Friday, September 25, 2015

Turaida - the ancient castle on the banks of the Gauja

The steep banks along the Gauja valley extend north to Turaida, and together with a large bend in the river provide the perfect point for yet another castle. Along with dozens of other historic buildings, the castle and several sculpture parks form the Turaida Museum Reserve,  a 108-acre historical, archaeological and architectural monument.

The sculpture "Dziedot dzimu, dziedot augu..."

Turaida means “the garden of God” in the ancient Liv language. Livs (Livonians) are one of the indigenous peoples of Latvia with an ancient and rich culture, the language belonging to the Finno-Ugric language family (along with Finnish and Estonian, among others). It was around the 11th century that the Livs were flourishing on the banks of the Gauja River in the Turaida, Sigulda and Krimulda areas, but the Crusades and the advance of Christianity saw the Livs lose power in the region. Today this aspect of Latvian history is reflected not only in artifacts and place names in the region, but also in the ornaments and color composition of the mittens and national costumes of Turaida.

Mikus with the sculpture "Neguli, saulīte, ābeļu dārzā", Lauris and "Bij' manam kumeļam" and Vilis with a view of the castle

We parked and entered the Museum Reserve, heading first towards the Tautasdziesmu parks and Dainu kalns, the Folk Song Gardens and Folk Song Hill. This portion of the Park was created in 1985 (before Latvia regained its independence from the Soviet Union) in honor of the 150th anniversary of the birth of folklorist Krišjānis Barons. When the first international folklore festival Baltica was held in Latvia in 1988, the Latvian flag was also raised on Folk Song Hill alongside the sculpture of the “Father of Song.” Turaida brought together increasingly larger numbers of folklore and ethnographic ensembles, helping to strengthen the Latvian people’s identity in a time of uncertainty.  As the 3rd Latvian Renaissance approached in the mid-1980s, Folk Song Hill was the place where the Latvian Singing Revolution emerged and continued until the restoration of Latvia’s independence in 1991. According to the website, “Today Folk Song Hill is a symbol for the Singing Revolution, sending an eternal message about the strength of song and the self-respect of the Latvian people.”

The gardens feature 26 sculptures made by Latvian artist Indulis Ranka, including the iconic Dziesmas Tēvs. On one side of the sculpture is the image of Krišjānis Barons, and on the other side are singers of three generations who are familiar with the songs he collected and documented.  Beside them is a powerful young man, representing a defender of culture.  The sculpture sits on a dowry chest which contains song, the symbolic dowry for the Latvian people.

From the hill of Dainas we headed to the Turaida stone castle, high on a ridge overlooking a bend in the Gauja River. Construction was started in 1214 at the command of Albert, the Bishop of Riga, on a site previously occupied by a Liv fort. The defensive walls were built in the 13th century, and over the following 300 years more towers added and defenses modified in correlation to improvements in weaponry and the development of firearms.  The castle reached its zenith in the 16th century, fortified by four defensive towers and three gate towers. However, by the 17th century the castle had lost its military significance and experienced gradual deterioration. A large part of the interior was destroyed in a fire in 1776, and by the beginning of the 20th century only fragments of the defensive wall, the west block and portions of the main & west towers remained.

1952-1963 saw the partial restoration of the castle, and the last quarter of the century saw numerous archaeological excavations and reconstruction & conservation of the exposed structures. Today those structures provide an exciting look at the Middle Ages, with the opportunity to see medieval cellars, the prison, the guard`s room and a cannon room.

Our main goal was to check out the view of the Gauja valley from the top floor of the main tower, and to accomplish this we took two shifts. Lauris, Mikus and Roberts climbed first, leaving Vilis and me to explore the courtyard. Once they came down I left Vilis with them and hurried up myself, eagerly taking in the bird’s eye view of the castle, river and surrounding countryside. I could have stayed for an hour or two, taking photographs of the river and sculpture park & watching the people traffic down below, but we had relatives waiting on us and so back down the tower I went, skipping the exhibits with hope I might return someday.

On our way out we passed a sign indicating the memorial to the Rose of Turaida, and while the boys proceeded I took the flight of stairs up for a moment in front of the linden tree. The tragic love story goes like this:

“After a battle at the foot of Turaida Castle in 1601, the castle clerk found a baby in the arms of its dead mother while searching for survivors. 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 (opposite Turaida over the Gauja River) 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 (Gūtmaņala), 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 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.” Source here.

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