Top Historic Sights in Viljandi, Estonia

Explore the historic highlights of Viljandi

Viljandi Castle

Viljandi castle was one of the strongest castles in Livonia. The construction was started 1224 under Teutonic Order in place of a former hillfort. The crusaders of Sword Brethren conquered the hill fort at the place of later main castle in 1223. A year later, construction of stone fortifications started. Viljandi was chosen as the high seat of the order. The convent house, a typical form of castle of Teutonic Knights, wa ...
Founded: 1224 | Location: Viljandi, Estonia

St. John's Church

The church of St. John (Jaani) was originally part of the Fransiscan abbey built in 1466-1472. The abbey was destroyed in 1560 and the church was restored in the beginning of the 17th century. Still functioning after the Second World War, it was closed in 1950 and turned into a warehouse. It was consecrated again in 1992 and is now often used as a concert venue.
Founded: 15th century | Location: Viljandi, Estonia

Viljandi Museum

The museum of Viljandi exhibits the history of Viljandimaa from prehistoric times to Soviet era. The museum was established in 1878 and it is located to the oldest stone building in the city, built by J. J. Schoeler in 1780.
Founded: 1878 | Location: Viljandi, Estonia

St. Paul's Church

The Lutheran red-brick church of St. Paul was built between 1863-1866. It is designed by Franz Block and Matthias von Holst. The Viljandi estate owner baron Ungern-Stenberg gave the community a part of his estate as building ground for the church.
Founded: 1863-1866 | Location: Viljandi, Estonia

Õisu Manor

The Classicist main building of the Õisu Manor was built at the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries. The wide and high parade staircase with sculptures of white marble makes the mansion impressive; one of the sculptures is a Protege of Home, the other one symbolizes Power. Many outbuildings belong to the Manor Ensemble, of which one of the most interesting one is the so-called "wry stable". There is an English-styl ...
Founded: 1760-1767 | Location: Viljandi, Estonia

Viljandi Old Cemetery

Viljandi old cemetery was founded in the 18th century. There are graves of soldiers from different countries: Russians (World War I), Estonians (war of Independence) and Germans (World War II).
Founded: 18th century | Location: Viljandi, Estonia

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Abbey of Saint-Étienne

The Abbey of Saint-Etienne, also known as Abbaye aux Hommes ('Men"s Abbey'), is a former monastery dedicated to Saint Stephen (Saint Étienne). It is considered, along with the neighbouring Abbaye aux Dames ('Ladies" Abbey'), to be one of the most notable Romanesque buildings in Normandy. Like all the major abbeys in Normandy, it was Benedictine.

Lanfranc, before being an Archbishop of Canterbury, was abbot of Saint-Etienne. Built in Caen stone during the 11th century, the two semi-completed churches stood for many decades in competition. An important feature added to both churches in about 1120 was the ribbed vault, used for the first time in France. The two abbey churches are considered forerunners of the Gothic architecture. The original Romanesque apse was replaced in 1166 by an early Gothic chevet, complete with rosette windows and flying buttresses. Nine towers and spires were added in the 13th century. The interior vaulting shows a similar progression, beginning with early sexpartite vaulting (using circular ribs) in the nave and progressing to quadipartite vaults (using pointed ribs) in the sanctuary.

The two monasteries were finally donated by William the Conqueror and his wife, Matilda of Flanders, as penalty for their marriage against the Pope"s ruling. William was buried here; Matilda was buried in the Abbaye aux Dames. Unfortunately William"s original tombstone of black marble, the same kind as Matilda"s in the Abbaye aux Dames, was destroyed by the Calvinist iconoclasts in the 16th century and his bones scattered.

As a consequence of the Wars of Religion, the high lantern tower in the middle of the church collapsed and was never rebuilt. The Benedictine abbey was suppressed during the French Revolution and the abbey church became a parish church. From 1804 to 1961, the abbey buildings accommodated a prestigious high school, the Lycée Malherbe. During the Normandy Landings in 1944, inhabitants of Caen found refuge in the church; on the rooftop there was a red cross, made with blood on a sheet, to show that it was a hospital (to avoid bombings).