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 Beckov castle stands on a steep 50 m tall rock in the village Beckov. The dominance of the rock and impression of invincibility it gaves, challenged our ancestors to make use of these assets. The result is a remarkable harmony between the natural setting and architecture.
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.
The next owners, the Bánffys who adapted the Gothic castle to the Renaissance residence, improved its fortifications preventing the Turks from conquering it at the end of the 16th century. When Bánffys died out, the castle was owned by several noble families. It fell in decay after fire in 1729.
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.
Another legend has it that the lord of the castle had his servant thrown down from the rock because he protected his child from the lords favourite dog. Before his death, the servant pronounced a curse saying that they would meet in a year and days time, and indeed precisely after that time the lord was bitten by a snake and fell down to the same abyss.
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.