Lībiešu upuralas

Liv Sacrificial Caves

Useful Information

Location: Near Kuiķule, Salacgrīva region, 8 kilometers from Svētciems and 10 kilometers from Salacgrīva. (57°42′59″N, 24°29′23″E)
Open: no restrictions. [2020]
Fee: free. [2020]
Classification: Speleologysandstone cave red middle Devonian sandstone
Light: bring torch
Dimension: Great Sacrifice: L=46 m.
Small Sacrifice: L=19 m.
Guided tours: n/a
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: no
Bibliography: Laime Sandis, Urtāns Juris (2016):
Svētupes Lībiešu Upurala
Jelgava: Nordik, 2016. 4. – 5.lpp; 10. – 13.lpp ; 15.lpp ; 22.lpp ; 98. -101. lpp. ISBN 978-9984-854-76-2
Sandis Laime (2018):
Offering Cave of the Livs in Latvia - from Sacred Place to Tourist Destination,
In book: Zbornik Instituta za Arheologiju, vol. 10: Sacralization of Landscape and Sacred Places (pp.383-392). Publisher: Institut za arheologiju (Zagreb, Croatia). Project: Vidzeme’s Svētupe in Mythical and Real Cultural Space. researchgate.net
Address: Lībiešu upuralas, LV-4054 Kuiķule, Salacgrīvas pagasts.
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
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17th century first written mention.
early 19th century visited and described by several scholars.
15-AUG-1839 visited by Friedrich Kruze, professor of history at the University of Tartu, who later published the oldest known image of the cave.
20-JUN-1846 explored and descibed by Anders Jūhāns Šēgrēns.
1967 declared an archeological monument of national significance.
1970 naturalist and local historian Guntis Eniņš surveyed and explored the cave, its inscriptions, and its surroundings.
2001 included in the list of protected geological and geomorphological natural monuments.


Liv Sacrificial Caves, view from the river. public domain.
Liv Sacrificial Caves, entrance. public domain.

The Lībiešu upuralas (Liv Sacrificial Caves) are two tiny caves at the right bank of the Svētupe river. The erosional caves, the Great and the Small Sacrifice, were created by flowing water, most likely by a spring which washed the sand out. So the active phase of the cave, the phase of cave formation was when the spring was flowing and enlarging the cave. At some point the spring became dry and the water stopped flowing, and the cave started to collapse slowly. Continuous decay covered the floor with a layer of red sand, which also covered any items the locals brought into the cave. The cave originally had one entrance and various branches inside. Probably in the early 19th century the entrance collapse and two branches of the cave became the currently known two caves. The vestibule was quite spacious and a reason why the cave was visited by many people. After its collapse only two small and difficult to access branches remained, and the number of visitors dropped.

While the tiny caves are not very interesting from the speleological viewpoint, they are quite important from the archaeological view. The cave contained 50 cm of sand with no archaeological remains and 85 cm which were full of remains, mostly offerings by the Liv which inhabited the area. The Livonians or Livs are a Balto-Finnic people indigenous to northern Latvia and southwestern Estonia. Today their culture is almost lost, only a dozen people speak their language. The cave was explored and excavated during the 1970s and became the main archaeological site for the Livs.

There are numerous legends about the cave, which can be divided into three thematic groups. The first group claims that the caves are much longer than they actually are, a common legend told about many caves all over the world. The second group claims that the caves are home to the devil, again quite common. But the third group tells that the caves were an ancient Liv shrine, and are supported by the archaeological evidence.