Hvalsey Church (Hvalsø Kirke) is the ruins of an old Norse church, which is situated in the fjord of Hvalsey (Qaqortukulooq). The architecture seems very related to similar Norse buildings from the 14th century. The church is in the region which the Norse namedEystribygð, the Eastern Settlement, when the Vikings settled in Greenland in around 985. There are burials under the walls of this church from earlier phases of use but older churches have not been identified at this site. The Hvalsey church is mentioned in several late medieval documents as one of the 10-14 parish churches in the Eastern Settlement. The church was still in use in 1408.
The church ruin is the best preserved building from the Norse period, and is remarkably well built from ashlar stone, which is the reason why it survives. The Icelandic churches from the same period are all gone, because they were mostly built from timber or grass turf.
The stones are carefully laid and fitted. Some of the stones weighs between 4 and 5 tonnes, and some even more. Mortar was also used, but it is not known if it was used between the stones or only as plaster on the outside walls. The mortar was made from crushed shells so the church would have been white when built. Qaqortoq means 'the white place', and the modern town of that name at the mouth of the fjord could have got its name by association with the church.
The church measures 16 by 8 metres, and the walls are around 1.5 metres thick. The window openings are wider on the inside; a detail not found inIcelandic churches, but well known in early churches in Britain which may have been the source of this building type. The gables stand about 5 to 6 metres (16 to 20 ft) tall, and were originally about 2 metres taller. The long walls are around 4 metres tall, and again have been taller. The roof was probably been made of timber and covered in grass turf. The foundation on which the church is built is made of the same material as the church itself, but the architect has failed to remove the grass turf. This is one of the main reasons that the church has sunk unevenly, so the walls no longer stand completely straight. A restoration of the church has been done, but there has been no attempt at rebuilding, only the prevention of further decay. The government of Greenland has applied to have the church approved as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Church of Hvalsey features in the last document relating to the Norse settlements in Greenland. It is a record of the wedding on 16 September 1408 of the Icelanders Thorsteinn Olafsson and Sigridr Bjornsdottir in the Church of Hvalsey. After this, contact was lost with Norse Greenland, although the Eastern Settlement is believed to have persisted down to the 1450s if not longer. 315 years later, in 1723, Hans Egede was the first European to see the place again when he travelled south trying to find any surviving Norse. He described the church ruin in Hvalsey and made a perfunctory excavation. According to his description, the ruins were in a similar condition at that time as they are today.References:
German crusaders known as the Livonian Brothers of the Sword began construction of the Cēsis castle (Wenden) near the hill fort in 1209. When the castle was enlarged and fortified, it served as the residence for the Order's Master from 1237 till 1561, with periodic interruptions. Its ruins are some of the most majestic castle ruins in the Baltic states. Once the most important castle of the Livonian Order, it was the official residence for the masters of the order.
In 1577, during the Livonian War, the garrison destroyed the castle to prevent it from falling into the control of Ivan the Terrible, who was decisively defeated in the Battle of Wenden (1578).
In 1598 it was incorporated into the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and Wenden Voivodship was created here. In 1620 Wenden was conquered by Sweden. It was rebuilt afterwards, but was destroyed again in 1703 during the Great Northern War by the Russian army and left in a ruined state. Already from the end of the 16th century, the premises of the Order's castle were adjusted to the requirements of the Cēsis Castle estate. When in 1777 the Cēsis Castle estate was obtained by Count Carl Sievers, he had his new residence house built on the site of the eastern block of the castle, joining its end wall with the fortification tower.
Since 1949, the Cēsis History Museum has been located in this New Castle of the Cēsis Castle estate. The front yard of the New Castle is enclosed by a granary and a stable-coach house, which now houses the Exhibition Hall of the Museum. Beside the granary there is the oldest brewery in Latvia, Cēsu alus darītava, which was built in 1878 during the later Count Sievers' time, but its origins date back to the period of the Livonian Order. Further on, the Cēsis Castle park is situated, which was laid out in 1812. The park has the romantic characteristic of that time, with its winding footpaths, exotic plants, and the waters of the pond reflecting the castle's ruins. Nowadays also one of the towers is open for tourists.