Red brick towers peek out of the forest to climb their way towards the heavens. Turaida Castle, a little-known medieval fortress erected in the early 12th century, is a Latvian national treasure, to the degree that when the castle was left to be reclaimed by Mother Nature, the Latvians pumped finances into saving it. A Teutonic castle made of red brick much like Poland’s immense Zamek Malbork, the crumbling Teutonic Turon Castle in central Poland or even Lithuania’s island fortress Trakai, Turaida Castle itself seems as if it was pulled out of a magical storybook and nestled into the forgotten woods of the Gauja River Valley deep within Latvia. Reached either by winding backroads or by a combination of foot and cable car through the quiet Latvian forest, the castle is set in one of Latvia’s most incredible backdrops. Turaida Castle was the home of the lovely Rose of Turaida, a love story with a not-so-happy ending. While the castle itself evokes thoughts of knights and princesses and dragons, a hike through the surrounding valley with the enchanted castle looming in the distance is one memory you will never forget.
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Supposedly one of the Baltic’s early form of tourism was pilgrimages to this cave. It all started with a legend, a story, dating to the age of castles and knights and villains. Once upon a time, there was a princess who lived in a castle called Turaida. There was another castle, not so far away, where a handsome young man lived, and in the middle, there was a cave–pleasant kind of cave–where the lovers would meet to plan their marriage. But there was also a villain, and he wanted the princess for him. So, one day, he went to the cave to convince her to marry him. When she refused, he threatened to force her to marry him. She told him she would trade his hand for a magic scarf that was impossible to pierce by blade. Of course, he didn’t believe her, so she let him test it…on her. Of course, it didn’t work, and of course she knew that. But I guess suicide was considered a better option than a forced marriage… but the story doesn’t end there. Even though the princess died, our prince from the other castle tracked down the villain and avenged her death, and spent the rest of his days caring for their castles and protecting her cave. People started coming there, leaving their marks (coat of arms) in the stone. You can still make a pilgrimage there, hiking from Sigulda all the way to her castle’s ruins in Turaida. In the woods along the way, you can make a detour in order to pay homage to the Rose of Turaida and her infamous cave…
In 1601, a baby girl, christened “Maija,” was rescued from the wreckage of the 1601 battle of Turaida. She grew into a beautiful woman known as the Rose of Turaida who fell in love with Viktor, the gardener at Sigulda Castle on the other side of the Gauja River. In order to see each other, they would meet in the middle, inside Gutmanis Cave. Into this pretty little scene, enter the evil Adam Jakubowski, a Polish soldier who had less-than-chaste intentions for young Maija after tricking her to come into the cave. Thinking quickly (and deciding that death was better than rape), she told him her scarf was magical and could resist sword-strokes. He didn’t believe her, so she proposed a demonstration–which, of course, killed her. Though Viktor was originally accused, Maija’s half-sister witnessed the incident and her testimony along with Jakubowsk’s friend’s information about the crime, cleared his name. Jakubowski was later captured, tried, and executed. However, Viktor was devastated, burying his beloved Maija under the Linden tree and inscribing her grave with “Love is stronger than death.” Both the grave and the inside of the cave are still popular pilgrimage sites. (As a side note, the carvings seen here are the coats-of-arms of those who’ve visited the cave, making it is one of the earliest sites of “tourism.”) Step inside this cave, listen to its history, become a part of its legend and feel the love that still resonates here 400 years later. Gutmanis Cave still holds its secrets.