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

Castle de Haar

Castle de Haar is the largest and most fairytale-like castle in the Netherlands. The current buildings, all built upon the original castle, date from 1892 and are the work of Dutch architect P.J.H. Cuypers, in a Neo-Gothic restoration project funded by the Rothschild family.

The oldest historical record of a building at the location of the current castle dates to 1391. In that year, the family De Haar received the castle and the surrounding lands as fiefdom from Hendrik van Woerden. The castle remained in the ownership of the De Haar family until 1440, when the last male heir died childless. The castle then passed to the Van Zuylen family. In 1482, the castle was burned down and the walls were torn down, except for the parts that did not have a military function. These parts probably were incorporated into the castle when it was rebuilt during the early 16th century. The castle is mentioned in an inventory of the possessions of Steven van Zuylen from 1506, and again in a list of fiefdoms in the province Utrecht from 1536. The oldest image of the castle dates to 1554 and shows that the castle had been largely rebuilt by then. After 1641, when Johan van Zuylen van der Haar died childless, the castle seems to have gradually fallen into ruins. The castle escaped from total destruction by the French during the Rampjaar 1672.

In 1801 the last catholic van Zuylen in the Netherlands, the bachelor Anton-Martinus van Zuylen van Nijevelt (1708-1801) bequeathed the property to his cousin Jean-Jacques van Zuylen van Nyevelt (1752-1846) of the catholic branch in the Southern Netherlands. In 1890, De Haar was inherited by Jean-Jacques' grandson Etienne Gustave Frédéric Baron van Zuylen van Nyevelt van de Haar (1860-1934), who married Baroness Hélène de Rothschild. They contracted architect Pierre Cuypers in 1892 to rebuild the ruinous castle, which took 15 years.

In 1887, the inheritor of the castle-ruins, Etienne van Zuylen van Nijevelt, married Hélène de Rothschild, of theRothschild family. Fully financed by Hélène's family, the Rothschilds, the couple set about rebuilding the castle from its ruins. For the restoration of the castle, the famous architect Pierre Cuypers was hired. He would be working on this project for 20 years (from 1892 to 1912). The castle has 200 rooms and 30 bathrooms, of which only a small number on the ground floor have been opened to be viewed by the public. In the hall, Cuypers has placed a statue with his own image in a corner of the gallery on the first floor.

The castle was equipped by Cuypers with the most modern gadgets, such as electrical lighting with its own generator, and central heating by way of steam. This installation is internationally recognized as an industrial monument. The kitchen was for that period also very modern and still has a large collection of copper pots and pans and an enormous furnace of approximately 6 metres long, which is heated with peat or coals. The tiles in the kitchen are decorated with the coats of arms of the families De Haar and Van Zuylen, which were for this purpose especially baked in Franeker. Cuypers marked out the difference between the old walls and the new bricks, by using a different kind of brick for the new walls. For the interior Cuypers made a lot of use of cast iron.

In the castle one can see many details which reminds one of the family De Rothschild, such as the David stars on the balconies of the knight's hall, the motto of the family on the hearth in the knight's hall (A majoribus et virtute) and the coat of arms of the family right underneath on the hearth in the library.

The interior of the castle is decorated with richly ornamented woodcarving, which reminds one of the interior of a Roman Catholic church. This carving was made in the workshop of Cuypers in Roermond. The place where later also the interiors of many Roman Catholic churches were made, designed by Cuypers. Cuypers even designed the tableware. The interior is also furnished with many works of the Rothschild collections, including beautiful old porcelain from Japan and China, and several old Flemish tapestries and paintings with religious illustrations. A showpiece is a carrier coach of the woman of a Shogun from Japan. There is only one more left in the world, which stands in a museum in Tokyo. Many Japanese tourists come to De Haar to admire exactly this coach, which was donated from the Rothschilds collections.

Surrounding the castle there is a park, designed by Hendrik Copijn, for which Van Zuylen ordered 7000 fully grown trees. Because these could not be transported through the city of Utrecht, Van Zuylen bought a house and tore it down. The park contains many waterworks and a formal garden which reminds one of the French gardens of Versailles. During the Second World War many of the gardens were lost, because the wood was used to light fires, and the soil was used to grow vegetables upon. At this time, the gardens are restored in their old splendor.

For the decoration of the park, the village Haarzuilens, except for the town church, was broken down. The inhabitants were moved to a place a kilometer further up, where a new Haarzuilens arose, where they lived as tenants of the lord of the castle. This new village was also built in a pseudo-medieval style, including a rural village green. The buildings were for the most part designed by Cuypers and his son Joseph Cuypers.