Danish and Livonian Order

History of Estonia between 1208 - 1560

Estonia remained one of the last corners of medieval Europe to be Christianized. In 1193 Pope Celestine III called for a crusade against pagans in Northern Europe. The crusade operation against Estonians was initiated by Teutonic Knights from northern Germany, which was since 1237 known as Livonian Order. With the help of the newly converted local tribes of Livs and Letts, the crusaders initiated raids into part of what is present-day Estonia in 1208. Estonian tribes fiercely resisted the attacks from Riga and occasionally themselves sacked territories controlled by the crusaders. In 1217 the German crusading order the Sword Brethren and their recently converted allies won a major battle in which the Estonian commander Lembitu was killed. The period of the several Northern Crusade battles in Estonia between 1208 and 1227 is also known as the period of the ancient Estonian fight for independence.

Danish occupation

At the same time Northern Estonia was conquered by Danish crusaders led by king Waldemar II, who arrived in 1219 on the site of the Estonian town of Lindanisse (now Tallinn). The Danish Army defeated the Estonians at Battle of Lyndanisse. The Estonians of Harria started a rebellion in 1343 (St.George's Night Uprising). The province was occupied by the Livonian Order as a result. In 1346, the Danish dominions in Estonia (Harria and Vironia) were sold for 10 000 marks to the Livonian Order.

Also Swedish had their own had their settlements in Estonia. The first written mention of the Estonian Swedes comes from 1294, in the laws of the town of Haapsalu. Estonian Swedes are one of the earliest known minorities in Estonia. They have also been called Coastal Swedes ("Rannarootslased" in Estonian), or according to their settlement area Ruhnu Swedes, Hiiu Swedes etc.

Feodal order

After the conquest, all remaining local pagans were ostensibly Christianized although no Christian literature or church services became available in native languages until the Protestant Reformation period in the 16th century. The conquerors upheld military control through their network of castles throughout Estonia and Latvia. The land was divided into six feodal principalities by Papal Legate William of Modena: Archbishopric of Riga, Bishopric of Courland, Bishopric of Dorpat, Bishopric of Ösel-Wiek, the lands ruled by the Livonian Brothers of the Sword and Dominum directum of King of Denmark, the Duchy of Estonia.

Reformation

The Reformation in Europe began in 1517 with Martin Luther (1483–1546) and his 95 Theses. The Reformation resulted in great change in the Baltics. The new ideas entered the Livonian Confederation very quickly and by the 1520s they were well known. The Baltic German elite preserved Estonian commitment to the Protestant Reformation from 1524. Language, education, religion and politics were greatly transformed. Church services were now given in the local vernacular, instead of Latin, as was previously used, and from this period the first book printed in Estonian also dates.

Livonian War

The Livonian War (1558–1583) was fought for control of Old Livonia in the territory of present-day Estonia and Latvia when the Tsardom of Russia faced a varying coalition of Denmark–Norway, the Kingdom of Sweden, the Union (later Commonwealth) of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Kingdom of Poland.

During the period 1558–1578, Russia dominated the region with early military successes at Dorpat (Tartu) and Narva. Russian dissolution of the Livonian Confederation brought Poland–Lithuania into the conflict while Sweden and Denmark both intervened between 1559 and 1561. Swedish Estonia was established despite constant invasion from Russia and Frederick II of Denmark bought the old Bishopric of Ösel–Wiek, which he placed under the control of his brother Magnus of Holstein. Magnus attempted to expand his Livonian holdings to establish the Russian vassal state Kingdom of Livonia, which nominally existed until Magnus' defection in 1576.

In 1576, Stefan Batory became King of Poland as well as Grand Duke of Lithuania and turned the tide of the war with his successes between 1578 and 1581, including the joint Swedish–Polish–Lithuanian offensive at the Battle of Wenden. This was followed by an extended campaign through Russia culminating in the long and difficult siege of Pskov. Under the 1582 Truce of Jam Zapolski, which ended the war between Russia and Poland–Lithuania, Russia lost all its former holdings in Livonia and Polotsk to Poland–Lithuania. The following year, Sweden and Russia signed the Truce of Plussa with Sweden gaining most of Ingria and northern Livonia while retaining the Duchy of Estonia.

References: Wikipedia

Popular sites founded between 1208 and 1560 in Estonia

Tallinn Town Hall

Tallinn Town Hall, located in the main square, is the only surviving Gothic town hall in Northern Europe. The first recorded mention of the Town Hall dates from 1322. Its present form dates from 1402-1404, when the building was rebuilt. The spire was destroyed in an aerial bombing on March 9, 1944. It was rebuilt in 1950. The Town Hall is in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites with the Tallinn's Old Town. The buil ...
Founded: 1322 | Location: Tallinn, Estonia

The Church of Holy Spirit

The Church of Holy Spirit is the only sacred building from 14th-century Tallinn preserved its original form. The church was originally founded as part of the neighbouring Holy Spirit Almshouse, which tended to the town's sick and elderly. Throughout Medieval times it remained the primary church of the common folk. First Estonian-language sermons were held there, and the famous Livonian chronicler Balthasar Russow work ...
Founded: 1319 | Location: Tallinn, Estonia

Great Guild Hall

Since the 14th century craftmen’s guilds were significant brotherhoods who drove interests of their members. The big guild of Tallinn was an union of wealthy merchants. Their base was the Great Guild Hall in downtown, opposite the church of Holy Spirit. The building itself was built in 1407-1410 and is a well-preserved sample of Medieval construction. Today the Great Guild Hall houses a museum presenting Estonia's hist ...
Founded: 1407-1410 | Location: Tallinn, Estonia

St Mary's Cathedral

St Mary’s Cathedral was originally established by Danes on 13th century and it is the oldest church in Tallinn and mainland Estonia. It is also the only building in Toompea which survived a 17th century fire. The first church was made of wood and built there most likely already in 1219 when the Danes invaded Tallinn. In 1229 when the Dominican monks arrived, they started building a stone church replacing the old wooden ...
Founded: 1229 | Location: Tallinn, Estonia

St. Nicholas Church

St. Nicholas' Church (Niguliste kirik) is a medieval church in Tallinn. The church is dedicated to Saint Nicholas, the patron of the fishermen and sailors. It was founded and built around 1230-1275 by Westphalian merchants, who came from Gotland in the 13th century. While the city was still unfortified, the church had heavy bars for closing the entrances, loopholes and hiding places for refugees. When the fortificatio ...
Founded: 1230-1270 | Location: Tallinn, Estonia

Dominican Monastery

The Dominican monastery was founded in 1246 and it is the oldest one in the medieval old town. The center of monastery was St. Catherine's Church, which was completed in the late 1300s and was the largest church building in the lower town. The Monastery was expanded several times, most recently in the 16th century. St. Catherine's convent closed down in 1525, when the monks were expelled from Tallinn during the R ...
Founded: 1246 | Location: Tallinn, Estonia

Kiek in de Kök

Kiek in de Kök is an artillery tower built between 1475 and 1483. It is 38 m high and has walls 4 m thick. Cannon balls dating back to 1577 are still embedded in its outer walls. Compared to the other Tallinn towers Kiek in de Kök was predominant in its fire power, due to its 27 embrasures for cannons and 30 for handguns Kiek in de Kök (low German Peep into the Kitchen ) is an old German language nicknam ...
Founded: 1475-1483 | Location: Tallinn, Estonia

Tallinn City Museum

The building of the City Museum dates from the 14th century. The oldest record in the real estate register dates from 1363. The permanent exhibition provides an overlook of Tallinn’s history through centuries – beginning with prehistory and ending with Estonia’s regaining of independence in 1991. Various sectors of medieval society are explained using a combination of texts, artefacts, life-sized models and sound e ...
Founded: 1363 | Location: Tallinn, Estonia

St. Olaf's Church

St. Olaf’s Church (Oleviste kirik) is believed to have been built in the 12th century and to have been the centre for old Tallinn's Scandinavian community prior to the conquest of Tallinn by Denmark in 1219. Its dedication relates to King Olaf II of Norway (a.k.a. Saint Olaf, 995-1030). The first known written records referring to the church date back to 1267, and it was extensively rebuilt during the 14th century. ...
Founded: 1267 | Location: Tallinn, Estonia

Toompea Castle

Toompea Castle is situated on the steep limestone hill in the central part of Tallinn. The first wooden castle is believed to have been built on the hill in either the 10th or 11th century by residents of the ancient Estonian county of Rävala. It was probably one of the first inhabited areas of what later became Tallinn. In 1219, the castle was taken over by Danish crusaders - led by Valdemar II. According to a legen ...
Founded: 13-14th century | Location: Tallinn, Estonia

Pikk Hermann

Pikk Hermann (Tall Hermann) is a tower of the Toompea Castle. The first part was built 1360-70. It was rebuilt (height brought to 45,6 m) in the 16th century. A staircase with 215 steps leads to the top of the tower. Pikk Hermann tower is situated next to the Estonian Parliament building and the flag on the top of the tower at 95 metres above sea level is one of the symbols of the government in force. The national flag, ...
Founded: 1360-1370 | Location: Tallinn, Estonia

Hermann Castle

Hermann Castle (also Hermannsburg, Herman Castle, Narva Castle, or Narva fortress) was founded in 1256 by the Danes and the first stone castle was built in the beginning of the 14th century. The German Livonian Teutonic knights order purchased the castle on 29 August 1346 and for most of its history the castle was German Teutonic. Although the exact age of Narva Castle and the town cause still arguments between historian ...
Founded: 1256 | Location: Narva, Estonia

Haapsalu Castle

The bishop castle of Haapsalu was built in the 13th century. It was the main residence of the Bishop of Läänemaa. The Läänemaa bishopric was created as a state of the Holy Roman Empire on 1 October 1228. Construction, widening and reconstruction of the stronghold went on throughout several centuries, with the architecture changing according to the development of weapons. The stronghold achieved its fi ...
Founded: 1228 | Location: Haapsalu, Estonia

Tartu Cathedral

Tartu Cathedral (Estonian Tartu toomkirik) is one of the landmarks of the city of Tartu. The building is now an imposing ruin overlooking the lower town. In the small part of it that has been renovated is now located the museum of the University of Tartu, which the university also uses for major receptions. The hill on which the cathedral later stood (Toomemägi or "cathedral hill") was one of the largest strongholds ...
Founded: 1250-1300 | Location: Tartu, Estonia

St John's Church

St. John's Church was probably built in the first third of the 14th century as a three-nave basilica. The church was damaged in the Russian- Livonian War in the 16th century; lightning has set its spire on fire several times. Some parts of the church were destroyed in the Great Nordic War in 1708. In the end of 19th century external walls of St. John's Church were cleaned of limewash, the original shape of the ch ...
Founded: 1300-1330 | Location: Tartu, Estonia

Kuressaare Castle

Kuressaare Castle from the 14th century is a symbol of Kuressaare and all of Saaremaa island. The convent building at the castle is the only surviving medieval fortified building in the Baltic States without noteworthy architectural alterations. The construction of the stronghold was closely connected with the Estonians' fight against the German feudals. In 1227 the last Estonian county - Saaremaa surrendered to the Germ ...
Founded: 1260s | Location: Kuressaare, Estonia

Red Tower

The Red Tower (which is actually white) is the only defence tower left from medieval Hanseatic city of New-Pärnu. It is the oldest city’s architectural monument and was used as the prison. According to the chronics, in 14th century Pärnu was encircled by a fortified wall with many towers: the round Viliand Tower, also know as the White Tower, in the north-eastern corner and Red Tower in the south-eastern c ...
Founded: 15th century | Location: Pärnu, Estonia

Pirita Convent

Pirita Convent (Pirita klooster) was a monastery, for both monks and nuns dedicated to St. Bridget. In 1407 two brothers from St. Bridget Order Convent in Vadstena, Sweden, had arrived to Tallinn to promote with advice and other assistance the expansion of order to Estonia. In 1417 finally the first limestone quarry permit was obtained from the town with the help of the Grandmaster of the Livonian Order and the building o ...
Founded: 1417 | Location: Tallinn, Estonia

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

Rakvere Castle

The earliest data regarding human settlement at Vallimäe in Rakvere come from the Viking Age, an arrowhead from the 9th century and some broken pieces of pottery from this period have been found on the territory of the castle. There is more information about the last centuries of the prehistoric age when an ancient wooden stronghold surrounded by a fence stood in the place of the present convent building. First writ ...
Founded: 1226 | Location: Rakvere, 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

Rakvere Church of the Holy Trinity

The first church of Rakvere was built in 1430’s and sanctified to St. Michael. The dilapidated church was reconstructed between 1684-1891. The Rakvere church was damaged in the Great Northern War and restored in 1752 and again in 1850’s. The unusually high and slender spire was added during the last renovation. The beautiful pulpit was made by C. Ackermann in 1690 and the altar by Johann Rabe in 1730. Referen ...
Founded: 1430's | Location: Rakvere, Estonia

Toolse Castle

The castle of Toolse was built in 1471 by the Livonian Order as defence against pirates sailing in the Gulf of Finland. During the Livonian War it changed hands several times, was apparently destroyed and later rebuilt. In 1581 French mercenary Pontus de la Gardie captured the castle for Sweden from Russia which had held it since 1558. The castle was destroyed again during the Great Northern War, ever since which it has ...
Founded: 1471 | Location: Kunda, Estonia

Põlva Church

The church of Blessed Virgin Mary was originally built in the early 13th century and it was probably the first stone church in Southern Estonia. The current stone church was built in the late 15th century to the grounds of the earlier church. It has been damaged in Livonian Wars and Great Northern War and restored later. The interesting details in the church are the old altar painting The Last Supper (1650) and the altar ...
Founded: 15th century | Location: Põlva, Estonia

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Porta Nigra

The Porta Nigra (Latin for black gate) is the largest Roman city gate north of the Alps. It is designated as part of the Roman Monuments, Cathedral of St. Peter and Church of Our Lady in Trier UNESCO World Heritage Site. The name Porta Nigra originated in the Middle Ages due to the darkened colour of its stone; the original Roman name has not been preserved. Locals commonly refer to the Porta Nigra simply as Porta.

The Porta Nigra was built in grey sandstone between 186 and 200 AD. The original gate consisted of two four-storied towers, projecting as near semicircles on the outer side. A narrow courtyard separated the two gate openings on either side. For unknown reasons, however, the construction of the gate remained unfinished. For example, the stones at the northern (outer) side of the gate were never abraded, and the protruding stones would have made it impossible to install movable gates. Nonetheless, the gate was used for several centuries until the end of the Roman era in Trier.

In Roman times, the Porta Nigra was part of a system of four city gates, one of which stood at each side of the roughly rectangular Roman city. The Porta Nigra guarded the northern entry to the Roman city, while the Porta Alba (White Gate) was built in the east, the Porta Media (Middle Gate) in the south, and the Porta Inclyta (Famous Gate) in the west, next to the Roman bridge across the Moselle. The gates stood at the ends of the two main streets of the Roman Trier, one of which led north-south and the other east-west. Of these gates, only the Porta Nigra still exists today.

In the early Middle Ages the Roman city gates were no longer used for their original function and their stones were taken and reused for other buildings. Also iron and lead braces were broken out of the walls of the Porta Nigra for reuse. Traces of this destruction are still clearly visible on the north side of the gate.

After 1028, the Greek monk Simeon lived as a hermit in the ruins of the Porta Nigra. After his death (1035) and sanctification, the Simeonstift monastery was built next to the Porta Nigra to honor him. Saving it from further destruction, the Porta Nigra was transformed into a church: The inner court of the gate was roofed and intermediate ceilings were inserted. The two middle storeys of the former gate were converted into church naves: the upper storey being for the monks and the lower storey for the general public. The ground floor with the large gates was sealed, and a large outside staircase was constructed alongside the south side (the town side) of the gate, up to the lower storey of the church. A small staircase led further up to the upper storey. The church rooms were accessible through former windows of the western tower of the Porta Nigra that were enlarged to become entrance doors (still visible today). The top floor of the western tower was used as church tower, the eastern tower was leveled, and an apse added at its east side. An additional gate - the much smaller Simeon Gate - was built adjacent to the East side of the Porta Nigra and served as a city gate in medieval times.

In 1802 Napoleon Bonaparte dissolved the church in the Porta Nigra and the monastery beside it, along with the vast majority of Trier"s numerous churches and monasteries. On his visit to Trier in 1804, Napoleon ordered that the Porta Nigra be converted back to its Roman form. Only the apse was kept; but the eastern tower was not rebuilt to its original height. Local legend has it that Napoleon originally wanted to completely tear down the church, but locals convinced him that the church had actually been a Gaulish festival hall before being turned into a church. Another version of the story is that they told him about its Roman origins, persuading him to convert the gate back to its original form.

In 1986 the Porta Nigra was designated a World Heritage Site, along with other Roman monuments in Trier and its surroundings. The modern appearance of the Porta Nigra goes back almost unchanged to the reconstruction ordered by Napoleon. At the south side of the Porta Nigra, remains of Roman columns line the last 100 m of the street leading to the gate. Positioned where they had stood in Roman times, they give a slight impression of the aspect of the original Roman street that was lined with colonnades. The Porta Nigra, including the upper floors, is open to visitors.