Cesis (Latvian: Cēsis) is undoubtedly one of the most attractive towns in Latvia and indeed, the entire Baltic region. At just 90 kilometers from Riga, it's a must for any first time visitor to Latvia. Dominated by its castle ruins, it is a town of winding cobbled streets and protected historical buildings with the stone castle built by the Livonian Brothers of The Sword, dating back several centuries, arguably the most impressive and best-preserved castle ruin in Latvia.
The area around Cesis has hilly terrain, picturesque lakes, other historical towns, such as Sigulda and Straupe, and the truly beautiful 900-km2 Gauja National Park. It is the fantastic backdrop of Cesis Castle that tends to most impress first-time visitors to the town. During the summer months the castle ruins play host to a number of outdoor performances. This is fitting because as well as being one of Latvia's oldest towns, many of the country's leading musical talents have spent time here either growing up in the town or studying music at its famous academy.
Turbulent history of Cesis
There is archaeological and historical evidence of settlements here dating back to the 11th century, and it was during the 12th century that both Livs and Latgals made Cesis their home. In 2006 the 20,000 citizens of this Vidzeme community proudly celebrated the 800th anniversary of the founding of the town with several weeks of parties, cultural and sports events, as well as a number of high-profile classical and pop concerts preformed by many of Latvia's most outstanding artists. Because of its obvious strategic position on the Gauja River, the town has both prospered and suffered from this. The story goes that the national flag of Latvia originates from this town, around 750 years ago. The story goes that as the local chieftain then lay dying, wrapped in a white flag, his dying wish was that his followers should drive the enemy away from the town.
After removing the flag from the dead man, two parts of it soaked with his blood, while the middle remained white where he had lain. Latvia's flag has remained claret and white ever since. In the second half of the 19th century, construction of the Riga-Pskov highway (1868) and the Riga-Valka railway line (1889) accelerated the town's development. The story of prosperity followed by disaster continued again and again over the next 200 years until, on June 1919, the greatest battle in the history of Cesis was fought over five momentous days.
Battle of Cesis
The Battle of Cesis proved to be a pivotal conflict during the 1918-1920 Latvian War of Independence. After the decisive battle of Cesis against the Germans in 1919 this former Hanseatic settlement changed forever. The historic town was no longer the commercial center it once was, and the emphasis shifted to tourism. Its site on the very edge of the Gauja National Park made the town the perfect base for exploring the many natural wonders on offer nearby, while Cesis itself with its winding cobblestone streets, fascinating collection of dilapidated wooden buildings and ancient castle mounds became a tourism curiosity in its own right.
Cesis can easily be reached from Riga by bus, train or car:
- By Train: take the Riga-Cesis-Valmeira line
- By Car: follow the A2 all the way from Riga to a few kilometers just before Cesis
- By bus: There are regular services 7 days per week departing from the Central Riga Bus Station
Coat of Arms and Numbers