The border cities of Valga in Estonia and Valka in Latvia now share a unique central square half of which is in one country and the other half in the other. The vision to restore the once broken historical space in a modern way came from Catalan architects.
The outgoing year will mark a century from when the historical city of Walk was divided along the Konnaoja (Frog Creek) with one part remaining in Estonia and the other in Latvia. The question who should get Valga caused headaches around the time the countries restored their independence, while local governments have tried to come up with a way to soften the disjuncture in recent years.
The newly completed shared central square of the two cities quite literally offers common ground for residents and should also draw tourists once the pandemic passes.
"Architects were facing two controversial problems – how to reunite the split city space on the one hand while highlighting the special character of the location on the other," said Valga local government architect Jiri Tintera.
Not counting the mandatory boundary posts, all other signs of the border have disappeared from the city. They are back now, complete with flags, a border booth and bench where one person can sit in Estonia and the other in Latvia.
This kind of shared city space is unique in the world and one can constantly feel one's borderline location – it is also possible to swing from one country to the other.
"The swing clearly emulates Estonian and Latvian village swings that traditionally served as meeting places, especially for young people. We put our swing right on the border so people could swing in and out of the two countries," Tintera said.
Wooden pergolas on the border display quotes by famous Estonians and Latvians from the Valga/Valka area.
"We got lucky because the architectural competition went the way of Catalan architects who brought to Valka a southern European vision of city space using local and familiar materials such as wood and bricks. These wooden pergolas that offer shade from the wind and sun are one such element," Tintera said.
The pergolas also help hide away old privately owned sheds.
It takes a long time to change a city. One must hope that entrepreneurs running a Selver supermarket in the old winery can breathe new life into a tower under heritage conservation. While the Valga Municipality does not intend to restore the Vana Ramsi windmill, there are plans to render it safe to be used as a venue for small events.
Editor: Marcus Turovski