Cesis – Medieval Splendor on the Gauja River Valley
We recently took a fantastic trip to the Baltic countries of Estonia and Lativa. We started off in the Estonian capital of Talliin, which we really enjoyed. If you are interested to find out what to do in Tallinn check out the post I wrote on this part of our trip. After a fab time in Tallinn we then took a tour to with down to Riga, the capital of Latvia. On the way there we spent a few hours in the lovely town of Cesis. So lovely in fact that I had to write more about it. Riga is a classic city break destination but you get a totally different feel for the wonder of Latvia by exploring the country a bit more. Hopefully by reading more about Cesis it will encourage you to wander off the usual tourist trail a little bit and support this wonderful community.
First Up – A Little Bit About Cesis
Cesis is located in the Gaujas National Park about 90 km North East of Riga. It’s the third oldest place in the whole of Lativa, which means that history is just everywhere you go in this wonderful town. The area was first populated in the 4th Century and the town was formally founded in 1206. It grew significantly during the times of the Livonian Order and it was also part of the Hanseatic League. As you can imagine, there is an awful lot of culture and history in the town. You can read more about Cesis on the town’s tourism website and before you go you should download their fantastic map as well. Have a read of the post and get a better idea about why Cesis makes a great tourist destination.
#1 – Taking a Tour to Find Out the Most About Cesis
One thing I really love to do when I’m visiting a new place is to take a walking tour around. Having someone with local knowledge really brings places alive in a way it’s impossible to do just by reading a guidebook and trying to do it yourself. There are some amazing tour companies available in the Baltics that are just what the independent business ethos of From Real People is all about. If you are coming from Tallinn then you could do what we did and take the Tallinn to Riga day tour with Estonian Traveller Tours. If you are coming from Riga then you should check out the day tours from Riga-based EAT Riga Tours. Why not visit both Estonia and Lativa in one trip and give both of these great independent businesses your custom.
#2 – Cesis Castle and Walls
One of the most impressive places to visit in Cesis is it’s stunning medieval castle complex. Construction of the castle first began in 1209 to serve as a stronghold for the Livonian Brothers of the Sword. Back then, Cesis was known as the settlement of Wenden. After their order was decimated defeat in the Battle of Schaulen (Saule) in 1236, the surviving Brothers merged into the Teutonic Order. Between 1237 and 1561, the castle mostly served as the home of their local leader. The castle was destroyed in 1577 during the Livonian War.
In 1703 the castle was rebuilt but was quickly destroyed again by the Russian Army in 1703 during the Great Northern War. It is still in this ruined state today and as you can see from the pictures. The complex is still a very impressive sight that is a wonderful place to explore. On the day we visited, we were blessed with some amazing weather. It was lovely to wander around the castle and its surrounding park just soaking up the beauty and the atmosphere. Even in the height of the summer we weren’t fighting crowds of people like in so many other places. Make sure you take a visit to the castle prison. Also take the trouble to climb the Western Tower and get an amazing view over Cesis.
#3 – New Cesis Castle
Right next door to the Medieval Castle is new Cesis Castle, which was built in 1777. In reality the building was the residence of Count Carl Sievers , who was a nobleman of from a famous Baltic German family. The new castle was built on the site of the eastern block of the castle and is joined to the end wall of the fortification tower, as you can see in the picture below. If you visit, make sure you stop by the Cesis Exhibition Centre as well and check out the arts and crafts.
#4 – Transfiguration of Christ Orthodox Church
During our tour of the town, we also came across the stunning building that you see in the picture below, the Cesis Transfiguration of Christ Orthodox Church. By the 14th Century, the main St John’s Church could no longer accommodate the number of worshippers in Cesis so St Catherine’s Chirch was built. In the 17th Century, it was left in ruins after the Russian-Ottoman Wars. Finally, in 1845 Count Karl Eberhard von Sievers, who was the owner of Cēsis New Castle ordered a new church to be built on the ruins of Saint Catherine’s Church in Byzantine style. The result is truly stunning.
#5 – Cesis Town Square
We continued our walking tour around Cesis towards the lovely town square, called the Rose (Rozu) Square. There’s also a lovely fountain. It’s great for cooling off any small children you might have brought with you. Or even some big children like me. The square has some restaurants and cafes, making it a great place for a rest as well as some refreshment. The centre of Cesis is a beautiful place to walk around and feel the history.
#6 – St John’s Church
The centrepiece of the square is St John’s Church, which is one of the oldest medieval architectural monuments in Latvia. The church was built in the beginning of 13th century during for the Livonian Holy Order just as Christianity came to the Baltic region. The gothic spire is over 15 metres tall and the church seats over 1000 people, which gives you an idea of the scale of the place.
#7 – Old Man Time
Our last thing to do in Cesis was to check out the “Through the Centuries” sculpture. Also known as the Old Time man it depicts a man with a lamp, which is the symbol of the town. In ancient times an old man would walk the streets protecting the townsfolk. Legend says that if you rub his lamp you will see your future – give it a try.
To Sum Up
Cesis makes a perfect trip from Riga or even as the base for exploring the Gaujas National Park area. Latvia is a great place for adrenaline junkies and there are loads of different activities that you can do in the area around Cesis. Check out the Lativan Tourist Board’s website for more information. Finally, a huge thanks to my Latvian work colleagues, Aigars, Andris and Vairis for their help in planning our trip to Latvia. Also for telling me so many wonderful things about their country that I just had to visit. Remember, if you like Latvia, Lativa likes you.