Castles of the Teutonic Knights

Maasi Fortress Ruins

Maasi medieval fort-castle was built with the forced labour of islanders. That's how the ruling Liivi order punished indigenous inhabitants for the uprising, which had destroyed orders previous stronghold. Seaside fort-castle was undefeated until destroyed by Danes. The fortress was blown up in 1576 by the Danes in an attempt to forestall the Swedish invasion and nothing was done for the next 300 years. 8m walls that ...
Founded: 14th century | Location: Saaremaa, Estonia

Vecdole Castle Ruins

Vecdole Castle (Schloss Alt-Dahlen) was built in the early 13th century (before 1226 when it was first time mentioned). It was built as a vassal castle for the arcbishop of Riga and destroyed already in 1298. Today only ruins remain.
Founded: ca. 1226 | Location: Salaspils, Latvia

Tarvastu Castle Ruins

The place of the Tarvastu castle has been an ancient fortified stronghold. A medieval Order castle, surrounded by a moat, was built at the River Tarvastu, during the 14th century, and exploded in 1596. In the yard of the front stronghold, there is a light-coloured classicist chapel, founded in 1825, to be burial place of the v. Mensenkampff's family. The suspension bridge, which connected the hill of the front fort wi ...
Founded: 14th century | Location: Viljandimaa, Estonia

Vasknarva Castle Ruins

The first Vasknarva order castle (Neuschloss) was founded in 1349 on the northeastern border of Old Livonia. 1427–1442 a new castle (Vastne-Narva) was built, which became the centre of the vogtei of the Livonian Order. The castle was wracked in the Livonian War. Until the Great Northern War it was a fort of great importance, commanding the mouth of the Narva River. It has been known in Russian chronicles either as S ...
Founded: 1349 | Location: Ida-Virumaa, Estonia

Vilaka Castle Ruins

Viļaka Castle was built by Archbishopric of Riga in 1342 as a wooden castle. At first it was closed monastery. It was rebuilt as a stone castle between 1509-1516. During Livonian war time in 1582 it was destroyed and finally demolished in 1702. The outer walls are 1.6m thick, remaining fragments of the walls are up to 2 meters high.
Founded: 1342 | Location: Viļaka, Latvia

Virtsu Castle Ruins

The castle of Virtsu belonged to vassals of the feudal state Bishopric of Ösel-Wiek - Western part of nowadays Estonia as well as part of Saaremaa and part of Hiiumaa. It was built in 1430 by Uexküll noble family and destroyed already in 16th century. Now the ruined walls are few metres high, but it really looks that there is almost nothing. That's because grass and bush is growing on the ruins. Reference: ...
Founded: 1430 | Location: Hanila, Estonia

Labiau Castle Ruins

The earliest mention of Labiau dates back to 1258. At that time Labiau was most probably an old Baltic Prussian village or a small fortified settlement. The first timber fortress was built by the Teutonic Knights during the second Prussian surge, around the year 1274 (other sources suggest that the first stronghold was established in 1258). It stood at the mouth of the Laba River and protected this waterway. During the Pr ...
Founded: 1360 | Location: Polessk, Russia

Neuhausen Castle Ruins

The first reliable mention of Neuhausen dates back to 1292, when Bishop Christian von Mühlhausen ordered to raise a fortified castle in this location. Following the reformation of the Catholic Church in Prussia in 1525 the castle became a property of Albrecht Hohenzollern of Brandenburg. The Duke had the castle completely redesigned, converting it into a suburban hunters manor. In 1550, when the Duke had made a decis ...
Founded: 1292 | Location: Guryevsky, Russia

Kurzetnik Castle Ruins

Kurzętnik Castle was built by Teutonic Knights in the 14th century. The construction began around 1331 and was completed before 1361. The large castle was 110m long and 42m wide. The first floors were built of granite and upper were brick-made. There was a chapel church in the inner yard. The suffered damages in wars between Teutonic Order and Poland-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1410s and again in 1659 in Swedish army ...
Founded: 1330-1361 | Location: Kurzętnik, Poland

Dzierzgon Castle Ruins

The construction of the Teutonic Castle in Dzierzgoń began in 1248, as ordered by the national champion Heinrich von Wida. At its location there was chosen towering hill over the area, where previously was a fortified city of Prussia, to protect the settlement lying at its feet. The fort was the seat of the Commander of Dzierzgoń, who also held the function of the Quatermaster (Obersttrappier) in the Order of t ...
Founded: 1248 | Location: Dzierzgoń, Poland

Przezmark Castle Ruins

The construction of the Przezmark castle started at the beginning of the 1300s continued until c. 1350. In the next centuries the stronghold was repeatedly converted because it was adjusted to new functions: the seat of a commune head, a prosecuting attorney and a convent. Since the beginning of the 16th century the castle belonged to the bishops of Pomesania as to later come into hands of the families of von Egmon and vo ...
Founded: c. 1300 | Location: Przezmark, Poland

Stary Dzierzgon Castle Ruins

Stary Dzierzgoń was one of the first Teutonic fortresses in the territory of Prussia.The castle was built in 1234 on the site of a Prussian stronghold. It was devastated in 1243 and abandoned in 1247 when the Teutonic Order moved its seat to the brand new castle in nearby Dzierzgoń. The outline of the moat and the embankments are the only remains of the fortress.
Founded: 1234 | Location: Stary Dzierzgon, Poland

Czluchow Castle

Człuchów Castle consists of some of the defence walls and the 46-metre tower. The Człuchów stronghold was built during the 14th Century by the Teutonic Order. The exact date of completion is unknown but it is assumed to be the year 1365. During the history, the castle was considered an unconquerable fortress, and was an important element in the defence system of the monastic State. The glory days o ...
Founded: c. 1365 | Location: Czluchow, Poland

Zamek Kiszewski Castle Ruins

The first Teutonic castle in Zamek Kiszewski was surrounded by the Wierzyca and marshy grasslands. In 1454 the castle was destroyed by the armies of Gdańsk, and again in 1655 when it was taken over by the Swedes. The surviving remnants of the 14th century castle complex are its defensive walls with Teutonic keeps and a gatehouse. At the foot of the castle there is also a Neoclassical manor house, which dates back to ...
Founded: 1350 | Location: Zamek Kiszewski, Poland

Sobowidz Castle Ruins

Sobowidz Castle was built in the second half of 14th century by the Teutonic Order. During the Polish–Lithuanian–Teutonic War it was conquered by Polish, but later returned to Teutonic Order. The castle was mainly destroyed in 1454 when Teutonic Knights surrended. In the 16th century the castle was rebuilt to Governor palace, but it was again destroyed by Swedish army in the 17th century and demolished in 19th ...
Founded: c. 1340 | Location: Sobowidz, Poland

Kowalewo Pomorskie Castle Ruins

In 1231 the city of Kowalewo was captured by the Teutonic Knights. They soon built a castle, and in 1275 they granted city rights to this developing settlement. After the complete destruction of the city and the castle by the Tatars in 1286, relocation took place, most probably under the conditions of the Chełmno Law. The castle was rebuilt in 1278. Invasions of the Prussians, Tatars, and Lithuanians hastened the dec ...
Founded: 13th century | Location: Kowalewo Pomorskie, Poland

Nowy Jasiniec Castle Ruins

In the Middle Ages Nowy Jasiniec castle served as a border stronghold on the trade route from Polish to Pomesania. It was conquered and rebuilt by the Teutonic Order in the 14h century. During the wars between Teutonic Order and Poland it was destroyed and then rebuilt again in 1454. Between 1466-1772 Nowy Jasiniec was the seat of local lords. Between 1773-1846 the castle served as an evangelical church. Later it fell int ...
Founded: 14th century | Location: Nowy Jasiniec, Poland

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.