White palace's spirit teaches to see beauty and feel love

  • 2000-07-20
  • Anna Pridanova
"People come, wage wars and go, but the majestic and mysterious spirit of Krimulda's ancient valley is where it was. And so it will be forever."

So wrote Prince Paul Herman von Liven (1821-1881), whose family owned the Krimulda rural estate for more than a century.

Yes, this is the sight that unfolds when one stands on the balcony of Krimulda's main building on the right bank of the Gauja River - Sigulda and the mountain road connecting two sides of the old Gauja river bed.

But Livens' kin were not the only ones admiring the beauty and the calmness of one of the prettiest places in Latvia.

Many people who spent their childhood at the sanitarium "Krimulda" come back, driven by nostalgia.

Hundreds of people came to Krimulda in late August 1997 when the Krimulda children's rehabilitation sanitarium celebrated its 75th anniversary, proving that this place captures anyone who sees it for a long time. Returnees include former doctors and nurses, some of whom devoted their entire lives to the sanitarium and students graduating in 1979 and later.

The noble country estate was turned into a sanitarium in 1922 after the agrarian reform in Latvia when the Liven family lost its Krimulda estate. The 17th century manor house was considered as the most appropriate site to hold a bone tuberculosis sanitarium for 200 patients.

A half century later it was transformed into a children's health center with an elementary school in it. The overall decline of tuberculosis rates over those at its founding has caused Krimulda to change its function. It now deals primarily with children having clinical bone diseases.

Earlier it served all three Baltic states, but now the Krimulda sanitarium only serves Latvia and hosts slightly more than 50 children.

"The changes the Latvian rehabilitation system underwent affected us, too. We have three times fewer children than in the beginning of the 90s. And now they don't stay here for three to five years, as it was earlier," said Dace Vanaga, sanitarium's director.

Because of the sanitarium's financial situation and its mission to provide children with psychological comfort, the youngsters are not separated from their families for years as in Soviet times. Now they go home for a week after each 52-day period and are allowed to stay at home during summers.

The methods of medical treatment have also changed. Two thirds of all patients living at Krimulda have Perthes hip joint disease, which involves loss of blood supply to the hip joint and requires lengthy treatment.

Kids are no longer forced to lie in their beds during their stay, but are provided orthosis, an apparatus that holds the leg in a fixed position and allows the child to engage in everyday activities almost freely.

"But the results of the treatment were better then, when time and constant observation were considered to be a better cure," said Ilze Abele, staff doctor.

After 1995 the number of children dropped from 140 to 45, thanks to the poor economic situation in Latvia, and competition drove a search for new ways of development. Seeking friends and financial aid from non-government institutions allowed repairs and helped to build up the medical service.

The sanitarium has entered new fields — two new departments host children from families unprotected by social institutions and those needing social rehabilitation after suffering from violence.

They have adopted new practices to raise money, serving as a bed and breakfast for the summer tourists visiting Sigulda and the Turaida Castle five kilometers from Krimulda.

"I have both sad and joyful memories, but the first you forget sooner than the second. There is a kind of unreality about time spent there. It seems now that all that I went through then happened to somebody else. Everything happened there on different rules than in real life. It was a small world, where everyone loved each other. But then you enter the real big world, where you are just a passerby," said Aleksandra, who lived at Krimulda for four years, from when she was 9.

"This is the place I grew up, a place whose spirit cures me when I'm feeling bad," said Anna, a former patient. "Krimulda taught me to feel love and to see beauty."