Part of the Swedish Empire

History of Estonia between 1561 - 1721

The Duchy of Estonia, also known as Swedish Estonia, was a dominion of the Swedish Empire from 1561 until 1721, when it was ceded to Russia in the Treaty of Nystad, following its capitulation, during the plague, in the Great Northern War.

The dominion arose during the Livonian War, when the northern parts of present-day Estonia (Reval (Tallinn) and the counties of Harjumaa, Western Virumaa, Raplamaa and Järvamaa) submitted to the Swedish king in 1561, and Läänemaa in 1581. It is also colloquially known as the "good old Swedish times" by Estonians, but this expression was not used before the following Russian rule, in the beginning of which the situation of Estonian peasantry declined rapidly (to gain support of German nobility, Russia gave them more power over peasantry).

Popular sites founded between 1561 and 1721 in Estonia

Tartu University

The University of Tartu was established by King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden in 1632, thus being one of the oldest universities in Northern Europe. Over the centuries it has been closed down, moved to Tallinn and re-opened by Baltic Germans. After Estonia became independent in 1918, the University of Tartu has been an Estonian-language institution since 1919. The main building of Tartu University is one of the most outsta ...
Founded: 1632 | Location: Tartu, Estonia

Audru Church

Audru Church, which was built in 1680, is one of the few 17th century rural churches left in Estonia. It was built under the patronage of great church builder Magnus Gabriel de la Gardie, who built 37 churches in Sweden. The baroque-style plastered church has a tall and slim gothic tower. A beautiful vaulted ceiling hangs above the spacious church hall and the church's benches, pulpit, altar wall and grid, and the organ ...
Founded: 1680 | Location: Audru, 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

Kadriorg Palace

Catherinethal ("Catherine's valley") is a Petrine Baroque palace of Catherine I of Russia in Tallinn. It was built after the Great Northern War to Nicola Michetti's designs by Gaetano Chiaveri and Mikhail Zemtsov. In the 20th century the Estonian version of the name, Kadriorg, gained currency and came to be applied to the surrounding district. After the successful siege of Reval in 1710 Peter the Great of Russia b ...
Founded: 1718 | Location: Tallinn, Estonia

Tallinn Gate

So-called Tallinn Gate is the only remaining 17th century gate of the city wall in Baltic Countries. It was built between 1675 and 1686 and designed probably by Swedish Erik Dahlberg. During the teardown of the fortification in the 19th century only the Tallinn Gate was preserved, as well as the embankments and the trench that leads to the Venuse Bastion at the riverside - the so called Vallikäär.
Founded: 1675-1686 | Location: Pärnu, Estonia

House of the Brotherhood of Black Heads

The House of Black Heads (Estonian Mustpeade maja) is a Renaissance-style building in Tallinn old town. The building's name is derived from its developers, the Brotherhood of Black Heads which was the guild of foreign unmarried merchants. The Brotherhood was founded sometime around 1399 and was active in Estonia and Latvia. A 14th-century residential building probably occupied this site when the Black Heads bought ...
Founded: 1597 | Location: Tallinn, Estonia

Narva Town Hall

The town hall is one of the three buildings in Narva survived from World War II. The Baroque-style building was built by the order of Swedish king Charles XI. The project of the master George Teuffel from Lubeck formed the basis of the building, the construction of which started in 1688. After three years, at the latest in 1691, the building was finished when a gold-plated forged weathercock in the form of a crane was put ...
Founded: 1688-1691 | Location: Narva, Estonia

The Weighing House

The Weighing House was built in 1660s as a place to keep the public scales, while the central square served as the market place. This is the only building of its type that has survived in Estonia. The main attraction of the small two story limestone building is in the strict symmetry in the architecture and the scaled gable, decorating the façade. The Weighing House was enlarged with a single story building in the ...
Founded: 1660's | Location: Kuressaare, Estonia

Taagepera Church

The Lutheran St. John’s Church was built in 1674 by the owner of near Taagepera manor. The church is made of stone, but has a wooden tower.
Founded: 1674 | Location: Helme, Estonia

Kuressaare Town Hall

Kuressaare town hall was built in 1654-1670. The initiator of town hall building was count M. G. De la Gardie. Town hall is simple and dour but appears to be grand representative of so called northern baroque the decoration of which is hewed portal that dates 1670. Reference: Visit Estonia
Founded: 1654-1670 | Location: Kuressaare, Estonia

Kambja Church

The first wooden church of Kambja was built probably in the beginning of the 14th century. Churches were destroyed and rebuilt several times during centuries. The present Lutheran St. Martin’s Church was originally rebuilt in 1720, this time of stone and a transept was added to the old part in 1874. After World War II, the church, which is one of the biggest in Southern Estonia, was in ruins for many years until restora ...
Founded: 1720 | Location: Kambja, Estonia

Paldiski Fortress

Swedish conquerors established a sea fortress named Rågövik (“Rye Island Bay”) to the deep and wind-sheltered Paldiski Bay in the 17th century. Later it became a Russian naval base in the 18th century. Peter the Great planned to build a giant military port of there. The plan envisaged that the mole would offer shelter for the entire vast navy of Russia. Construction of the military port started in 1 ...
Founded: 1716 | Location: Paldiski, Estonia

St. Lawrence's Church

One-naved classicistic Kuressaare St. Lawrence’s Church was built in 1630’s to the place of medieval church destroyed by fire. The pulpit and altar wall of the church are hewed from dolomite, all along the building is surrounded by columnar balcony. In the church you can see the first Sauer instrument of Estonia, the only organ of Kuressaare city. The most significant artefact in the church is the medieval babtismal s ...
Founded: 1630's | Location: Kuressaare, Estonia

St. Madeline's Church

The Ruhnu wooden church, built in 1644, is the oldest known wooden building in Estonia. The church's baroque-style tower was finished in 1755. The oldest parts of the building are the polygonal choir and altar, and the nave. The altar is covered with a thin, polished stone slate; the oaken frame stands on sand and is open towards the south. The stone Lutheran church next to the wooden one was built in 1912 and is cur ...
Founded: 1644 | Location: Ruhnu, Estonia

Võõpsy Tsässon (Chapel)

The traditional chapel of Võõpsu village (“Migula tsässon”) community is thought to have been built at the end of the 13th century or beginning of the 14th century in the honour of St. Nicholas. The current tsässon was built in 1709. An archaeological monument under heritage conservation – an underground cemetery where people were buried up to the 19th century – is located n ...
Founded: 1709 | Location: Mikitamäe, Estonia

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Sweetheart Abbey

Sweetheart Abbey was a Cistercian monastery, founded in 1275 by Dervorguilla of Galloway in memory of her husband John de Balliol. His embalmed heart, in a casket of ivory and silver, was buried alongside her when she died; the monks at the Abbey then renamed the Abbey in tribute to her. Their son, also John, became king of Scotland but his reign was tragic and short. The depredations suffered by the Abbey in subsequent periods, have caused both the graves to be lost. The abbey, built in deep-red, local sandstone, was founded as a daughter house to Dundrennan Abbey; this Novum Monasterium (New Monastery), became known as the New Abbey.

The immediate abbey precincts extended to 120,000 m2 and sections of the surrounding wall can still be seen today. The Cistercian order, also known as the White Monks because of the white habit, over which they wore a black scapular or apron, built many great abbeys after their establishment around 1100. Like many of their abbeys, the New Abbey's interests lay not only in prayer and contemplation but in the farming and commercial activity of the area, making it the centre of local life. The abbey ruins dominate the skyline today and one can only imagine how it and the monks would have dominated early medieval life as farmers, agriculturalists, horse and cattle breeders. Surrounded by rich and fertile grazing and arable land, they became increasingly expert and systematic in their farming and breeding methods. Like all Cistercian abbeys, they made their mark, not only on the religious life of the district but on the ways of local farmers and influenced agriculture in the surrounding areas.

The village which stands next to the ruins today, is now known as New Abbey. At the other end of the main street is Monksmill, a corn mill. Although the present buildings date from the late eighteenth century, there was an earlier mill built by and for the monks of the abbey which serviced the surrounding farms.