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Castle of Livonian Order in Sigulda
Built in 1207 as a castellum type fortress, later rebuilt into a convent type building. From 2012 it is possible to climb up the North Tower, the Main Gate Tower and enjoy the medieval aura.
In the ancient Gauja valley, shaped by the River Gauja and its tributaries, dozens of stone castles were erected and occupied in addition to the many castle mounds that were built by earlier locals. This area has the greatest concentration of castles not only in Latvia but also in Eastern Europe.
Geographically, the Gauja valley played an important role during the Crusades due to its existing network of waterways and land roads that were already in place.
The valley was also home to a variety of ethnic groups who each controlled their own lands. During the 13th century many new territories were established on the basis of war and battle.
Sigulda Medieval Castle was built by the Livonian Brothers of the Sword who were later incorporated into the Teutonic Order of the castle, thus the castle eventually became the property of the Livonian Order.
The Livonian Brothers of the Sword, officially known as The Militia of Christ of Livonia, was a military order comprised of German "warrior monks.” They later became better known as the Livonian Brothers of the Sword 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 Historical documents indicate Bishop Albert and Cistercian Abbot Teoderih were the co-founders of the order.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 to protect the land and conquer new territories.
As 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. According to the Rhymed Chronicles, Sigulda Medieval Castle was erected sometime between 1207 and 1209 under the direction of Master Venno of the Order of the Brethren of the Sword. 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 1224 the Pope’s legate, Wilhelm of Modena, stayed at the castle and established both a church and parish. 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.
At the very beginning of the Livonian war, Sigulda Medieval Castle was damaged and in 1562 it became a part of the PolishStarostwo. At the end of the 16th century, the Poles repaired the castle and its surrounding buildings. During the Polish – Swedish war the castle was seriously damaged. After the war, the Swedes reported that the castle was empty and destroyed. In the 1622 it was again restored and a new residential building and sauna were built.
In 1737 Sigulda became a private estate. It was first the property of Count Lasi, followed by Brown and the Borhs. In the 19th century the castle and its layout were remodeled and a gate, inscribed with the year 1867, was added to the front part of the castle. The gate tower surrounding the inner castle building was decorated with the Borh family coat of arms. Additionally, the ruins of the castle were fortified and two pseudo-gothic arches were constructed. Finally, between 1878 and 1881, a new castle was built by Duke Kropotkin’s family.
At the beginning of the 19th century the castle once again got attention but, following the trend of the times, it was simply admired as a romantic ruin. Monument protection concerns caused some construction work to be done in order to renew the gate tower and other important parts of the castle. Due to its importance as a tourist attraction, the castle walls have been fortified many times in the 20th century.
After WWI with the establishment of Latvia, the ruins have been under the auspices of the Monument Board.
In 2011, the European Union co-sponsored a project designed to assist with the renovations. It was officially titled “Reconstruction of Sigulda Castle Ruins and Infrastructure Adjustment for Tourism Development” and successfully concluded in 2012.
All of this has resulted in the reconstruction of the castle ruins and it’s surroundings which makes it a unique tourist attraction combining a rich cultural history in an ecologically clean environment.
You are welcome to climb up into the Castle’s southern and northern towers which have been opened for the first time since the renovations. Take a walk on the walls of the ruins to enjoy the pristine atmosphere and the beautiful views of Gauja river valley and the nearby historical monuments. The technical part of this project was executed by the office of Inara Caunite.
Annual concerts and festivals are organized on the open air stage of Sigulda castle-ruins. The season traditionally opens in May with the Cherry Blossom Ball followed by the Jazz Festival, Blues Festival and Theater Day. The most remarkable event is the Opera Festival, originally initiated 20 years ago by Dainis Kalns and held in Sigulda ever since.
Livonian Order’s castle in Sigulda to its visitors offers explicit and historically active journey within the everyday life of Livonian Order’s Brotherhood. Visitors will discover how the inner structure of the Order was formed and how did it function; how did Order’s brothers and servants dress and arm themselves; what was the everyday life and military campaigns of the Order’s brotherhood like.
Virtual tour available here.