Medieval castles in Estonia

Kiek in de Kök

Kiek in de Kök is an artillery tower built between 1475 and 1483. It is 38 m high and has walls 4 m thick. Cannon balls dating back to 1577 are still embedded in its outer walls. Compared to the other Tallinn towers Kiek in de Kök was predominant in its fire power, due to its 27 embrasures for cannons and 30 for handguns Kiek in de Kök (low German Peep into the Kitchen ) is an old German language nicknam ...
Founded: 1475-1483 | Location: Tallinn, Estonia

Toompea Castle

Toompea Castle is situated on the steep limestone hill in the central part of Tallinn. The first wooden castle is believed to have been built on the hill in either the 10th or 11th century by residents of the ancient Estonian county of Rävala. It was probably one of the first inhabited areas of what later became Tallinn. In 1219, the castle was taken over by Danish crusaders - led by Valdemar II. According to a legen ...
Founded: 13-14th century | Location: Tallinn, Estonia

Pikk Hermann

Pikk Hermann (Tall Hermann) is a tower of the Toompea Castle. The first part was built 1360-70. It was rebuilt (height brought to 45,6 m) in the 16th century. A staircase with 215 steps leads to the top of the tower. Pikk Hermann tower is situated next to the Estonian Parliament building and the flag on the top of the tower at 95 metres above sea level is one of the symbols of the government in force. The national flag, ...
Founded: 1360-1370 | Location: Tallinn, Estonia

Hermann Castle

Hermann Castle (also Hermannsburg, Herman Castle, Narva Castle, or Narva fortress) was founded in 1256 by the Danes and the first stone castle was built in the beginning of the 14th century. The German Livonian Teutonic knights order purchased the castle on 29 August 1346 and for most of its history the castle was German Teutonic. Although the exact age of Narva Castle and the town cause still arguments between historian ...
Founded: 1256 | Location: Narva, Estonia

Haapsalu Castle

The bishop castle of Haapsalu was built in the 13th century. It was the main residence of the Bishop of Läänemaa. The Läänemaa bishopric was created as a state of the Holy Roman Empire on 1 October 1228. Construction, widening and reconstruction of the stronghold went on throughout several centuries, with the architecture changing according to the development of weapons. The stronghold achieved its fi ...
Founded: 1228 | Location: Haapsalu, Estonia

Kuressaare Castle

Kuressaare Castle from the 14th century is a symbol of Kuressaare and all of Saaremaa island. The convent building at the castle is the only surviving medieval fortified building in the Baltic States without noteworthy architectural alterations. The construction of the stronghold was closely connected with the Estonians' fight against the German feudals. In 1227 the last Estonian county - Saaremaa surrendered to the Germ ...
Founded: 1260s | Location: Kuressaare, Estonia

Red Tower

The Red Tower (which is actually white) is the only defence tower left from medieval Hanseatic city of New-Pärnu. It is the oldest city’s architectural monument and was used as the prison. According to the chronics, in 14th century Pärnu was encircled by a fortified wall with many towers: the round Viliand Tower, also know as the White Tower, in the north-eastern corner and Red Tower in the south-eastern c ...
Founded: 15th century | Location: Pärnu, Estonia

Viljandi Castle

Viljandi castle was one of the strongest castles in Livonia. The construction was started 1224 under Teutonic Order in place of a former hillfort. The crusaders of Sword Brethren conquered the hill fort at the place of later main castle in 1223. A year later, construction of stone fortifications started. Viljandi was chosen as the high seat of the order. The convent house, a typical form of castle of Teutonic Knights, wa ...
Founded: 1224 | Location: Viljandi, Estonia

Rakvere Castle

The earliest data regarding human settlement at Vallimäe in Rakvere come from the Viking Age, an arrowhead from the 9th century and some broken pieces of pottery from this period have been found on the territory of the castle. There is more information about the last centuries of the prehistoric age when an ancient wooden stronghold surrounded by a fence stood in the place of the present convent building. First writ ...
Founded: 1226 | Location: Rakvere, Estonia

Toolse Castle

The castle of Toolse was built in 1471 by the Livonian Order as defence against pirates sailing in the Gulf of Finland. During the Livonian War it changed hands several times, was apparently destroyed and later rebuilt. In 1581 French mercenary Pontus de la Gardie captured the castle for Sweden from Russia which had held it since 1558. The castle was destroyed again during the Great Northern War, ever since which it has ...
Founded: 1471 | Location: Kunda, Estonia

Helme Castle

Helme church parish was first mentioned in 1329 during a Lithuanian raid. Most of the neighbouring land was fiefed in the 15th–16th centuries. Livonian Order castle in Helme (Ordensburg Helmet) was probably built in the first half of the 14th century. The site on a steep hill is belived to have been used as a stronghold earlier by Sackalians in the Ancient Estonia. By its ground plan the order castle was 120× ...
Founded: ca. 1330 | Location: Valgamaa, Estonia

Paide Castle

The construction of Paide order castle was started in 1265 under the leadership of Konrad von Mandern. The original tower of Tall Hermann was octagonal with the height of over 30 meters and the thickness of the walls of about 3 meters. At the beginning of the Livonian War the Russians repeatedly besieged Paide, but only in 1573 they finally managed to invade Paide. After that it changed hands several times until the Swed ...
Founded: 1265 | Location: Paide, Estonia

Põltsamaa Castle

The construction of Põltsamaa Castle was started in 1272. Between 1570 and 1578 it was the residence of Livonia's King Magnus. Repeatedly pillages, the castle was rebuilt by Woldemar Johann von Lauw in 1770 as a grand rococo-style palace. The castle, and the church built into its cannon tower, burnt down in 1941. Põltsamaa St. Nicholas' Church was built from 1632 to 1633 on the site of earlier build ...
Founded: 1272 | Location: Põltsamaa, Estonia

Karksi Castle

The castle was probably built in the 13th century most likely in place of an ancient Estonian stronghold. The bailiwick of Karksi was first mentioned in 1248. The stronghold had a chapel dedicated to Apostle Peter. The first reference was made to a local clergyman in 1298. The present stone church, very simple in design, was built in the same place between 1773 and 1778. St. Peter’s Church is in the ruins of Karksi ...
Founded: 1298 | Location: Viljandimaa, Estonia

Kiiu Tower

Kiiu vassal stronghold, i.e. Kiiu Tower, is located in Kiiu Manor Park. It was erected in 1517 by Baron von Tiesenhausen and it is the smallest stronghold building in Estonia. There are four floors in the tower and from outside the stone wall is surrounded by a wooden circular balcony. The thickness of walls at the foot is 1.8 metres; the inner diameter is 4.3 metres. The stronghold was destroyed during the Livonian War ...
Founded: 16th century | Location: Kiiu, Estonia

Koluvere Castle

The water fortress of Koluvere was established in the 13th century by the bishop’s vassal Lode. The tower fortress, convention hall and cannon tower were built later. This place has been a battlefield both during St. George’s Night uprising as well as during the Livonian war. In 1439 it became one of residences of Saare-Lääne bishop. In the 17th century the fortress was turned into a manor ensemble. In 1771 the empr ...
Founded: 13th century | Location: Läänemaa, Estonia

Porkuni Castle Tower

Only foundations and one gate-tower have survived of the so-called fortified Tafelgut that used to belong to the bishop of Tallinn. The castle was erected on a hill by the Porkuni lake in 1479 by Simon von der Borch. Cannon towers stood in the corners of the camp castle shaped as an irregular rectangle. The circular wall and the towers did not probably reach their height all at the same time, but in the course of a longe ...
Founded: 1479 | Location: Lääne-Virumaa, Estonia

Vao Tower

The tower-fortress was built in the second half of the 14th century of local limestone. Tower-strongholds were built by vassals to protect roads and waterways and to protect themselves against peasant uprisings. Construction of such tower-strongholds increased after the failed St. George's Night uprising by peasants in 1343. In 1986, the fortress was restored under the leadership of Vao sovkhoz. Exhibition on the I f ...
Founded: 14th century | Location: Väike-Maarja, Estonia

Kavilda Stronghold Ruins

The Kavilda stronghold (Kawelecht) was, according to Leonhard von Stryk, first built in 1354 by Bartholomäus von Tiesenhausen. Other sources say it was built in 1361 by Arnold von Vietinghoff, the Master of Livonian Order. The castle was destroyed during the Livonian War somewhere between 1564 and 1582. It was probably knocked down before the invasion of the Poles. Thereinafter Kavilda excisted only as a manor but no ...
Founded: 1350s-13060s | Location: Tartumaa, Estonia

Järve Castle

Järve vassal castle was first mentioned in 1497, when it was owned by Lodede. It was then called as Türpsali. The stone castle was dounded in 1508 and it was owned by Payküllide family until 1808. The castle was originally a three-storey and made of limestone. Today two lower storeys still exists, the other castle was ruined probably in the Livonian War or in the Great Northern War.
Founded: 1508 | Location: Järve, Estonia

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Wawel Castle

Wawel Hill – a Jurassic limestone rock, a dominant feature in the landscape of Kraków, have provided a safe haven for people who have settled here since the Paleolithic Age. It is supposed that the Slav people started living on Wawel hill as early as the 7th century. Early medieval legends tell stories about a dreadful dragon that lived in a cave on Wawel Hill, about his slayer Krakus, and about the latter’s daughter Wanda, who drowned herself in the Vistula rather than marry a German knight. Towards the end of the first millennium A.D Wawel began to play the role of the centre of political power.In the 9th century it became the principal fortified castrum of the Vislane tribe. The first historical ruler of Poland, Miesco I (c.965-992) of the Piast dynasty as well as his successors: Boleslas the Brave (992-1025) and Miesco II (1025-1034) chose Wawel Hill as one of their residences.

At that time Wawel became one of the main Polish centres of Christianity. The first early Romanesque and Romanesque sacral buildings were raised here, including a stone cathedral that was erected after the bishopric of Kraków was established in the year 1000.

During the reign of Casimir the Restorer (1034-1058) Wawel became a significant political and administrative centre for the Polish State. Casimir’s son, Boleslas the Bold (1058-1079) began the construction of a second Romanesque cathedral, which was finished by Boleslas the Wrymouth (1102-1138). In his last will of 1138, this prince divided Poland into districts, and provided that Kraków was to be the residence of the senior prince. In 1291 the city of Kraków along with Wawel Hill temporarily fell under the Czech rule, and Wenceslas II from the Premysl dynasty was crowned King of Poland in Wawel cathedral.

In 1306 the Duke of Kuyavia Ladislas the Short (1306-1333) entered Wawel and was crowned King of Poland in the Cathedral in 1320. It was the first historically recorded coronation of a Polish ruler on Wawel Hill. Around that time, at the initiative of Ladislas the Short, the construction of the third Gothic cathedral began, the castle was expanded and the old wooden and earthen fortifications were replaced by brick ones. The tomb of Ladislas the Short in the cathedral started a royal necropolis of Polish kings in Krakow.The last descendant of the Piast dynasty, Casimir the Great (1333-1370) brought Wawel to a state of unprecedented splendour. In 1364 the expanded gothic castle witnessed the marriage of Casimir’s granddaughter Elizabeth to Charles IV accompanied by a famous convention of kings and princes, subsequently entertained by a rich burgher Wierzynek. The accession to the throne in 1385 of Jadwiga from the Hungarian dynasty of Andegavens, and her marriage to a Lithuanian prince Ladislas Jagiello (1386-1434) started another era of prosperity for Wawel. The royal court employed local and western European artists and also Rus painters. During the reign of Casimir Jagiellon (1447-1492) the silhouette of the hill was enriched by three high brick towers: the Thieves’ Tower, the Sandomierz Tower and the Senatorial Tower. The first humanists in Poland and tutors to the king’s sons: historian Jan Długosz and an Italian by the name Filippo Buonacorsi (also known as Callimachus) worked there at that time.

The Italian Renaissance arrived at Wawel in the early 16th century. King Alexander (1501-1506) and his brother Sigismund I the Old (1506-1548) commissioned the construction of a new palace in place of the Gothic residence, with an impressive large courtyard with arcaded galleries which was completed about 1540. Sigismund’s patronage also left an indelible impression in the cathedral, where a family chapel was erected, known today as Sigismund’s Chapel - the work of Bartolomeo of Berrecci Florence, and through various foundations, one of which was that of a large bell, called the Sigismund to commemorate the king. Close artistic and cultural relations with Italy were strengthened in 1518 by the king’s marriage to Bona Sforza. Alongside Italian artists, German architects, wood workers, painters and metal smiths worked for the king. The last descendant of the Jagiellonian dynasty, Sigismund II Augustus (1548-1572), enriched the castle’s interiors with a magnificent collection of tapestries woven in Brussels. In the “Golden Age” of Polish culture Wawel became one of the main centres of humanism in Europe.

The reign of Sigismund III Waza (1587-1632) also made a strong impression on the history of Wawel. After a fire in the castle in 1595 the king rebuilt the burned wing of the building in the early Baroque style. The relocation of the royal court to Warsaw was the cause of a slow but nevertheless steady deterioration in the castle’s condition. The monarchs visited Kraków only occasionally. Restoration of the castle was undertaken during the reign of John III Sobieski, the Wettins and Stanislas Augustus to counteract neglect.

After Poland had lost its independence in 1795, the troops of partitioning nations, Russia, Prussia and Austria, subsequently occupied Wawel which finally passed into the hands of the Austrians. The new owners converted the castle and some of the secular buildings into a military hospital, and demolished some others, including churches. After the period of the Free City of Kraków (1815-1846) Wawel was once more annexed by Austria and turned into a citadel dominating the city. By the resolution passed by the Seym of Galicia in 1880, the castle was presented as a residence to the Emperor of Austria Franz Josef I. The Austrian troops left the hill between 1905-1911. At the turn of the 20th century a thorough restoration of the cathedral was conducted, and shortly afterwards a process of restoration of the royal castle began which lasted several decades.

When Poland regained its independence in 1918, the castle served as an official residence of the Head of State, and as a museum of historic interiors. During the Nazi occupation the castle was the residence of the German governor general, Hans Frank. Polish people managed to remove the most valuable objects, including the tapestries and the “Szczerbiec” coronation sword to Canada, from where they returned as late as 1959-1961. At present, the main curators of Wawel are Wawel Royal Castle – State Art Collection and the Metropolitan Basilica Board on Wawel Hill.