Step inside a medieval castle and explore by lamplight before strolling along ancient cobbled streets.
A medieval castle was central to the development of the town of Cēsis in Vidzeme, a region of Latvia. Vital to its defence in the past this castle is now a focal point of the town that grew up around it. This pretty town has two distinct areas, the castle complex and the old town that surrounds its majestic church of St John. The approach to Cēsis Medieval Castle is through a large courtyard that features several important buildings, the New Castle, Cēsis Exhibition Hall and the Nordic Museum of Natural Medicine.
Nordic Museum of Natural Medicine in Cēsis, Vidzeme in Latvia
The unusual Nordic Museum of Natural Medicine was designed as a reminder of the natural wonders of the world by viewing them from a medical perspective, in other words, the healing properties of plants. Books, seeds, essential oils and teas are available to buy in the museum shop. On the other side of the courtyard is the Cēsis Exhibition Hall.
Cēsis Exhibition Hall in Cēsis, Vidzeme in Latvia
The architecture of the Cēsis Exhibition Hall makes this building unique. Inside, the woodwork rooms are ideal as a setting for exhibitions and the acoustics are good for musical events. This Exhibition Hall occupies the old stables and cart-house of Cēsis Manor. When the building became superfluous during the early 1920s it was used to house an infantry regiment. After that it was used as a warehouse and garages. In 1985 it was rebuilt to house the Exhibition Hall. Just beyond, at the far end of the courtyard the New Castle stands proud.
The New Castle in Cēsis, Vidzeme in Latvia
The New Castle is an eighteenth century manor house that was incorporated into the Latvian medieval fortifications. In1949 the Cēsis History and Art Museum was established in inside this elegant building. It is one of the oldest provincial museums in Latvia. A permanent exhibition inside relates the history of the Baltic German family that owned the castle. Rooms have been laid out to reflect the life-style of those times.
Visitors to the castle can climb a series of wooden staircases to emerge on the top of its neo-Gothic style Lademaher tower. From here the sweeping view embraces the old town of Cēsis, the forests of the Gauja National Park and the Old Castle, next door.
The Old Castle in Cēsis, Vidzeme in Latvia
Cēsis Medieval Castle was built during the thirteenth century and is battle scarred from skirmishes with Russian, Polish and Swedish troops resulting in several rebuilds. Its present appearance dates from a reconstruction at the beginning of the sixteenth century. The castle was protected by ditches and stone walls. After it was abandoned at the beginning of the Great Northern war it was never again utilised for defensive purposes. Today, following partial restoration visitors can stroll through the ruins visiting the Western Tower, the Master’s living room and the basement of the Southern Tower to view the former dungeons. Maps and lamps are provided to aid exploration of the interior.
Outside, in castle grounds, a medieval garden cultivates vegetables and spices replicating the way they would have been grown for the Medieval kitchen. During the summer months’ visitors can play medieval games and learn about the ancient crafts that were practiced then. Below the old castle is the Castle Park (Pils Parks) a landscaped park created by the owners of the New Castle in 1812 and accessed via a grand travertine staircase. On the other side of the castle complex an archway in the walls leads into the old town.
Historical Centre of Cēsis, Vidzeme in Latvia
The narrow, cobbles streets that meander through the historical centre of Cēsis date back to the Middle Ages. But wars and fires resulted in the total devastation of the medieval buildings that lined them housing craftsmen and traders. However, the layout of the town has not changed since it grew up around the castle as illustrated by the sculpture, Ancient Cēsis” (Senās Cēsis). This bronze replica of town plans from the Middle Ages has been created in the form of an ancient coin by sculptor Matiass Jansons. Money was once minted in Cēsis. This sculpture was created to celebrate the 810th anniversary of Cēsis and is located in Rose Square (Rožu laukums).
Rose Square in Cēsis, Vidzeme in Latvia
Rose Square was the town’s marketplace from Medieval times. But, by the early twentieth century it had become too small for the city and the market was moved to a new location. In 1927 this square was turned into a small public garden. Today, it has become a popular meeting place in the centre of the Old Town. The jets of a floor fountain dance in the sunlight during the summer months and the city’s Christmas tree graces the square in the winter. This ancient market place is located in front of another iconic medieval building, St John’s Church.
St John’s Church in Cēsis, Vidzeme in Latvia
When St John’s Church was built during at the end of the thirteenth century it was the largest church in the Vidzeme region. Although it has undergone several renovations since then it is still an impressive building. Inside are the footstones of the graves of Livonian Order Masters who once inhabited the old castle. Its historical organ is one of the largest organs in Latvia and its music seeps out of the church into the surrounding area. The altar painting is a masterpiece by a famous Estonian artist, John Köhler. The church tower is open to visitors for a good view of the Old Town below. Close to the church is a sculpture known locally as Old Man of Time.
Sculpture “Through the Centuries” in Cēsis, Vidzeme in Latvia
Through the Centuries is a sculpture created by Matthias Janson and unveiled in 2005. It represents a legend of the town, a hunchback monk holding a lantern and carrying a cudgel. He used the lantern to light is way as he walked the streets at night watching over the safety of the townspeople. They felt safe as long as he walked the streets. But one night he disappeared. It is said if you meet him be sure to polish the glass of his lantern to see your future. On the edge of the Old town is the newest square in Cēsis, Unity Square (Vienības).
Unity Square in Cēsis, Vidzeme in Latvia
This square was shown on the city map for first time at the beginning of the twentieth century with the name Convention Square When the monument honouring Latvian and Estonian soldiers killed in the battles for the freedom of Latvia was erected in this square it was renamed Unity Square. Since then the layout has changed and the Monument of Victory has been destroyed and replaced by a statue of Lenin. In 1998, after Latvia achieved freedom again, Lenin was replaced with the present Monument of Freedom. The idea of this monument is that the sun of freedom rises from the flames of fight. This square is very much a part of city life, surrounded by cafés banks and a courthouse and site of annual celebrations – Town Day and New Year’s Eve. The Industrial heritage of Cēsis is represented by the Old Brewery.
The Old Brewery in Cēsis, Vidzeme in Latvia
Cēsis Brewery (Alus brūzis), was built in 1878 but as its roots date back to the end of the sixteenth century It is thought to be the oldest brewery in Baltic and Nordic countries. In 1922 the owner of the brewery was bought out by several Cēsis businessmen and since then the brewery has become the largest beer producing brewery in Latvia. The brewery moved to new premises. The Old Brewery is now owned by the Institute for Environmental Solutions and will be a Science, Art and Gastronomy Centre – a platform for scientists, artists, chefs and other specialists to collaborate regarding environmental issues. Open events are also held in this building including festivals and gastronomic events. Close to the Old Brewery is the nineteenth century May Park (Maija Parks).
May Park in Cēsis, Vidzeme in Latvia
When May Park was created during the nineteenth century gardens featuring castle ruins were fashionable. In those days the park was known as Alexei Park after the grandson of the count at the manor. It was then the rows of linden were planted by the current gardener who was also the gardener at Cēsis Castle Manor. Changes were made to the park in the 1930s and a fountain was created in the middle of the lake in 1960. After the Second World War the park was renamed 1st of May Park which, inevitably, has been shortened to May Park. Another symbol of the city is exhibited here, sculptor Kārlis Jansons’ “Fight with Centaur”. This peaceful park is a delightful respite from the clamour of the city around it.
More information about Cēsis can be found here.
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Valery Collins is the Experienced Traveller An excellent raconteur, Valery has been writing about her experiences on the road since she started travelling 27 years ago. After publishing four books she turned to online travel writing.