Medieval Castles in Latvia

During the rule of German knights more than hundred castles were built in present Latvian territory.  Castles were residences of vassals and bishops and were main centers around Livonia. Locations of castles became civil centers and now most of them are cities. Today most sites of castles either lies in ruins or show little trace of their presence. Only few Medieval castles like in Riga, Venstspils or Bauska have been conserved, some have been partly restored like Turaida. In this post we will take a look at some of the most famous castles around Latvia.

Castle of Aizkraukle (Acheraden)

Aizkraukle has already mentioned in previous posts as palace site for early Selonians and Latgalians and Livonians. It was sited on right side of river Daugava 82 km from Riga. First castle was built by natives but burned by Crusaders, then Crusaders build their own stone castle. It was functional until in 14. century new castle was built nearby and the old castle was abounded. New castle was build in 14. century. Castle was property of Livonian Order. Castle was stormed by Russian army in 1577. and in 1599. it was abounded. In 17. century due to the territorial division, the left bank of river Daugava was given to Duchy or Curland and Semigallia and right was given to Sweden. Therefore Aizkraukle lost its importance and the castle became fully lost. At left side new center Jaunjelgava (Fridrichstad) was established and at right Koknese (Kokunhusen) took importance. Small amount of Ruins still stand today and have not been conserved and are getting smaller.

The ruins of Aizkraukle castle

Castles of Aizpute (Hasenpoth)

Castle of Aizpute

Aizpute is small town near Liepaja in Lower Curland. It was home to two castles- Bishopric and Order. Bishopric castle was built in 13. century and was center of  Chapter of Priests of Bishopric of Curland. One of castles components was church which still stands today. Other parts of castles slowly perished because after breakdown of Livonia the main center was Order’s castle which was located at other side of river Tebra.  The Order’s castle was built at same time as the Bishopric. It served as military base long after Livonian war because it was restored by new owners. In 1659. it was attacked by army of Sweden and captured. It was restored again but in 18. century it lost its importance and palace owner build new mansion like castle and the old was used as living space for servants. In 1915.-1918. the German army established prisoner of war camp.  In prewar period it was used as asylum. After the Second world war it was not restored again it in seventies was abounded because it was too dangerous for its inhabitants. Locals tried to conserve the castle but lacked funds do it and today castle has no roof. Despite that its still are observable, but needs some serious work to let it last longer.

Castle of Alsunga (Alschwagen)

Located in Curland near Kuldiga. It belonged to the Order and was used as household  castle of Kuldiga. It was used to store crops and cattle. It was so important that in 16. century was upgraded to resist fire weapons. After the Livonian war it belonged to the adviser of Duke of Curland and Semigallia, but he sold it to noble man Jakob Shwerin. In 1659. it was besieged by Swedish troops and done large amount of damage to it. In 1783. Duke of Curland Johan Biron bought castle from Sherin family, after liquidation of Duchy it was given to crown of Russia, and was inhabited by tenants who could not restore the castle. After First  world war it was used as civic building. It shared the function of post office, dairy, peoples hall and elementary school. School was there until eighties when new school building was established and castle became fully abounded.  But new extensions of castle are still used.

Castle of Alsunga

Castle of Bauska (Bauske)

Located 15 km from Lithuanian border. Build in 15. century as Orders fogt castle. It was used as the border fortress to secure Livonian border from Lithuanian attacks. When it became as property of Duchy of Curland it was used as residence of Dukes and maintained for their use. 1625. castle was captured by Swedes but in 1628. recaptured by Poles.  Year after it again became property of Duke. Because of numerous attacks by Swedes it was badly damaged. In 1701. during the Great Northern War the king of Sweden Carl XII captured it and ordered to entrench it on his way to Poland. But in 1705. Russians captured castle but in 1706. because of change of tactical situation they detonated half of castle. It was not used ever since and became ruins. Castle was saved by famous fon Lieven family who bought the castle and started to conserve it and made it as a park. In Soviet Era attempts of further historic conservation was done. The reconstruction continues until this day and the Bauska history museum is established there.

Castle of Bauska at winter

Castle of Cesis (Wenden)

Cesis is located in middle of Vidzeme and 92 km Riga and 2 km from river Gauja. Castle of Cesis is one of the most famous castles in Latvia because it was main residence of the Order. Its foundation was started in 13. century. There the Master of Livonian Order lived along his most trusted brothers of Order. The city of Cesis became sprawling center with defense walls and was member of international Hanseatic league. In 1577. castle was attacked by Russians. Inhabitants of the castle was trapped with no chance of escape and they blow themselves up making collective suicide. It was used by later day rulers until destroyed again by Russians in 1703. After that the ruins were owned by noble landowner families. In 1974. the every-year archeological excavations took place, preserving the castle and making museum around it. Today the ruins of Castle of Cesis is one of the most interesting tourist sites outside Riga.

Ruins of Castle of Cesis

Castle of Ēdole (Edwahlen)

Located near Kuldīga and Piltene. It’s not clear when the castle was build, but moderate indications show that it was built in 14. century. It  became subject of landowning dispute between brother of Danish king and heir of Bishopric of Curland. At the end it came in heir’s hands making it property of Beer family. In 1905. castle was burned down by revolting peasants because of escalating 1905. Russian revolution. It was not fully restored until 1914. During the First World war when Curland was occupied by Germany the son of Kaiser Wilhelm II Crown-prince Joahim lived there. During the Soviet era it was used as house for disabled persons.  It was used for movie shooting many times, most famous was Latvian adaption of Astrid Lindgren’s Emil of Lönneberga. (Emīla nedarbi 1985). After the fall of Soviet Union its now used for many purposes, but now is a private tourist attraction.

Castle of Ēdole

Castle of Jaunpils (Neuenburg)

Castle is located near city of Tukums at the border of Curland and Semigallia. It was used as Orders household castle and regional center. It is considered built in 15. century. After the fall of Order it was bought by fon Rekke family. It was not damaged until in 1906. the revolutionary’s set it ablaze. Owners restored it but lost it after World war I. The local school was established there until 1940. During the World war II it was used as German war hospital. In Soviet Era it was used for agricultural purposes. Today the castle is tourist attraction.

The Jaunpils  Castle

The Jaunpils Castle

Castle of Koknese (Kokenhusen)

Koknese is located in right bank of Daugava near the Pļaviņu hydroelectric plant. It was battle site during Crusades. Crusaders build their own fortifications and Koknese was important military center for the Order. Around it the city of Koknese sprawled becoming important center. In 1577. Russians captured it, but was pushed away by Poles. Later it was besieged by Swedes. Sweden administration made Koknese as one of the administrative centers of Swedish Vidzeme. In 1656. Koknese was attacked by Russians and renamed as Dimitry, but Swedes took it back. But wars made Koknese to decay and city of nearby Jaunjelgava became more important.  In 1700. Koknese was attacked by Polish-Saxon army. After they lost battle of Spilve, they destroyed the castle. During the First world war Koknese was on the main front lines, but tick castle wall survived the artillery shots. In Prewar period castle was popular tourist attraction.  But in 1961. the new project of Pļaviņu hydroelectric power plant drastically changed the geography of Koknese. New power plant flooded lower parts of Koknese and made remaining parts of castle just near the river when it before was further away from the river. To save castle from falling into river the work of conservation was done.

Castle of Koknese before building of hydroelectric dam

Ruins of Koknsese Castle now

Castle of Krustpils (Kreutzburg)

Krustpils is located at right bank of river Daugava, between Pļaviņas and Daugavpils. Krustpils is part of city Jekabpils. First it was designed as castle of Archbishop of Riga, but taken by Order many times. After the Livonian war when it was damaged it was bought by Korf family, who rebuild the castle adding many new Baroque style additions.  After the First World war it was given to Latvian Army, where the Latgalian Artillery Division was located. Then it was taken by Germans who made castle as war hospital. Then Soviet Army took control of castle making it as a barracks for Soviet Air divisions. Soviets did not cared much for castles repairing and made it ill-stated when they left in 1991. Luckily castle was taken by Jekabpils history museum who did state of the art restorations and made castle into splendid museum.

The Castle of Krustpils

The Castle of Krustpils

Castle of Rauna (Ronneburg)

Rauna is located near Cesis. Rauna was the main residence of Archbishop of Riga, an important center in Medieval Livonia. Livonian war and later day wars destroyed the castle it was completely lost during the Swedish times. However some ruins still stand there today.

Castle of Rauna

Castles of Riga

Riga was site of many castles. First was residence of Bishop of Riga. Today only building visible today is church of  St. John. Another Bishops castle were built but it’s not visible today.

Church of St. John- all that remains of old Riga castle

First castle of Order was destroyed during Livonian civil war in 1297. What was left was Church of St. George which now serves as the museum of decorative arts and design.

Remaining part of destroyed castle

The last but not least was the second castle of Order. It was the second and third castle of the Order which now is an landmark of Riga. It was finished at 14. century  but in 15. century was again destroyed because of civil unrest between people of Riga and the Order. New castle was built at the same spot and was used as residence for Order. Last strongest leader of Order Walter fon Pletenberg took residence back to Cesis. In 1562. castle was site where the Livonian Order officially ceased to exist. New owners used castle as administration center. It was residence of Russian generalgowerner. When the new Republic of Latvia came into being, castle was chosen as Residence of President of Latvia. Jānis Čakste, Gustavs Zemgals, Alberts Kviesis and authoritarian dictator Kārlis Ulmanis ruled country from this palace. During the Soviet Era it was used as place for museums and Pioneers palace. In 1993. new president of Latvia Guntis Ulmanis came back to palace. Since then Vaira Vīķe Freiberga and Valdis Zatlers resides there. Castle needs serious repair works because many parts of castle is damaged by the hand of time. Castle also serves as place for Museum of Foreign Arts and Museum of National History of Latvia.

The Castle of Riga and Residence of President of Latvia

Castle decorated with flags during national festivities

Castle of Sigulda (Segenwold)

Sigulda is located at right side of River Gauja. Castle of Sigulda was palace of Order. It was destroyed in Livonian Order and has not been restored ever since. Ruins were conserved during Soviet Era.

The ruins of the Sigulda Castle

The ruins of the Sigulda Castle

Castle of Šlokenbeka (Schlockenbeck)

Šlokenbeka is located near Tukums. Its the only fortified mansion in Latvia. It was mansion of vassal. It changed hands many times and were upgraded may times. It newer suffered war damage so it its one of the rarest fully conserved castle in Latvia. Even when Castle was used as war hospital for Germans in WWII and was near front line it was never hit by any shell. Today mansion belongs road works firm and they have turned mansion into guest house, medical service and road museum.

The Castle Schlockenbeck from birdwiew

Castle of Turaida (Treyden)

Turaida is near Sigulda at right bank of river Gauja. First it was used as residence of Bishop of Riga,later Archbishop. Before there was Castle of Kaupo which was attacked by Kaupo himself. At 15. century it was taken by Order. Later day rulers took castle with out destructive fight and it survived , only to be damaged by fire in 1776. In Soviet Era Castle was restored, but only partly because all castle-building periods were not known. Therefore it’s not complete not as Castle of Trakai in Lithuania. This is criticized by some who see this as ridiculous, but others view Castle of Trakai as Disneyland and praise the Castle of Turaida because it’s fully fictional and shows more real view. In 2006. Castle was endangered by landslide who threatened to destroy the castle, but emergency works prevented further landslides.

The Castle of Turaida

Castle of Ventspils (Windau)

Ventspils is at entry of River Venta in Curland. As important port it was used for Order, and the castle was intended to protect the port. A city grow nearby becoming main center of Upper Curland. At Polish times it was used as army garrison. When Swedes captured city they burned and damaged the palace. But it was restored, used as a church, Russian army garrison and prison.   Prison existed there until  of 20. century and used by Soviets. Soviets did much damage to Castle because they lack of understanding of historical values. After the regain of independence castle got a second life. A museum was established there, boosted by rich Town Council and Mayor Aivars Lembergs, museum became one of the most modern state of the art museums in whole Latvia.

The modern day Castle of Venstpils

The modern day Castle of Venstpils

Most of Livonian castles faced its doom in Livonian war when new weapons blasted the old walls into air. However some managed to survive, as listed here and serves as valuable source of Medieval history.

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2 responses to “Medieval Castles in Latvia

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