Building of Turaida Castle was started in 1214 at the command of Albert, the Bishop of Riga, on the site, where previously was located the wooden stronghold of the Livs. In the Middle Ages Turaida Castle was one of the Archbishop`s castles of economic importance, the centre of bailiwick, the residence of district`s administrator and military fortification.
The defensive wall of Turaida Castle was built in the 13th century. It formed a confined castle yard. In the northern part of the defensive wall there was located the Main Tower, but in the western part there was built the first palace building. The Main Tower – Bergfried is one of the most significant buildings of the defensive system of the castle. The Archbishop of Riga often used Turaida Castle as a residence and shelter outside of Riga. The bull, issued by Pope Alexander IV on March 31, 1255 by which Pope affirmed the property of the Archbishop of Riga testifies about the significance of Turaida castle among other castles. On the list of the castles, Turaida (Thoreda) was mentioned as the first one.
In the beginning of the 14th century in the southern part of the defensive wall there was built another Tower – the Tower-shaped South Block.
The spread of firearms in Europe, in the 14th-15th centuries, changed the character of wars. Relevant changes in the defensive system took place also in Turaida Castle. Into the new defensive wall (the old wall, as a result of landslides, had slipped off) on the west part there was built the Great Semi-round Tower. Building of such tower types was connected with the development of firearms. By the entrance into castle yard there was built a gate tower – a two storey building with a gallery for firing. In the north forepart of the castle there was built, enclosed by the walls, passage – zwinger and two-storey gate tower. During that period also stone defensive wall was built in the southern part of fortification, forming south forepart of the castle, besides the territory of the south forepart of the castle was crossed by another defensive wall. In the inner yard of the castle at the west defensive wall there was built the West Block.
In the 16th century the castle occupied the most extensive territory and was best of all fortified. It consisted of three areas, enclosed by walls, which followed each other in elongated direction – the north forepart of the castle and zwinger and drawbridge in its middle part; the inner yard of the castle with living quarters and household blocks by defensive walls, and south forepart of the castle with household buildings. The impressive fortification system was fortified by four defensive towers and three gate towers. According to configuration, the castle was to the utmost adjusted to the natural relief of hillfort.
Drawing by G.Jansons „Reconstruction of Turaida Castle, 16th Century”
Minor rebuilding of the castle was carried out in the first half of the 17th century, when it came under Swedish rule. There were renewed ancient galleries and gate, in the northern forepart of the castle there was built a „Blockhaus” – a platform for cannons, above it there was located the guardroom. Also barracks were built, bath-house (sauna) and stables. The oldest plans of Turaida castle have preserved from the 17th century. However, from the 17th century, by losing its military significance and becoming a private property, the castle experienced gradual decline.
In 1776, due to the careless gunshot the castle was on fire and the wooden parts burned down. The destroyed buildings were not restored.
In the beginning of the 20th century only fragments of defensive wall and some partially destroyed buildings had preserved – the Main Tower, Semi-round West Tower and West Block.
In the 19th century the history and investigation of the castle attracted attention of the Baltic German historians. The castle was entered on the list of state protected objects in 1924, but in the second half of the 20th century there was started a purposeful and systematic investigation of the castle and conservation of medieval structures. Turaida Castle is one of the most archaeologically investigated medieval castles in the Baltic States.
The structures of the castle, disclosed in the archaeological excavations, and exhibitions, installed in the restored buildings, create an exciting narrative about the Middle Ages. The vistors are welcome to explore the castle buildings, medieval cellar, prison, guardroom and cannon room and they can enjoy a beatiful landscape from the top floor of the Main Tower.