Construction of the castle is thought to have begun around 1209, in the time of Master of the Order of Swordbrothers Wenno von Rorbach (1202 - 1209). It was built at a strategic location as a military base for the conquest of northern Latvia and Estonia and for defending these territories. After the annihilation of the Order of Swordbrothers at the Battle of Saule in 1236, a branch of the Teutonic Order was established in the Baltic: the Livonian Order. The first master of the newly established order, Hermann Balke, chose Cesis as his residence. Thereafter, Cesis Castle became the meeting place of the chapter, or ruling council, of the Livonian Order, and the residence of the masters (1239 - 1561, with interruptions). Gradually, a town grew up around the castle. Already in 1221, a chronicle mentions a village next to the castle, although Cesis is mentioned in documents as a town only in 1323.
Altered and extended several times, Cesis Castle obtained its present architectural form in the early 16th century. In order to improve the defence of the central part of the castle, Master of the Order Wolter von Plettenberg (1494 - 1535) built the diagonally arranged North and South Towers, adapting the castle's defences to the demands of the age firearms. The castle was made inaccessible by moats and by the three extensive outer baileys enclosed by curtain walls.
The first serious damage was done to the castle only in the Livonian War (1558 - 1583), and it was finally abandoned, never to be used again for military purposes, at the start of the Northern War, after 1703. The complete collapse of the castle was hastened by a great fire in 1748, when the castle burned along with the town. Uninhabited and abandoned, the castle gradually became a ruin, used as a source of building material. Nowadays, Cesis Castle is a major historical site and a romantic medieval ruin.
Since part of the castle is no longer preserved above the ground, archaeological excavation has become one of the main research methods, continuing in various parts of the castle ruins.
Archaeologists have excavated the NORTH BLOCK down to the ground floor level. A wall divides this block into two separate spaces. Doorways with stone thresholds are preserved on the side facing the yard. Below this block there are well-preserved, partly filled vaulted cellars.
Revealed in the course of excavation was the castle's fourth, WEST BLOCK. This had lain forgotten under the rubble since its destruction in September 1577 during the Livonian War. The 16th century artefacts and coins, and the skeletons of people who perished under the collapsed ceiling beams, all found in the excavated cellar rubble, represent unique evidence of this tragedy in Cesis Castle more than 400 years ago. The central part of the castle consists of three towers and four blocks along the edges of a square courtyard.
The WEST TOWER is the castle's main tower, and the oldest one, built in the 14th century. It was the only tower of Cesis Castle with a preserved internal plan and system of stairways. Visitors can view the rooms, on four floors: from the cellar to the attic. On the first floor of the tower is the Master's Room, or so-called Star Chamber: a splendid room with the tracery of a star vault, vaulting-shafts and fragments of murals on the plaster.
Viewed from the outside, the SOUTH TOWER is the castle's most beautiful tower, adorned with two rows of arcades at the top. It was built in the late 15th century as a windowless defensive tower, with loopholes. In the cellar of the tower is a strong dungeon accessible from the ground floor through a small opening in the vault.
The NORTH TOWER, the second diagonal tower, was built around the turn of the 16th century as a defensive tower, not intended for habitation. The fireplaces and chimney flue found here were needed mainly for lighting the cannons.
The walls of the East and Sough Block are preserved almost to their original height, but lack floors and roofs. On the ground floor of the SOUGHT BLOCKS was a storehouse, while the first floor had a festive hall known as the Banqueting Hall. On the ground floor of the EAST BLOCKS was the kitchen, the bakery and brewery, with the refectory and residential quarters on the first floor. The second floor (attic) served for defence.
In the Castle Complex we offer a variety of ecxursions, theatrical tours and programmes, guided by guids dressed in 16th century servants' costumes. More information about programmes you will find in the section 'Offer'.
In summer castle ruins will be opened for visitors longer working hours.