Have you seen many places where three castles stand at a cannon-shooting distance from each other?
Welcome to Sigulda area! Built in different centuries, by different rulers, three magnificent edifices, solemn witnesses of the times long gone, still stand on the banks of the Gauja River.
· Castle of Livonian order or Sigulda Medieval Castle ruins
· Turaida Medieval Castle
· Krimulda Manor
The view from Paradise Hill with Gauja river valley stretching out wide and the red medieval castle perched on the hill among the greenery – or among the splashes of vivid autumn colours – is worth seeing with one’s own eyes.
It was the year 1214. 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. At those times Albert ruled over the Livonian Brothers of the Sword. He had just recently, in 1201 founded Riga, and the city was flourishing. As you can see, a wooden castle was definitely not enough for such a grand persona to demonstrate their power.
A simple castellum-type fortress was built in a strategic location overlooking the Gauja river valley. The name given to it originally – Fredeland – translates as Land of Peace, but locals started calling it Turaida. And this name has survived until the present times.
Centuries went by, and the castle complex grew. In the 14th 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 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, and in the 17th century, its downfall began. It lost its strategic significance, and after the fire that made huge damage to it in 1776, it didn’t rise again in its former glory.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the formidable fortress that evoked awe in its enemies 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 gradually, the castle’s earlier state was restored.
Now on the territory of the complex, you can explore the exhibitions about its history. Also, the castle’s tower is the best place in the area to enjoy the picturesque view over the unique landscape of the Gauja valley from. It’s easy to lose yourself in the scenes from the past that come alive 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…
Sigulda Medieval Castle ruins are another fascinating place to visit in Sigulda. Built in 1207, the original castle was later rebuilt into a convent type building. It served as the residence of the Land Marshal of the Livonian Order since 1432.
Just like Turaida Castle, Sigulda Castle was built by the Livonian Brothers of the Sword who later merged with the Teutonic Order, which led to the castle becoming the property of the Livonian Order. The Livonian Brothers of the Sword were actually the Militia of Christ of Livonia. They were German “warrior monks”, and the order, founded in 1202, was the first “warrior monk” order formed outside the Mediterranean region. Their mission was to keep the order’s lands in Livonia and also to conquer new territories. The main goal of “warrior monks” stationed in the castle was to fight off nasty invasion attempts from the Turaida castle located across the river. Remember, the Rose of Turaida story?
The second highest officer of the order – the Land Marshal of the Livonian Order – lived in Sigulda Castle since 1432. While the biggest boss – the Livonian Master – lived in the Cēsis Medieval Castle.
The castle was abandoned during the Great Northern War (1700 – 1721). Serious renovation works of the castle began in 1962. Still, only in 2011, thanks to the EU funding project, reconstruction began in earnest. It was finished in 2012, and now visitors can climb up the North Tower, the Main Gate Tower and enjoy the medieval aura.
The third and the youngest castle nestled on the banks of Gauja river is Krimulda Manor (in the main picture to this blog post). In truth, the history of the original Krimulda Castle dates back to the 13th century. It was built at the same time when Sigulda and Turaida castles were erected, concluding the ensemble of three castles that stand at a cannon-shooting distance from each other. But Krimulda Castle had taken the toughest blow of time and destruction by human hands, and until our days, only a few almost crumbled walls of what once was a formidable fortress are left.
Zanda, the main character of “Finding Your Way”, wanders around these ruins with a girl who manages to hide her darkest side from her.
In the 16th century, activity flourished on the territory of Krimulda. The place’s owners changed as Polish and Swedish rulers took over the area. Finally, around 1822 the new manor building was erected. Now Krimulda manor is one of the most vivid examples of Classicism style villa architecture in Latvia. Later, in 1853 the beautiful park with promenades and wooden stairs was laid around the manor building. Wooden stairs are one of the trademarks of Sigulda area. From Krimulda manor 380 steps lead to the Vikmeste valley, while the second wooden descent leads to the ferry across river Gauja.
In those times, the territory of modern Latvia including Sigulda, Turaida, and Krimulda, was a part of the Russian empire. The news about the Krimulda manor park reached the Russian Tsar Alexander II. He visited Krimulda with his wife and entourage in 1862 when he visited Vidzeme region.
After Latvia declared its independence, in 1922 the Latvian Red Cross founded the First State Bone Tuberculosis Sanatorium on the territory of Krimulda Manor. The facility continued to function as a tuberculosis sanatorium in the Soviet period, until 1991. It specialised in treating patients with bone diseases as well as children with active tuberculosis. Since 2002 the Krimulda Rehabilitation Centre is privately owned. It still provides rehabilitation services, including those partly financed by the state medical system, but it also offers hotel style accommodation as well as SPA and events organisation services.
In Sigulda area, it seems no place of interest is without an exciting legend. Zanda, the main character of “Finding Your Way”, learns a romantic legend of how the cable car over the Gauja River was built. The oldest cable car in Baltic countries, it still runs over 40 metres above the picturesque valley. During the ride, you can admire all three castles standing at a cannon-shooting distance from each other. This tourist magnet could have never been built if…
Zanda learns the story during the cable car ride over the Gauja river valley.
“Finding Your Way”, a contemporary YA novel with a touch of magical realism set in Latvia, is available for pre-order on Amazon.
Wow that’s fascinating to think that those 3 castles were so close to one another – all run independently. They still look beautiful.
Yes, it is absolutely fascinating that these castles were like separate universes, all controlled by different rulers. There were periods of time when they belonged to different countries even.
I remember how enthralled I was reading the history of this area in Turaida Castle museum. It’s the one with red tower. Extremely interesting! Different kings conquered different parts of a relatively small area. Again and again. But people continued to live their lives, and nature continued to blossom. Amazing.
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