Soon after the founding of the city in 1201, a stone bishop’s court was erected, and a court of the Order of Livonian Brothers of the Sword situated opposite it. After a dozen or so years, the bishop of Riga gave his residence to the Dominicans, and he moved to a new court located closer to the cathedral. In 1274, the German king Rudolf I Habsburg granted the Teutonic Order a privilege guaranteeing secular control over the city. This led to an exacerbation of the conflict between the archbishop and the order, which in 1297 took on a military character. The rebel townspeople conquered the order court and murdered its crew and, fearing the Teutonic reprisal, they formed a military alliance with pagan Lithuania. This did not help much, because in 1330, the Teutonic army besieged and captured Riga, and the defeated burghers were forced to accept the supremacy of the Order and pay for the construction of a new Teutonic conventual castle in the north-western part of the city. In the following years, this castle became the main seat of the land master of Livonia, while the old manor with the chapel of St. George was changed to a hospital and the church of Holy Spirit.
The conflict over control of the city smoldering further, among others, the trial at the papal court was conducted, in which the archbishops of Riga accused the Order of taking over the city. Finally, in 1366, the Livonian master renounced his rights over Riga, reserving only the right to own a castle. This situation changed in 1454, when the Teutonic Order came to an agreement with the archbishop of Riga, Sylwester, sharing power over the city with him. This treaty, called Salaspils, did not end the dispute. In 1484, the Riga townspeople made another attempt to regain political independence. They attacked and demolished the so-called the second order castle in Riga, which caused a war that lasted several years. As a result, after the battle of Ādaži in 1491, the Teutonic Order again defeated the rebellious city and forced the inhabitants to rebuilt the destroyed castle. Riga, who was exhausted by the war, was reluctant to fulfill the terms of the peaace agreement, so that the new, third castle was built only around 1515.
The average size of the new castle suggests that from the very beginning it was not meant to be the headquarters of the highest authorities of the Order, but only a traditional convent. The land master of Livonia, Wolter von Plettenber resided in Wenden and probably gave up thoughts of full control over Riga. A new conciliatory attitude of the Order or fear of the fortifications of the stronghold prevented the Riga order castle from battles against townsmen during the riots of the 20s of the 16th century on the wave of the Reformation. It was closed only with the secularization of the entire branch of the Teutonic Order. In 1562, the last land master of Livonia, Gotthard Kettler, paid homage to the representative of the Polish king at the castle in Riga, and the city and the castle passed under Polish-Lithuanian rule.
The castle until 1621 was the residence of the governor of the king of Poland and was staffed by a Polish military crew. In 1582, king Stefan Batory resided in the castle. In 1621 Riga was occupied by Swedes for over a hundred years, and after them from 1710, the castle and the city were ruled by Russians, who in the castle organized administrative offices and the court of the Livonian Governorate. The fortress was thoroughly rebuilt and enlarged between the 17th and 19th centuries. Another renovation was carried out in the 1930s. In 1938, the Latvian government announced that the castle would be the seat of parliament from then on.
For the construction of the so-called second and the third Riga castle, the north-west corner of the city was chosen, right on the eastern bank of the Daugava River. It protected the west side of the castle, while from the north and east it was protected by an irrigated moat, common to the city fortifications. On the south side, an additional channel was dug, which separated Riga from the castle. Between 1364 and 1385, a four-sided tower was erected to protect the northern outer ward and housing the entrance gate, providing communication independent of the city.
The Teutonic castle in Riga was a typical conventual stronghold, a four-wing structure on a plan similar to a square with dimensions of 53 x 56 meters with an internal courtyard of 28 x 29 meters, and with a dansker tower on the west side, protruding towards the river. In the corners of the stronghold there were slender four-sided towers, but it was initially believed that one of them, the northern one, could have a more massive form (nowadays the opinion prevails that the so-called second castle of Riga in each corner had a small, four-sided tower). After the reconstruction at the turn of the 15th and 16th centuries, two of the towers have retained their quadrilateral forms, and two were replaced with massive, cylindrical structures: the north-west under the name of the Holy Spirit and the south-east called Leaden. The outer zone of fortifications was created by a wall surrounding the entire building and separating a small outer bailey.
Inside, the north wing on the first floor housed the commander’s chambers and the dormitory from the west. In the east wing there may have been a chapter house (although the functioning of this type of rooms in Teutonic castles is questioned in the light of the latest research), the southern wing consisted of a chapel in the eastern part, with a sacristy was located in the south-eastern corner tower and a refectory on the west side of the wing. The west wing housed rooms not related to the convent and the passage to the dansker house. The southern wing was the most important. The chapel located in it was divided into two aisles by two octagonal pillars. They supported the cross vault, the ribs of which, roughly halfway up the walls, ran down onto overhanging, carved corbels. The adjacent refectory probably had a similar shape originally, but was vaulted again at the turn of the 15th and 16th centuries. The rooms in the ground floor were traditionally intended for economic purposes, housing, among others, pantries, warehouses, a kitchen, a bakery or a brewery, while the attic at the top served as a granary and for defensive purposes. Access to all rooms was provided by an external stone cloister surrounding the courtyard of the castle.
Survived to modern times so-called the third teutonic castle in Riga, has retained its basic, original shape, but unfortunately from the outside it completely lost its original stylistic features. Two cylindrical corner towers stand out, currently plastered and with pierced modern windows, you can also see smaller corner quadrilateral towers. Inside, the spatial structure from the 16th century has been preserved, along with a chapel and a refectory representing examples of late Gothic decor. The castle serves as the presidential seat, but part of its interior, housing the Latvian National Museum of History, is open to tourists.
Alttoa K., Bergholde-Wolf A., Dirveiks I., Grosmane E., Herrmann C., Kadakas V., Ose J., Randla A., Mittelalterlichen Baukunst in Livland (Estland und Lettland). Die Architektur einer historischen Grenzregion im Nordosten Europas, Berlin 2017.
Borowski T, Miasta, zamki i klasztory, Inflanty, Warszawa 2010.
Caune A., Ose I., Die Befestigungen der Burgen und der Stadt Riga vom 13. bis 16. Jh., [w:] Castella Maris Baltici VII, red. F. Biermann, M. Müller, C. Herrmann. Greifswald, 2006.
Turnbull S., Crusader Castles Of The Teutonic Knights. The Stone Castles Of Latvia And Estonia 1185-1560, Oxford 2004.
Tuulse A., Die Burgen in Estland und Lettland, Dorpat 1942.