Tragic story of Latvian Juliet

Turaida Castle is over 800 years old. Still, despite its impressive age and versatile history, it is most famous for the tragic story of Rose of Turaida.

It was the year 1214 when a man with huge influence in the region, Albert, Archbishop of Riga, decided that he needed a proper castle in place of the wooden one. He gave orders to start erecting a more substantial edifice. At those times Albert ruled over the Livonian Brothers of the Sword, but they were soon to unite with the Teutonic Order.

A simple castellum-type fortress was built. The name given to it originally – Fredeland – translates as Land of Peace, but locals started calling it Turaida. Centuries went by, and the castle complex grew. In the fourteenth century, the southern section in a shape of a tower was built. And in the next century, following the invention of firearms, the semi-rounded western tower was added to the ensemble.

Brave soldiers needed to eat, and their armour needed attention and cleaning, so the fortress developed further, and domestic buildings and living accommodations were the next logical addition.

Alas, everything in life follows the same circle of rises and falls. Turaida Castle hadn’t escaped that fate too, and in the seventeenth century, its downfall began. It lost its strategic significance, and after the fire that made huge damage to the complex in 1776, it didn’t rise again in its former glory.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, the formidable fortress that evoked awe in the troops of the enemy presented a pitiful sight. Separate fragments of the defensive wall and some buildings were everything that reminded of its prominence. Only in 1976, the archaeological excavations started, and then, gradually, the castle’s earlier state was restored.

Now on the territory of the fortress complex, you can explore the exhibitions about the castle history and the Gauja Livonians.

It’s also the best place in the area to enjoy the picturesque view over the unique landscape of the Gauja valley from the castle’s tower. It’s easy to lose yourself in the scenes from the past that come alive when you are standing in the very place where Teutonic Order knights once stood keeping guard.

And soon, after looking at the river and the forest, witnesses of many battles, you hear the armour jingling and voices from lower floors of the tower…Your mind wanders deeper into the past and there you are, caught in the middle of the sharp fight…

…It is the year 1601. Polish and Swedish soldiers are fighting against each other, determined to win. The prize is a big one. The rulers of Poland and Sweden competed in taking possession of Turaida Castle for many years.

After the battle, a castle clerk Mr. Greif searches for survivors and finds a baby girl in the arms of her dead mother. Mr. Greif is a kind man, and his heart goes out to the child. He takes the girl and raises her as his own daughter.

Mr. Greif gives the girl a beautiful name – Maija.

At 19, Maija is the prettiest girl all around Sigulda and Turaida. People call her Rose of Turaida. She has many suitors, but she falls in love with Viktor, the gardener at Sigulda Castle, which stands on the other bank of Gauja River.

In the autumn of 1620, the couple decides to get married. Alas, fate is against them! Something tells me that Shakespeare would appreciate the twist. He might even write another tragedy that would surpass “Romeo and Juliet” in popularity.

One day, Maija receives a note from her betrothed. It’s from Viktor. Her heart flutters in anticipation of meeting her love. It is indeed an invitation to meet at Gutmanis Cave, their usual rendezvous place.

Maija is shocked when instead of Victor she sees a Polish soldier Adam Jakubowski waiting for her by the cave. He is a nobleman, but it doesn’t stop him from pursuing a nefarious plan to force Maija to become his wife.

Maija wasn’t only pretty, she was also smart. She tells Adam her scarf is magical and makes the person wearing it indestructible. She offers to test it on her… The man strikes her with an axe. Maija dies, having kept her honour intact.

When Viktor comes to the cave in the evening, he finds his fiancé dead.

Poor Viktor was accused of the murder. But thanks to the honest people, who testified against the real villain, Viktor was acquitted. He buried his betrothed on the Turaida Castle grounds and planted a linden tree on the grave. He then left Turaida forever.

Maija’s story is not simply a legend. The documents about Maija Greif’s murder were published by Magnus von Wolffeldt in 1848. Moreover, there are documents in Sigulda’s archives revealing the fate of the treacherous Polish soldier Adam Jakubowski. The man had been hanged for his crime.

Time passes and erases evidence of events and people’s lives. On the castle grounds, ancient trees still stand on Church hill, encircling the place that used to be a burial site for local inhabitants. All graves have disappeared succumbing to the relentless passing of time. Only one memorial tomb has stood against time and the forces of nature. It is the place where Maija, Rose of Turaida was laid to rest.

Even today, centuries after Maija’s death, there always are fresh flowers on her grave. There is a custom for newlyweds to come here on their happy day to think about eternal love and devotion.

Zanda, the main character of my new book “Finding Your Way”, visits Sigulda, and she is fascinated by the romantic story she accidentally hears on the cable car ride. This story isn’t as sad as Maija’s. Zanda is young, but unlike Rose of Turaida, she is confused about love. She can’t decide what love really is. Is it gratitude for having been noticed and singled out by a boy who is clearly out of her league? Or is it the disturbing longing she instinctively tries to suppress, for the one who makes her feel that way is so incredibly infuriating?

“Finding Your Way” is a contemporary young adult novel set in Latvia in 2008. The book is available for pre-order on Amazon. Before its release date – November 22 – I’ll continue sharing stories about my beautiful country. It seems that in Latvia legends lurk around every corner, and behind every tree and stone.

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