Ancient graffiti found at the Gutmana Ala cave, Sigulda, Latvia

The Gutmana Ala: The Legendary Cave of the Good Man and the Rose of Turaida

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The Gutmana Ala, or Gutman’s (Good Man’s) cave in English, is today located in the Sigulda region of the Gauja National Park in Latvia. Apart from Sigulda, this national park extends over several other regions, including Amata, Cēsis, Inčukalns and Līgatne. Within the boundaries of this national park lie a third of all Latvia’s natural reserves, as well as over 500 cultural and historical monuments. Despite the richness of the Gauja National Park, the Gutmana Ala is one of the park’s most impressive and popular tourist attractions.

Description of Gutmana Ala

One of the Gutmana Ala’s claims to fame is its size. This cave is often described as the largest cave not only in Latvia, but also in the Baltics, i.e. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Additionally, it is also the highest and widest cave in the Baltic. In 1972, the first precise measurements of the cave were taken by Guntis Eniņš. According to Eniņš’ calculations, the volume of the cave is 500 cubic meters (17 657 cubic feet), whilst the area of its floor is 170 meters (557.7 feet) squared. Although the entrance of the cave is 10 meters (32.8 feet) high and 10.6 meters (34.8 feet) wide, the cave gets increasingly narrower the deeper one goes.

The Caves of Gutmana Ala (right) and Viktora

The Caves of Gutmana Ala (right) and Viktora (left), Sigulda, Latvia ( Russian Academy )

The Healing Waters Found at Gutmana Ala and “Sacrifices to the Good Man”

The formation of the Gutmana Ala is believed to have begun around 10,000 years ago as a result of lateral erosion caused by the flow of post ice age water streams. As of today, the spring running from the cave continues to enlarge it. Several Early Modern authors have also described this spring. Nevertheless, it was only in 1791 that the Baltic German naturalist, Jacob Benjamin Fischer (a student of the ‘father of modern taxonomy,’ Carl Linnaeus) wrote about the use of the spring’s water by local peasants for the treatment of diseases. The locals believed that the due to the water’s association with the sacredness of the cave, it had healing powers.

The belief in the sanctity of the site may have contributed to the name of the Gutmana Ala. Up until the late 18th century, the Gutmana Ala was known as ‘the cave Krimulda/Turaida’. It was Fischer who first published the name of the cave as we know it today, “At Turaida there is a cave which consists of sandstone and is called the Good Man.” Nevertheless, it was only in 1794 that the German ethnographer, Johann Christoph Brotze speculated that the locals might have held the belief that there was a benign deity residing within the cave, hence the name of the cave, ‘Good Man.’ It has also been recorded that sacrifices (coins and pieces of clothing) were left by the locals in the spring whenever they used its water. According to Fischer’s observations, however, this practice had already begun to die out at the end of the 18th century.

Panoramic view of the Gauja River, said to be the source of the healing waters at Gutmana Ala cave.

Panoramic view of the Gauja River, said to be the source of the healing waters at Gutmana Ala cave. ( Wikimedia Commons )

The Sad Tale of the Rose of Turaida

Another legend associated with the Gutmana Ala is that of the ‘Rose of Turaida,’ which is based on a document published in 1848 by Magnus von Wolffeldt about the murder of Maija Greif at the Gutmana Ala on the 6th of August 1620. This legend begins in 1601 after the capture of Turaida Castle by Swedish troops. After the battle, a castle clerk by the name of Mr. Greif was searching for survivors when he came across a baby girl in the arms of her dead mother. Mr. Greif adopted the child, and named her Maija. This girl grew up to be so beautiful that she was called the ‘Rose of Turaida.’ She fell in love with Viktor Heil, a gardener working in the nearby Sigulda Castle, and the pair was due to marry in the autumn of 1620.

Maija’s beauty also attracted the attention of Adam Jakubowsky, a soldier in the service of Turaida Castle. As Maija had rejected him, Jakubowsky decided to obtain her through deceit. Therefore, the soldier sent Maija a letter (using Viktor’s name) inviting her to meet at the Gutmana Ala, the usual place where she met her fiancé. When Maija arrived at the Gutmana Ala, she saw only Jakubowsky, and realized that she had been deceived. Maija decided that death would be preferable to being unfaithful to Viktor. Therefore, she deceived Jakubowsky by saying that the silk scarf she wore around her neck protected her from being harmed by weapons, and told him to try cutting her with his sword.

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