professionals — sculptors, painters, printmakers, installation and performance artists — are free to express themselves.

The museum conceptually integrates the artistic and cultural heritage and the natural setting into a unified whole.  The requirement for participating artists is that they incorporate their works into the unique settings of the natural environment.  Artists working at the museum are encouraged to draw their inspiration from nature and to use local materials.

The Open-Air Art Museum at Pedvale is a unique place where each visitor has an exciting opportunity to observe the interaction between nature and art.  It has become an important cultural center that is valued by artists and visitors alike.  Everyone is invited to visit and take part in the ongoing development of the Open-Air Art Museum at Pedvale. 

After my visit to Pedvale, I reluctantly leave the soothing pace, the gracious people, the gentle scenery and the unique sights of rural Latvia.

I wonder what surprises lie ahead in Riga, the capital city?