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 ...
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

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

Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte

The Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte is a baroque French château built between 1658-1661 for Nicolas Fouquet. It was made for Marquis de Belle Île, Viscount of Melun and Vaux, the superintendent of finances of Louis XIV, the château was an influential work of architecture in mid-17th century Europe. At Vaux-le-Vicomte, the architect Louis Le Vau, the landscape architect André le Nôtre, and the painter-decorator Charles Le Brun worked together on a large-scale project for the first time. Their collaboration marked the beginning of the 'Louis XIV style' combining architecture, interior design and landscape design. The garden's pronounced visual axis is an example of this style.

To secure the necessary grounds for the elaborate plans for Vaux-le-Vicomte’s garden and castle, Fouquet purchased and demolished three villages. The displaced villagers were then employed in the upkeep and maintenance of the gardens. It was said to have employed eighteen thousand workers and cost as much as 16 million livres. The château and its patron became for a short time a focus for fine feasts, literature and arts. The poet La Fontaine and the playwright Molière were among the artists close to Fouquet. At the inauguration of Vaux-le-Vicomte, a Molière play was performed, along with a dinner event organized by François Vatel, and an impressive firework show.

After Fouquet was arrested and imprisoned for life, and his wife exiled, Vaux-le-Vicomte was placed under sequestration. The king seized, confiscated or purchased 120 tapestries, the statues, and all the orange trees from Vaux-le-Vicomte. He then sent the team of artists (Le Vau, Le Nôtre and Le Brun) to design what would be a much larger project than Vaux-le-Vicomte, the palace and gardens of Versailles.

The Marshal Villars became the new owner without first seeing the chateau. In 1764, the Marshal's son sold the estate to the Duke of Praslin, whose descendants would maintain the property for over a century. It is sometimes mistakenly reported that the château was the scene of a murder in 1847, when duke Charles de Choiseul-Praslin, killed his wife in her bedroom, but this did not happen at Vaux-le-Vicomte but at the Paris residence of the Duke.

In 1875, after thirty years of neglect, the estate was sold to Alfred Sommier in a public auction. The château was empty, some of the outbuildings had fallen into ruin, and the famous gardens were totally overgrown. The huge task of restoration and refurbishment began under the direction of the architect Gabriel-Hippolyte Destailleur, assisted by the landscape architect Elie Lainé. When Sommier died in 1908, the château and the gardens had recovered their original appearance. His son, Edme Sommier, and his daughter-in-law completed the task. Today, his descendants continue to preserve the château, which remains privately owned by Patrice and Cristina de Vogüé, the Count and Countess de Vogüé. It is now administered by their three sons Alexandre, Jean-Charles and Ascanio de Vogüé. Recognized by the state as a monument historique, it is open to the public regularly.

Architecture

The chateau is situated near the northern end of a 1.5-km long north-south axis with the entrance front facing north. Its elevations are perfectly symmetrical to either side of this axis. Somewhat surprisingly the interior plan is also nearly completely symmetrical with few differences between the eastern and western halves. The two rooms in the center, the entrance vestibule to the north and the oval salon to the south, were originally an open-air loggia, dividing the chateau into two distinct sections. The interior decoration of these two rooms was therefore more typical of an outdoor setting. Three sets of three arches, those on the entrance front, three more between the vestibule and the salon, and the three leading from the salon to the garden are all aligned and permitted the arriving visitor to see through to the central axis of the garden even before entering the chateau. The exterior arches could be closed with iron gates, and only later were they filled in with glass doors and the interior arches with mirrored doors. Since the loggia divided the building into two halves, there are two symmetrical staircases on either side of it, rather than a single staircase. The rooms in the eastern half of the house were intended for the use of the king, those in the western were for Fouquet. The provision of a suite of rooms for the king was normal practice in aristocratic houses of the time, since the king travelled frequently.

Another surprising feature of the plan is the thickness of the main body of the building (corps de logis), which consists of two rows of rooms running east and west. Traditionally the middle of the corps de logis of French chateaux consisted of a single row of rooms. Double-thick corps de logis had already been used in hôtels particuliers in Paris, including Le Vau's Hôtel Tambonneau, but Vaux was the first chateau to incorporate this change. Even more unusual, the main rooms are all on the ground floor rather than the first floor (the traditional piano nobile). This accounts for the lack of a grand staircase or a gallery, standard elements of most contemporary chateaux. Also noteworthy are corridors in the basement and on the first floor which run the length of house providing privacy to the rooms they access. Up to the middle of the 17th century, corridors were essentially unknown. Another feature of the plan, the four pavilions, one at each corner of the building, is more conventional.

Vaux-le-Vicomte was originally planned to be constructed in brick and stone, but after the mid-century, as the middle classes began to imitate this style, aristocratic circles began using stone exclusively. Rather late in the design process, Fouquet and Le Vau switched to stone, a decision that may have been influenced by the use of stone at François Mansart's Château de Maisons. The service buildings flanking the large avant-cour to the north of the house remained in brick and stone, and other structures preceding them were in rubble-stone and plaster, a social ranking of building materials that would be common in France for a considerable length of time thereafter.

The main chateau is constructed entirely on a moated platform, reached via two bridges, both aligned with the central axis and placed on the north and south sides. The moat is a picturesque holdover from medieval fortified residences, and is again a feature that Le Vau may have borrowed from Maisons. The moat at Vaux may also have been inspired by the previous chateau on the site, which Le Vau's work replaced.

Gardens

The château rises on an elevated platform in the middle of the woods and marks the border between unequal spaces, each treated in a different way. This effect is more distinctive today, as the woodlands are mature, than it was in the seventeenth century when the site had been farmland, and the plantations were new.

Le Nôtre's garden was the dominant structure of the great complex, stretching nearly a mile and a half (3 km), with a balanced composition of water basins and canals contained in stone curbs, fountains, gravel walks, and patterned parterres that remains more coherent than the vast display Le Nôtre was to create at Versailles.

Le Nôtre created a magnificent scene to be viewed from the house, using the laws of perspective. Le Notre used the natural terrain to his advantage. He placed the canal at the lowest part of the complex, thus hiding it from the main perspectival point of view. Past the canal, the garden ascends a large open lawn and ends with the Hercules column added in the 19th century. Shrubberies provided a picture frame to the garden that also served as a stage for royal fêtes.

From the top of the grand staircase, this gives the impression that the entire garden is revealed in one single glance. Initially, the view consists of symmetrical rows of shrubbery, avenues, fountains, statues, flowers and other pieces developed to imitate nature – these elements exemplify the Baroque desire to mold nature to fit its wishes, thus using nature to imitate nature. The centerpiece is a large reflecting pool flanked by grottos holding statues in their many niches. The grand sloping lawn is not visible until one begins to explore the garden, when the viewer is made aware of the optical elements involved and discovers that the garden is much larger than it looks.