Gūtmaņala is not only the largest and oldest cave in Latvia, but also the most visited. A protected geological site since 1967, it is the largest grotto in the Baltics: 33 feet high, 40 feet wide and 62 feet deep.
The cave dates back about 10,000 years to the postglacial period, carved over time by the Gauja River and spring waters running through the Devonian sandstone. The original name has been lost, replaced by the Germanic gute Mann cave or ‘good man’ cave after Baltic German naturalist and apothecary Jakob Benjamin Fischer described the cave in his 1778 papers.
According to legend the spring that flows out of the cave is sacred and its waters healing. A local healer lived next to the cave and treated patients with herbs and water from the spring, thus the name ‘good man’.
The cave just might be the oldest tourist attraction in the country, with mentions in German literature of carvings dating back to 1521 and 1564. However, the sandstone surfaces have faced much erosion since these 1812 records, and the oldest inscription remaining today is “ANNA MAGDALENA VON TIESENHAVSEN ANNO 1667,” located in the arch of the ceiling above the cascade of the spring. A majority of the ancient inscriptions have been lost to newer inscriptions.
Located between the towns of Sigulda and Turaida, there are a variety of walking trails crisscrossing the valley and ridgetop. A Gauja National Park visitor center has extensive information on the animal and plant life of the park, and a cafe and restrooms are available. Although the cave can be viewed for free, there is a fee for parking.
A 360˚ virtual tour of the cave can be found online, at the Gauja National Park website: http://www.gnp.lv/360/index.html.