Insterburg Castle Ruins

Chernyakhovsky, Russia

In 1311, Teutonic mercenaries called Landsknechts set up a camp on the high banks of the Angrapa River, close to where it flows into the Inster River. Later, in 1337, the Teutonic Knights built a brick castle in the same location. Most of the construction works had been completed by 1347. The fortress was named Insterburg Castle.

For many centuries to follow, Insterburg Castle was a bastion located in the easternmost parts of the Teutonic State, from which raids against Lithuania were waged. Originally, Insterburg Castle was meant to serve as a seat for the local commander, known as komtur. But this plan had to be revoked, as the fortress was constantly threatened by enemy. As a result, the castle was run by a Teutonic procurator, and in the 14th - 15th centuries it became an important military base. In the administrative division, Insterburg belonged to the commandry of Königsburg.

From 1643 to 1647, Maria Eleonora, a sister of the Prussian Prince Elector George Wilhelm, spent her best days at Insterburg Castle, after her royal husband, King of Sweden, Gustaw Adolf, had died. Following the death of her husband, Queen Maria Eleonora had to leave Sweden due to a conflict with her daughter, Queen Christina.

In 1812, the castle was visited by the French Emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon stopped here on his way to Russia, where he was going to take personal command over his armies. In 1814, Elisabeth Alexeievna, the wife of Tzar Alexander I of Russia (1777-1825) was passing through Insterburg. In 1689, Insterburg became the place of the death and burial of Anchen von Tarau, a heroine of a well known East Prussian song.

Today the castle, which lies in the centre of the town of Chernyakhovsk is no more but a picturesque ruin. The north section of the castle outward yard had more luck as its building have survived and now house a museum. On the square in front of the museum local enthusiasts and artists such as singers and musicians organise concerts, contests and other cultural events. And most importantly, hope lingers on in the town that one day the castle will be reconstructed.

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Founded: 1337
Category: Ruins in Russia

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Quimper Cathedral

From 1239, Raynaud, the Bishop of Quimper, decided on the building of a new chancel destined to replace that of the Romanesque era. He therefore started, in the far west, the construction of a great Gothic cathedral which would inspire cathedral reconstructions in the Ile de France and would in turn become a place of experimentation from where would later appear ideas adopted by the whole of lower Brittany. The date of 1239 marks the Bishop’s decision and does not imply an immediate start to construction. Observation of the pillar profiles, their bases, the canopies, the fitting of the ribbed vaults of the ambulatory or the alignment of the bays leads us to believe, however, that the construction was spread out over time.

The four circular pillars mark the start of the building site, but the four following adopt a lozenge-shaped layout which could indicate a change of project manager. The clumsiness of the vaulted archways of the north ambulatory, the start of the ribbed vaults at the height of the south ambulatory or the choice of the vaults descending in spoke-form from the semi-circle which allows the connection of the axis chapel to the choir – despite the manifest problems of alignment – conveys the hesitancy and diverse influences in the first phase of works which spread out until the start of the 14th century.

At the same time as this facade was built (to which were added the north and south gates) the building of the nave started in the east and would finish by 1460. The nave is made up of six bays with one at the level of the facade towers and flanked by double aisles – one wide and one narrow (split into side chapels) – in an extension of the choir arrangements.

The choir presents four right-hand bays with ambulatory and side chapels. It is extended towards the east of 3-sided chevet which opens onto a semi-circle composed of five chapels and an apsidal chapel of two bays and a flat chevet consecrated to Our Lady.

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The west porch finds its natural place between the two towers. The entire aesthetic of these three gates springs from the Flamboyant era: trefoil, curly kale, finials, large gables which cut into the mouldings and balustrades. Pinnacles and recesses embellish the buttresses whilst an entire bestiary appears: monsters, dogs, mysterious figures, gargoyles, and with them a whole imaginary world promoting a religious and political programme. Even though most of the saints statues have disappeared an armorial survives which makes the doors of the cathedral one of the most beautiful heraldic pages imaginable: ducal ermine, the Montfort lion, Duchess Jeanne of France’s coat of arms side by side with the arms of the Cornouaille barons with their helmets and crests. One can imagine the impact of this sculpted decor with the colour and gilding which originally completed it.

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The 19th century would therefore inherit an almost finished but mutilated building and would devote itself to its renovation according to the tastes and theories of the day.