Sigulda, Latvia – Trés Castles and the Ghost of the Rose

Today’s agenda: road trip out of Riga and see not one, not two, but three medieval castles outside of a little town called Sigulda. We jumped on the train and away.

The first castle was a short hike from the heart of bustling Sigulda.

20140518-102921.jpgThey haven’t spent much time naming Sigulda Medieval Castle, but they have expended a great deal of effort in restoring it. This structure was built in 1207 as a fortress. Today, several of her towers have been restored. Additionally, several original walls remain, and well as the foundations of all of the other castle walls. Even in this partial state, the place is incredibly intimidating and impressive.

This castle was constructed initially by the Livonian Brothers of the Sword. The Livonian Brothers of the Sword, known formally as The Militia of Christ of Livonia, was a military order composed of German “warrior monks.” Their nickname is due to the symbols on their white capes: a red sword and cross. The order, founded in 1202, was the first “warrior monk” order formed outside the Mediterranean region. Historical documents indicate Bishop Albert and Cistercian Abbot Teoderih were the co-founders of the order. The military order’s mission was to remain in Livonia (the predecessor nation to Latvia) to protect the land and conquer new territories.20140518-104834.jpg

20140518-103247.jpgAs part of the land division between themselves and Bishop Albert in 1207, the order gained the territory which stretched along the left side of the Gauja River. In the ongoing competition to determine hegemony between the Bishop and the Livonian Order, castle placement became a strategic factor. The Chronicle of Henry of Livonia says that the castle was in use by the Brothers of the Sword as a base while battling revolting Livs that were invading from a nearby castle. Sigulda Medieval Castle was initially built to monitor and control the water ways of the Gauja River and to fend off any invasion attempts from the nearby bishop’s castle in Turaida which was located on the river’s west coast. In 1237 the lands of the Livonian Brothers of the Sword become the property of the German Order who continued to conquer additional territories in Latvia up until 1290.
20140518-103124.jpgThe castle went through various cycles of ownership, disrepair, renovation, expansion for centuries, and played a part on several historic conflicts. After largely existing in ruin until the late 1980’s, a major renovation was initiated, completing in 2012. The grounds may be toured and are quite tour-worthy. My favorite bit by far was getting to handle weaponry and armor. I even got to try on a helmet! I’ve put on every toy helmet that I’ve seen so far on the trip…finally, the real deal. The kid working in the armory was a great sport about the whole thing. Check out the pix.


20140518-103345.jpgAfter Bex finally got me to put down the sword and take off the helmet, we left this castle and headed toward castle no. 2. It lay across a valley and the Guaja River, and required a cable car to access.


20140518-103621.jpgAlas, castle no. 2 is in the middle of the woods and has not been restored, and sadly it contains no weapons. It’s a foundation and one wall. A bit of a dud really.

20140518-103713.jpgWe kept moving. A long, hilly hike ocurred between castles no. 2 and no. 3. Castle no. 3 was the previously-mentioned Turaida (Thor’s Garden) Castle, built around 1214 by Albert, the Archbishop of Riga.

20140518-103930.jpgI guess he and the Brothers of the Sword had a falling out. His castle is a red brick affair, and like the other two is built on the top of a small mountain, with a defensible location and an incredible view of the Guaja River valley. This castle is also a partially-restored ruin, although it sits within the Turaida Museum Preserve, a nature preserve / building conservancy, which includes a number of medieval and later-era buildings.


Along the long walk between the Sigulda Medieval and Turaida Castles, we enjoyed the Gutmanis cave, and Bex told me the story of the Rose of Turaida. It’s sad; here goes…20140518-104400.jpgAfter a battle at the foot of Turaida Castle in 1601, the castle clerk, while searching for survivors, found a baby in the arms of its dead mother. He called the child Maija and brought her up as his own. She grew up to be very beautiful and so was known as the “Rose of Turaida”. She fell in love with Viktor, the gardener at the castle of Sigulda (see how this story ties things together?) and in the autumn of 1620 they prepared to be married. Shortly before the wedding Maija received a letter from Viktor asking her to meet him at the Gutmanis Cave, their usual meeting place. She went to the cave with Lenta, the young daughter of her adoptive father. When she reached it, however, it was not Viktor she encountered but a Polish nobleman or soldier called Adam Jakubowski who was lying in wait for her with the intention of forcing her to be his wife. Maija promised to give him her magic scarf, that had the power to make the wearer immune from injury (in some versions the scarf is impossible to cut through), if he would let her go, and persuaded him to test its power on her. He struck her with an axe and she died, having thus saved her honour.

In the evening Viktor came to the cave and found the body of his betrothed and was accused of the murder. But in court there appeared a witness called Peteris Skudritis, who testified that he had been commissioned by Jakubowski to deliver the fatal letter. Lenta confirmed the course of events. Viktor buried his betrothed near the Turaida castle, planted a linden tree on the grave and left the country forever. According to documents in Sigulda’s archives the soldier was later caught, tried and hanged for his crime. From then on it has been customary for newlyweds to leave flowers on the grave of the Rose of Turaida in hopes of knowing the same eternal love and devotion.

20140518-104250.jpgWhilst visiting the cave, we were loved upon by a small housecat. The reincarnated spirit of the Rose of Turaida perhaps…?



I think that’s enough for now. Tomorrow’s plans include the KGB Museum, Godzilla, and Peter Gabriel in Riga.

Peace out!


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