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Cesis, Latvia

Nestled amid the pine forests of the Gauja National Park lies the ancient city of Cesis. Construction of the first stone castle began here in 1206. It was built by German knights and served as the headquarters for the Livonian Order until the 16th century. A city soon grew around the castle which enjoyed a long period of prosperity as a member of the prestigious medieval trade organisation, the Hanseatic League. As a testament to its importance during this period, Cesis was the only other city in Livonia apart from Riga which had a mint for coining money.

It is also believed that Cesis is the birthplace of the Latvian flag, one of the worlds oldest. Legend has it that the king of the Letgal tribe was wounded here in battle in 1272. He was placed on a white flag which soon became stained with the warrior's blood. However, a white stripe remained in the centre creating the foundation for Latvias current flag which is a field of maroon separated by a narrow white stripe in the middle.

Unfortunately, Cesis luck ran out in the 17th and 18th centuries when it was almost completely destroyed, like so many other cities in Latvia, by wars and plagues. The city only began to recover in the second half of the 19th century when it was finally linked to Riga by road and by rail.

Today, Cesis is a major destination for foreign tourists and for local Latvians who simply want to relax in the national park and in the shadow of medieval splendour. Discover the city's Old Town which has remained virtually untouched by this century's wars or take a hike in the surrounding forests.