Kuressaare Castle

Kuressaare, Estonia

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.

References: Bastis-Tourism.info, Castles.info, Saaremaa Museum

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Details

Founded: 1260s
Category: Castles and fortifications in Estonia
Historical period: Danish and Livonian Order (Estonia)

Rating

4.7/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

Rebecca Senior (2 years ago)
Loved this place, impressive castle, no crowds, quaint museum.
Anders Gamen (3 years ago)
A spectacular example of a comprehensive museum/historical edifice. The buildings and grounds are beautiful and well preserved, and the displays are orderly and clearly described. We especially were moved by the display covering the communist periods - this country clearly didn't enjoy them - but they didn't go overboard. This was just one section of a balanced view of the country's history.
Bartek Puchalski (3 years ago)
Very nice place. Exhibition about Estonian history is very interesting.
Kerron Mitchell (3 years ago)
So great!! Museum exhibits in plenty! Spent 3 hours and still didn't see everything! Very interesting history of Estonia! Family friendly and fun to explore the castle. Lots to see and do!
Udr Denisa (3 years ago)
Well renovated palace that can be visited. Also has a large outdoor kids playing place, and a beach right in front. The courtyard hosts a large tent during the wonderful Opera festival
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The castle first mentioned in 1200 was originally owned by the King and later, at the end of the 13th century it fell in hands of Matúš Èák. Its owners alternated - at the end of the 14th century the family of Stibor of Stiborice bought it.

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The history of the castle is the subject of different legends. One of them narrates the origin of the name of castle derived from that of jester Becko for whom the Duke Stibor had the castle built.

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The well-conserved ruins of the castle, now the National Cultural Monument, are frequently visited by tourists, above all in July when the castle festival takes place. The former Ambro curia situated below the castle now shelters the exhibition of the local history.