Talsi, one of Latvia’s most beautiful cities, is located in the hilly mid section of the Northern Kurzeme Highland – the so-called Switzerland of Kurzeme – near Lake Talsi and Lake Vilkmuiža (118 km from Riga). The narrow, winding streets of Talsi are set on the slopes of nine hills. The reflections of the city’s old fashioned houses, parks and gardens in the waters of the lakes create a uniquely picturesque effect, which attracts both artists and tourists from near and far in all seasons.
History. Archaeological finds at Talsi Hill Fortress and artifacts from the depths of Lake Vilkmuiža show that, initially, this territory was inhabited by Livonians and that the Kurši came in later. From the 10th to the second half of the 14th centuries a heavily fortified Kurši hill fort and ancient town were located at Talsi Hill Fort. The place name "Talsi" was first mentioned in records in 1231 in a treaty concluded between the Kurši of the Bandava and Vanema regions and Papal Vice Legate Alnas Balduīns. In 1253 Talsi was acquired by the Livonian Order, which over the next few decades built a stone castle on steep Dzirnavu Hill. In 1291 the Zemaitians attacked Talsi, heavily looting and pillaging the vicinity of the township. Until 1561 the district administrator lived in the castle and Talsi was an important administrative centre of the Order state.
The era of the duchy brought notable economic activity to Talsi. For example, one of the first iron forges was established in nearby Dzelzsciems in 1647. The struggles between the Poles, Swedes and Russians for the Livonian inheritance in the 17th and 18th centuries, the great plague epidemics of 1657 and 1710 and the fire of 1733 proved fateful for Talsi. Both the town itself and its inhabitants disappeared almost completely in these difficult times. Talsi was also not spared during the Napoleonic wars, as it fell to French forces in 1812. It only began to recover in 1819 when the district administrative bodies were moved there from Kandava. In the fist half of the 19th century the local noblemen would hold meetings in Talsi every February.
In the second half of the century the mood of the national awakening dominated in the city’s cultural life. In 1872 the first large-scale meeting of Latvians was held there, while in the city council elections of 1898, 12 out of 15 elected deputies were Latvians. Talsi suffered heavily during the 1905 Revolution, when punishment expeditions fired artillery on the city, many peaceable citizens were shot without trial and several dozen houses were burned In 1917 Talsi was granted a city charter.
Places of interest. Talsi Hill Fortress rises 32 m above the water level on the eastern shore of Lake Talsi, and it is one of the biggest hill fortresses in Kurzeme (with a surface area of 80 x 60 m). On the northern side of the hill fortress is a broad field where a village stood in ancient times. Archaeological digs of the 1930s found nine periods of construction of the hill fortress. Over 3,000 artefacts have been found there, including silver coins minted in 11th century Cologne and 12th century England.
Many tales and legends surround Talsi Castle. One tells of a stranger who gained entry to the heavily fortified castle by pretending to be the suitor of the king’s daughter. The deceiver stole the castle’s lucky charm, a golden bird, thereby making the castle easy to conquer.
Talsi Lutheran Church, which has been a place of worship since ancient pagan times, stands on steep Baznīckalns Hill. Its masonry tower has survived from the 18th century, but the church itself gained its cross form in 1880. The main precious items inside the church are the chandelier from 1671, as well as the Classicist epitaph to Evald Frederick von Fischer (1794). Kārlis Amenda (1771-1836), a talented musician and a friend in his youth of Beethoven, was the pastor of the church from 1802 to 1836.
The grave of Kārlis Amenda is located about 3 km of the city, on a high hill affording wonderful views of the Vicarage and the nearby lake. On a visit there it is also recommended that you stop by the romantic Sapņu ezers (Dream Lake), Sirdsezers (Lake of Hearts), Kamparkalns Hill and the other Talsi beauty spots which are mainly concentrated southeast of the city.
On a walk around the centre of Talsi, take a moment to visit the family vault of the city doctor and merchant Kupfer (1806) at 1 Zvaigžņu iela. This Classicist structure has an unusual equilateral triangle form. It is especially respectable due to the Tuscan columns standing in the corners resting on architraves.
The housing of this frequently war and fire ravaged city was mostly built in the 19th and 20th centuries. The oldest residential house in Talsi at 1 Baznīcas laukums is from the 18th century.
An attractive dendrological park is located in the south-eastern part of Talsi at the Okte Manor house built in 1883 by Baron von Firk, which is a favourite spot for a stroll amongst Talsi residents.