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Latvia: Turaida Castle

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Turaida Castle | Latvia | Europe

[Visited: June 2013]

When I arrived in Sigulda on an early summer evening, I wanted to go for a hike, and drove to the visitor centre of Gauja National Park. At one moment, I saw the tower of a medieval castle high above the trees, and immediately felt I wanted to visit it. So, the next morning, when the sun was making a real effort to pierce through the clouds again, I walked into the extensive castle grounds. When I got the map of the area, I realized that Turaida is more than just a castle, and I knew my visit would take much more than I had anticipated. First, I went to the tomb of Maija, also called Turaida Rose, a legendary local girl linked to a tragic love story. She was in love with gardener Victor of Turaida Castle, but had many suitors because of her beauty. On a fatal day, one of them tricked her into going to the secret cave where she would meet Victor by forging a letter from him; she offered him her scarf instead, insisting it had magical powers. Alas, when he tested his sword on it, the scarf could not protect her, and she was killed. On the black tomb of Maija, you can see that she died only 19 years of age.

Picture of Turaida Castle (Latvia): One of the views to be had from the main tower of Turaida Castle, with castle buildings and Gauja river

Next, I visited the small, wooden church, where I was welcomed by a woman dressed in medieval garb. It has a small exhibition, of which an old bible is the most remarkable. From here, I continued walking on the main trail towards the castle. There were some tour groups, but it was easy enough to avoid them. From afar, the castle looks like the exemplary medieval castle, with red, pointed towers and protective walls, but now that I was up close, I noticed that much of it has been recently restored. Effort has been made to take the visitor back in time; staff walk around in medieval clothes, you can try your hand at a crossbow, and the towers have been turned into small museums about the castle itself and the years in which it was operative as an important stronghold. Among the many items on display were the stone sundial, weather vanes, metal clamps, and much more. When I reached the top of the tower, the sun reigned the skies again, and the views around were great: I could see the river Gauja below, the courtyard of the castle, and the surrounding castle grounds, as well as the hilly landscape of Gauja National Park. I decided to walk down the Gauja River in search of a viewpoint of the castle later.

Picture of Turaida Castle (Latvia): Wooden church in the background with flowers and trees

Just behind the castle, I reached the sculpture garden. On Daina hill, a hilltop covered in white flowers, several grey sculptures are exposed. They depict human figures: nude women, groups of people, a couple, a mother with child; they represent Latvian heroes who are immortalized in traditional Latvian folk songs called daina. I took a trail down into the woods, emerged again at the back of the wooden church I had seen before, and was tempted to lie on the grass with the flowers. Instead, I descended into the valley at the back of the sculpture garden, and reached the Gauja river bank. From there, I walked with another visitor in search of a viewpoint, which we only found after walking straight to the river bank through the high vegetation. But there it was: the donjon of Turaida Castle high above the river, on its strategic elevated position. We ended up walking up the hill again, and when I was back in Sigulda, I went to the ruins of Sigulda Castle just to have a good view of Turaida Castle which is the bigger of the three castles in the area. Where Gauja National Park is mostly about outdoor activities, the castles give it a historic dimension, too.

Picture of Turaida Castle (Latvia): Sculptures scattered around the sculpture garden of Turaida Castle, Daina Hill
Picture of Turaida Castle (Latvia): Cobble stones and two arches at the side of Turaida Castle
Picture of Turaida Castle (Latvia): Sculptures of figures appearing in daina found in the sculpture garden of Turaida Castle
Picture of Turaida Castle (Latvia): Female nude on Daina Hill, the sculpture garden of Turaida Castle
Picture of Turaida Castle (Latvia): Scene with medieval figures in the museum of Turaida Castle
Picture of Turaida Castle (Latvia): The towers of Turaida Castle high above river Gauja
Picture of Turaida Castle (Latvia): View of Turaida Castle from the courtyard
Picture of Turaida Castle (Latvia): View of the towers of Turaida Castle from the ruins of the castle at Sigulda
Picture of Turaida Castle (Latvia): Several buildings on the sloping, flower-covered hills of the castle grounds of Turaida
Picture of Turaida Castle (Latvia): Sundial made of stone on display in the museum of Turaida Castle
Picture of Turaida Castle (Latvia): Turaida Roze tombstone, for the local legendary beauty who tragically found her death

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