Medieval castles in 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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Königstein Fortress

Königstein Fortress is located on the left bank of the River Elbe. It is one of the largest hilltop fortifications in Europe. The 9.5 hectare rock plateau rises 240 metres above the Elbe and has over 50 buildings, some over 400 years old, that bear witness to the military and civilian life in the fortress. The rampart run of the fortress is 1,800 metres long with walls up to 42 metres high and steep sandstone faces. In the centre of the site is a 152.5 metre deep well, which is the deepest in Saxony and second deepest well in Europe.

The fortress, which for centuries was used as a state prison, is still intact and is now one of Saxony's foremost tourist attractions, with 700,000 visitors per year.

By far the oldest written record of a castle on the Königstein is found in a deed by King Wenceslas I of Bohemia dating to the year 1233. It is probable that there had been a stone castle on the Königstein as early as the 12th century. The oldest surviving structure today is the castle chapel built at the turn of the 13th century. In the years 1563 to 1569 the 152.5 metre deep well was bored into the rock within the castle - until that point the garrison of the Königstein had to obtain water from cisterns and by collecting rainwater.

Between 1589 and 1591/97 Prince-Elector Christian I of Saxony and his successor had the castle developed into the strongest fortification in Saxony. The hill was now surrounded with high walls. Buildings were erected, including the Gatehouse (Torhaus), the Streichwehr, the Old Barracks (Alte Kaserne), the Christiansburg (Friedrichsburg) and the Old Armoury (Altes Zeughaus). The second construction period followed from 1619 to 1681, during which the John George Bastion was built. The third construction period is seen as the time from 1694 to 1756, which included the expansion of the Old Barracks. From 1722 to 1725, at the behest of August the Strong, coopers under Böttger built the enormous Königstein Wine Barrel, the greatest wine barrel in the world, in the cellar of the Magdalenenburg which had a capacity of 249,838 litres. It cost 8,230 thalers, 18 groschen and 9 pfennigs. The butt, which was once completely filled with country wine from the Meißen vineyards, had to be removed again in 1818 due to its poor condition. Because of Böttger, Königstein Fortress is also the site where European porcelain started.

Even after the expansion during those periods of time there continued to be modifications and additions on the extensive plateau. The Treasury (Schatzhaus) was built from 1854 to 1855. After the fortress had been incorporated in 1871 into the fortification system of the new German Empire, battery ramparts were constructed from 1870 to 1895 with eight firing points, that were to have provided all-round defence for the fortress in case of an attack that, in the event, never came. This was at this time that the last major building work was done on the fortress.

Because Königstein Fortress was regarded as unconquerable, the Saxon monarchs retreated to it from Wittenberg and later Dresden during times of crisis and also deposited the state treasure and many works of art from the famous Zwinger here; it was also used as a country retreat due to its lovely surroundings.

The fortress played an important role in the History of Saxony, albeit less as a result of military action. The Saxon Dukes and Prince-Electors used the fortress primarily as a secure refuge during times of war, as a hunting lodge and maison de plaisance, but also as a dreaded state prison. Its actual military significance was rather marginal.

Since 1955 the fortress has been an open-air, military history museum of high touristic value.