Vianden Castle is one of the largest fortified castles west of the Rhine. Set on a rocky promontory, the castle stands at a height of 310 metres, dominating the town of Vianden and overlooking the River Our about a hundred metres below. The castle and its dependent buildings have a total length of 90 metres.
The castle was built on the site of an ancient Roman castellum in the 10th century. The basement appears to have been a Carolingian refuge. Historically, the first Count of Vianden was mentioned in 1090. The castle continued to be the seat of the Vianden's influential counts until the beginning of the 15th century.
Around 1100, a square keep was built as well as a kitchen, a chapel and residential rooms indicating that an aristocratic family lived there at the time. During the first half of the 12th century, a new residential tower and a prestigious decagonal chapel were added while the palace itself was extended. At the beginning of the 13th century, a new two-storey palace measuring 10 by 13 metres was built with a sumptuous gallery connecting it to the chapel. These additions show how the Counts of Vianden sought to rival the House of Luxembourg. The last great change took place in the middle of the 13th century when the entire castle was adapted to reflect the Gothic style. Finally, in 1621 the Nassau Mansion with its banqueting hall and bedroom was built by Prince Maurice of Orange-Nassau-Vianden in the Renaissance style replacing a damaged side wing of the 11th century keep.
During the 16th century, the castle was more or less abandoned by the Counts of Vianden who had gained the additional title of the House of Nassau-Orange after Elisabeth, the granddaughter of Henry II of Vianden had willed the County of Vianden together with its castle to her cousin, Count Engelbert of Nassau. This initiated the long association between Vianden and the House of Nassau. In 1564, William the Silent, Prince of Orange, Count of Nassau and of Vianden, took an initial interest in Vianden where he built the first blast furnace in Luxembourg but left in 1566 to lead the Dutch revolt again the King Philip II of Spain. As a result, Philip confiscated the castle and conferred it on Peter Ernst von Mansfeld, the governor of Luxembourg.
In 1820, King William I sold the castle to Wenzel Coster, an alderman, for 3,200 florins. Coster started to demolish the building, selling off the tiles from the roof, the wooden panelling, the doors and the windows piece by piece. Soon the castle was a ruin.
Such was the indignation of his subjects at the mistreatment of the castle that in 1827 the king, himself a Count of Vianden, repurchased the ruin for 1,100 florins hoping to begin restoration work. Unfortunately, his time was taken up with the Belgian Revolution of 1830 and it was not until 1851 that Prince Henry of the Netherlands reconstructed the chapel at his own expense, giving it a lower roof. When Adolphe of Nassau-Weilbourg became Grand Duke of Luxembourg in 1890, he charged Bobo Ebhardt, a German specialist, with further restoration. Although Ebhardt succeeded in making important progress, his work was interrupted by the First World War.
During the Second World War, in the Battle of Vianden which took place on November 19, 1944, the castle was ably defended against the Waffen-SS by members of the Luxembourgish anti-Nazi resistance, and proved to have some military value even under conditions of modern warfare.
It was not until 1962 that consideration was again given to restoration, resulting in reconstruction of the Armory. Further progress was hampered by questions of the castle's ownership. Only after Grand Duke Jean had ceded the castle to the State in 1977 did work continue. In 1978, attention turned to rebuilding the walls, the gables and the roof. In 1979, the chapel was also given a new roof and restored to reflect its original Gothic appearance had been lost during the fire of 1667 caused by lightning. The white tower was also reinforced and topped with a conical roof. Finally, after the Nassau Mansion was fully restored in 1981–82, efforts were made to refurnish the interior as authentically as possible. This work was completed in 1990.
The castle is open to visitors throughout the year.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.