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

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

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

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

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 18th C ...
Founded: 1660's | Location: Kuressaare, 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

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

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

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

Rakvere Manor

Teatrimägi hill is one of the oldest places in Rakvere – people have lived here for thousands of years. In the first half of the 16th century there was a Franciscan monastery here, but it was not until 1670 that the first, baroque manor house was built here. The park surrounding the manor was named the “People’s Park” when Estonia gained its independence. Today the original manor building (the ...
Founded: 1670 | Location: Rakvere, 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 current ...
Founded: 1644 | Location: Ruhnu, 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

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

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

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

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

Glimmingehus

Glimmingehus is the best preserved medieval stronghold in Scandinavia. It was built 1499-1506, during an era when Scania formed a vital part of Denmark, and contains many defensive arrangements of the era, such as parapets, false doors and dead-end corridors, 'murder-holes' for pouring boiling pitch over the attackers, moats, drawbridges and various other forms of death traps to surprise trespassers and protect the nobles against peasant uprisings. The lower part of the castle's stone walls are 2.4 meters (94 inches) thick and the upper part 1.8 meters (71 inches).

Construction was started in 1499 by the Danish knight Jens Holgersen Ulfstand and stone-cutter-mason and architect Adam van Düren, a North German master who also worked on Lund Cathedral. Construction was completed in 1506.

Ulfstand was a councillor, nobleman and admiral serving under John I of Denmark and many objects have been uncovered during archeological excavations that demonstrate the extravagant lifestyle of the knight's family at Glimmingehus up until Ulfstand's death in 1523. Some of the most expensive objects for sale in Europe during this period, such as Venetian glass, painted glass from the Rhine district and Spanish ceramics have been found here. Evidence of the family's wealth can also be seen inside the stone fortress, where everyday comforts for the knight's family included hot air channels in the walls and bench seats in the window recesses. Although considered comfortable for its period, it has also been argued that Glimmingehus was an expression of "Knighthood nostalgia" and not considered opulent or progressive enough even to the knight's contemporaries and especially not to later generations of the Scanian nobility. Glimmingehus is thought to have served as a residential castle for only a few generations before being transformed into a storage facility for grain.

An order from Charles XI to the administrators of the Swedish dominion of Scania in 1676 to demolish the castle, in order to ensure that it would not fall into the hands of the Danish king during the Scanian War, could not be executed. A first attempt, in which 20 Scanian farmers were ordered to assist, proved unsuccessful. An additional force of 130 men were sent to Glimmingehus to execute the order in a second attempt. However, before they could carry out the order, a Danish-Dutch naval division arrived in Ystad, and the Swedes had to abandon the demolition attempts. Throughout the 18th century the castle was used as deposit for agricultural produce and in 1924 it was donated to the Swedish state. Today it is administered by the Swedish National Heritage Board.

On site there is a museum, medieval kitchen, shop and restaurant and coffee house. During summer time there are several guided tours daily. In local folklore, the castle is described as haunted by multiple ghosts and the tradition of storytelling inspired by the castle is continued in the summer events at the castle called "Strange stories and terrifying tales".