The stave churches constitute one of the most elaborate types of wood construction which are typical of northern Europe from the Neolithic period to the Middle Ages. Christianity was introduced into Norway during the reign of St Olav (1016-30). The churches were built on the classic basilical plan, but entirely of wood. The roof frames were lined with boards and the roof itself covered with shingles in accordance with construction techniques which were widespread in Scandinavian countries.
Among the roughly 1,300 medieval stave churches indexed, about 30 remain in Norway. Some of them are very large, such as Borgund, Hopperstad or Heddal churches, whereas others, such as Torpo or Underdal, are tiny. Urnes Church was selected to represent this outstanding series of wood buildings for a number of reasons, which make it an exceptional monument:Its antiquity: This church, which was rebuilt towards the mid-12th century, includes some elements originating from a stave church built about one century earlier whose location was revealed by the 1956-57 excavations.
The exemplary nature of its structure: This is characterized by the use of cylindrical columns with cubic capitals and semicircular arches, all of which use wood, the indigenous building material, to express the language of stone Romanesque architecture.
The outstanding quality of its sculpted monumental decor: On the outside, this includes strapwork panels and elements of Viking tradition taken from the preceding building (11th century). In the interior is an amazing series of 12th-century figurative capitals that constitute the origin of the Urnes Style production.
The wealth of liturgical objects of the medieval period: This includes Christ, the Virgin and St John as elements of a rood beam, a pulpit of sculpted wood, enamelled bronze candlesticks, the corona of light, etc.
Excellent conservation of a perfectly homogeneous ensemble: The embellishment of the 17th century (1601 and c. 1700) and the restorations of 1906-10 preserved its authenticity completely.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.