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 German crusaders. A small feudal state was formed of Läänemaa and the West- Estonian islands in the years 1228-1234: it was Saare-Lääne (Oesel-Wiek) Bishopric with the territory of about 7600 sq. km. The centre of the bishopric was Haapsalu since 1265. The impact of the foreign rule on the island was not so strong and the islanders maintained some privileges. Despite the fact there were constant uprisings and rebellions, one most widely-spread in 1260. Soon after making the rebels surrender the other local feudal state, the Livonian Order, that possessed East-Saaremaa and island of Muhu, started building Pöide fortification. It is possible that the oldest stone fortification in Kuressaare - the castell type stronghold for the bishop was built at the same time - in the first half of 1260s. The first documented data about Kuressaare castle originate only from 1381.
The construction of the castle took 40 years. The building has three storeys and two towers – the Defense Tower and taller Watch Tower. The latter was not given a roof until the 16th century. The castle was surrounded by impressive walls which have partly survived. One of the cannon towers that dotted the wall has now been restored, having originally been built in the 1470s.
In the 16th century the Bishop sold the castle to the Danes since the outbreak of a war changed the political situation in the area, and it were the Danes who created the moat around the castle, therefore establishing a citadel. The area was then taken over by the Swedes and the Russians who modernised the building in their turn. In 1836 the castle was sold to the Knighthood of Saaremaa who then restored it during the 19th and 20th centuries.
During the first Soviet occupation,1940-1941, 179 people were sentenced to death in Estonia by Soviet (peoples’) courts, and approximately 2 200 were killed in other ways. Most of them were killed by the so called annihilation battalions and by the security police, the NKVD, in the prisons in Tartu and Kuressaare among other places. In Kuressaare 90 civilians were executed in the yard of the castle.
The castle is now owned by the Regional Museum of Saaremaa, therefore housing several exhibitions about the history of the region, as well as sporting the well-restored interior of the castle with both its religious and defence quarters and eerie details such as torture instruments and dungeons.
The Abbey of Saint-Etienne, also known as Abbaye aux Hommes ('Men"s Abbey'), is a former monastery dedicated to Saint Stephen (Saint Étienne). It is considered, along with the neighbouring Abbaye aux Dames ('Ladies" Abbey'), to be one of the most notable Romanesque buildings in Normandy. Like all the major abbeys in Normandy, it was Benedictine.
Lanfranc, before being an Archbishop of Canterbury, was abbot of Saint-Etienne. Built in Caen stone during the 11th century, the two semi-completed churches stood for many decades in competition. An important feature added to both churches in about 1120 was the ribbed vault, used for the first time in France. The two abbey churches are considered forerunners of the Gothic architecture. The original Romanesque apse was replaced in 1166 by an early Gothic chevet, complete with rosette windows and flying buttresses. Nine towers and spires were added in the 13th century. The interior vaulting shows a similar progression, beginning with early sexpartite vaulting (using circular ribs) in the nave and progressing to quadipartite vaults (using pointed ribs) in the sanctuary.
The two monasteries were finally donated by William the Conqueror and his wife, Matilda of Flanders, as penalty for their marriage against the Pope"s ruling. William was buried here; Matilda was buried in the Abbaye aux Dames. Unfortunately William"s original tombstone of black marble, the same kind as Matilda"s in the Abbaye aux Dames, was destroyed by the Calvinist iconoclasts in the 16th century and his bones scattered.
As a consequence of the Wars of Religion, the high lantern tower in the middle of the church collapsed and was never rebuilt. The Benedictine abbey was suppressed during the French Revolution and the abbey church became a parish church. From 1804 to 1961, the abbey buildings accommodated a prestigious high school, the Lycée Malherbe. During the Normandy Landings in 1944, inhabitants of Caen found refuge in the church; on the rooftop there was a red cross, made with blood on a sheet, to show that it was a hospital (to avoid bombings).