The Freedom Monument has been standing tall and proud in central Riga for over 80 years. The granite, travertine and copper monument symbolizes the desire of the Latvian people for freedom and independence. The monument was designed and built by sculptor Kārlis Zāle and constructed using donations from the people.
The monument was unveiled on November 18, 1935 to commemorate the heroes who died during the Latvian fight for independence (1918-1920). The words of Latvian writer Kārlis Skalbe (1879-1945) have been engraved at the pedestal of the monument – Tēvzemei un Brīvībai (For Fatherland and Freedom), while the copper statue of the woman of liberty, affectionately called Milda by local residents, is holding three stars above her head, representing the three historical regions of Latvia – Kurzeme, Vidzeme and Latgale. The monument ensemble is on four levels, with 56 sculptures divided into 13 sculptural groups which depict Latvian culture and history. During the Soviet era, it was prohibited to gather by the Freedom Monument, and there had even been talks about dismantling the monument. Later, the Soviet authorities attempted to interpret the monument in accordance with Soviet propaganda, saying that the Lady of Liberty is actually Mother Russia, and that the three stars depict the three Soviet republics of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. When the period of national reawakening began, people started to gather by the Freedom Monument on various commemorative and memorial days. On June 14, 1987, three years before Latvia declared its restoration of independence, the first anti-Soviet demonstration took place at the Freedom Monument with over 5,000 persons participating in the demonstration organized by the Helsinki-86 human rights group.
After the restoration of Latvia’s independence, the honor guard by the Freedom Monument was revived. Soldiers from the National Armed Forces’ Honor Guard Company carry out this important responsibility. An honor guard must be at least 1.82 meters tall and in excellent health, because he must endure standing in attention for a long period. The Honor Guard stands at the monument each day from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., except when there are very unfavorable weather conditions, as well as when temperatures dip to below 10 degrees Celsius or rise above 25 degrees Celsius. The changing of the Honor Guard takes place once per hour.