The Cesis medieval castle is (according to its website) one of the best preserved and most dramatic ruined castles in Latvia. It was begun around 1209 by the Order of the Livonian Brothers of the Sword. It was taken over by the Teutonic Knights in 1237, damaged during war in the 1500s and finally abandoned in the early 1700s. In 1925 the ruins of the castle were given the status of a protected monument. It is scenic, historic, compact and easy to get to and tour.
I visited Cesis using public transportation from Riga. Buses run more frequently than trains, so I took the bus; it took about 2.5 hours. From the station in Cesis you just follow the signs for "TI" (tourist information) and "pils" (castle), with a little picture of a castle. It's about a 15-minute walk from the station to the castle and tourist information center. There is a modern admission center with clean bathrooms, souvenirs and maps.
Then you pay the modest admission fee -- and they hand you a lantern with a candle burning inside!! Then you walk out the door, around the corner and see the spectacular ruins. You can walk around and explore the grounds as much as you wish. When you enter the castle you will need the lantern for light, when you go up the winding staircase to the living room of the Master of the Order. There no hand rail, but there is a rope firmly attached to the stone wall of the winding staircase. You can still see the decorated ceiling in this room. Further along in the castle you can go down through a hole in the floor, using firmly attached rungs, into the dungeon. (Return the candle lantern before you try the descent.) This really isn't difficult although it might appear a bit forbidding.
Once you exit the castle, on the way back to the castle information center, you will pass the small Workshop of Experimental Archaeology, where a master craftsman investigates and makes replicas of ancient ornaments. He has a small private museum, and it is worth the half-Lat admission charge to talk with him and look at the exhibits. You can even handle the replicas -- the medieval headgear weighs a lot!
There is also a museum, with the entrance from the castle information center. It contains rare objects from the area, particularly coins, and information about the history of the Latvian flag.
Cesis is an easy day trip from Riga, much more compact than Sigulda and Turaida. It is open every day from May 1 - mid-September; the rest of the year it is closed on Mondays.
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