The Landscape of Vidzeme Hillocks
The unique shape of Vidzeme hillocks terrain is determined by the Vidzeme upland characteristic segmented terrain. A special signature of Vidzeme upland landscape are the large hills (Gaiziņkalns, Sirdskkalns, Abrienas hill, Nesaules hill, Mazais Gaiziņkalns, Viešūrkalns, Dravēnu hill, Bolēnu hill etc.) and their surrounding areas, that shape today’s highest points of Latvian terrain. In Vidzeme they are often called “augstumi” or “heights”, such as Siltumēnu and Anrēnu augstums in Dzērbene rural area, Brežģa and Ievkalna augstumi in Taurene rural area, Ežu augstumi (this specifically was named by writer Reinis Kaudzīte), which now is called Elku hill in Skujene rural area, Bākaskalna augstumi in Vecpiebalga rural area and others. These hills are accompanied with small and medium-sized hillocks, and wide slopes. These form of terrain from the large hill gives far and magnificent view perspectives. Whereas the hills themselves stand and in the landscape from a distance.
The terrain in Vidzeme upland has historically influenced the use of land and location of farmsteads. The best conditions for agriculture are the gentle slopes on medium and large hills, and the terraces in flat fields. Here farmlands are located, but in the damp lower parts and steeper slopes – forests. Their disposition either visually marks out or disguises the terrain. Between forest stands in Vidzeme upland the dominant form in hillocks are spruce tree forests. Due to the far views from the hilltops, in summer heat the forests are smoky blue, but in a rainy day under grey clouds – almost completely black. Maybe this is exactly why in the song “Mūžam zili”, written by Emīls Dārziņš and Kārlis Skalbe (who both spent most of their lives in Piebalga), there are lines: “Forever blue are the Latvian hills…” The views from the large hills unravels landscape patterns of Vidzeme hillocks, which are made up of fields, forests, roads and farmsteads – this mosaic and visual shape are created as a result of natural conditions and human activity.
The nuanced and intimate character of Vidzeme hillocks landscape reveals in close-ups and medium close-ups. In many places the landscape is made of biologically diverse natural meadows, which have preserved in Vidzeme upland in large areas. They bloom spectacularly in June. Vivid views on origin-wise diverse and different lakes can be spotted form hills and many roads. In the central part of Vidzeme upland the largest upland lakes are located – lake Alauksts and lake Inesis, who comes from the glacial lake family, with wide mirror of water, with forests and meadows on their shores. The landscape of Ērgļi area is enriched with picturesque glacial lakes (Jurmunda, Kāla and Kaķīša lakes, lake Viešūrs and others) with curved shorelines. Areas around Dzērbene and Taurene have characteristic elongated lakes (especially visually impressive are lake Bānūžu, lake Kaupēnu, lake Juveris and lake Ilzes), that lie in the subglacial beds made by the glacier and its melting waters. In June, water lilies bloom in many lakes, which is a crucial element of Vidzeme lake landscapes, therefore they can be seen in the coat of arms of Dzērbene rural area and in the logo of Vecpiebalga municipality.
The clear lake mirrors and their surrounding forests and meadows are one of the largest aesthetical treasures of the landscape of Vidzeme hillocks, that attract many people from Latvia and foreigners to call Vidzeme their home. The picturesque landscape of Vidzeme in Vidzeme upland historically has been one of the factors that determined the disposition of population. The largest part of manors and many old farmsteads are located near lakes. In his time, the writer Kārlis Skalbe and his family built his new home in “Saulrieti”, Vecpiebalga rural area (1926) with a grand view of Vecpiebalga with lakes Alauksts, Insesis and Taunu lake. He wrote:
“Še sirdij viss, ko viņa prasa,
Še saule spīd, še veldzē rasa.
Trīs spoži ezeri,
Trīs brāļi – milzeņi,
Nes augšā lietu kalnos manos,
Kur priecīgs klausos vēja zvanos.”
“Here lies everything the heart wants,
Here the sun shines, here the dew refreshes.
Three bright lakes,
Three brothers – giants,
Carries the rain up my hills,
Where I listen joyfully to the wind songs.”
One of Vidzeme cultural landscape features is that many farmsteads are located on top of hills, where is better microclimate for orchards and a beautiful view. In Piebalga historically there are created compact groups of farmsteads, where there are 2 to 10 farms close together. Vidzeme farmstead landscape with gray log houses and four-sided roofs or “lāčpakaļas”, wide-roofed threshing barns with eaves so long they reach the ground, and orchards is an integral element and treasure of cultural landscape of Vidzeme hillocks.
The landscapes of Vidzeme hillocks have been and still are a great insparation for many writers and poets (Kārlis Skalbe, Matīss and Reinis Kaudzītes, Rūdolfs Blaumanis, Atis Kronvalds, Antons Austriņš, Jānis Sudrabkalns, Ansis Līventāls, Pauls Putniņš etc.), composers (Emīls Dārziņš, Andrejs Jurjāns, Marģers Zariņš etc.), and artists (Kārlis Miesnieks, Biruta Baumane, Kārlis Baltgailis, Kristīne Luīze Avotiņa etc.)
In a population survey conducted by Vidzeme University of Applied Sciences (Viensēta un ainavas kvalitāte dabas daudzveidības kontekstā, 2017) one of the best landscapes in Latvia is Vidzeme upland. In the list of Latvian Landscape treasures, the landscape of Vidzeme hillocks is represented by Vecpiebalga hillocks, and Vidzeme farmstead and white highways.
The landscape changes along with time. Today landscapes become more closed, and, as a result, far panorama views disappear from the hilltops, opens views to lakes and rivers. More and more hardwood forests and bushes take up the landscape. Farm buildings changes as well, and individual single farmsteads and their elements (threshold barns and byres) gradually disappear. For the purpose of preserving cultural and historical landscapes and natural diversity, Vidzeme hillock landscapes are included in many specially protected natural and cultural and historical territories, with one of the main goals – to protect valuable landscapes. They are protected landscape regions of Vecpiebalga and Vestiena, and Gaiziņkalns natural park.
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Skalbe, K. (1936). Zāles dvaša. Rīga: A. Gulbis.
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Zariņa, A., Lūkins, M., Vinogradovs, I. (2018). Kultūrainavu reģioni. No: Latvija. Zeme, daba, tauta, valsts (627.–635. lpp.). Rīga: Latvijas Universitātes akadēmiskais apgāds.