Sunday, July 16, 2006

Latvia -- land of giants

OK, maybe it is just my Latvian cousins-by-marriage, but there do seem to be a lot of very tall and healthy people in Latvia. Perhaps it is because the country abounds in high-quality whole-grain bread and dairy products, and this time of year, fresh fruit.

Today I visited Turaida castle, an early thirteenth-century castle built by the conquering Teutonic Knights, who brought Christianity and German domination to the eastern Baltic coast. I was amazed by the size of this place -- it is comparable to the castles planted in Wales by Edward I of England in the late 14th century. An interesting difference is that this was built of brick. Turaida is supposed to be one of the best historic sites in the Baltic, and that is easy to believe when you see it.

Across a gorge is the hill where a hillfort of the ancient Livs was built in an unsuccessful attempt to oppose the Teutonic Knight. Nothing left of it but the hill itself, but the site is dramatic and the whole Gauja river area is very beautiful.

One figure associated with the Turaida area is Caupo a leader of the Livs who early on converted to Christianity, took a trip to Rome, and was given a Bible by the Pope (an expensive gift then!). The question is sometimes asked, was he a far-seeing progressive, or a traitor? Modern Latvians aren't generally too keen on him.


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