The first church on the site of current Dominican Church was built in 1237 by the newly arrived Dominicans on a parcel of land allotted in 1225-1226 by the duke Leopold VI. The church was enlarged between 1240–1270 and a new choir was added in 1273. A series of fires caused the construction of a new Gothic church between 1283 and 1302. The nave was extended between 1458 and 1474. This church consisted of a nave with five cross vaults, and two aisles.
This church was heavily damaged during the first siege of Vienna by the Turkish army in 1529. The choir was demolished and the nave was partly taken down. The building became more and more dilapidated later.
The new-found self-awareness of the Counter-Reformation didn’t allow any more such a sorry state for a church. In 1631 the Dominicans started to build a new oblong church with a dome, following the plan of Jacopo Tencala, architect of Prince Maximilian of Liechtenstein. The master builders were Jacopo Spacio, Cipriano Biasino and Antonio Canevale. They introduced to Vienna the Baroque style of Italy. The first stone was laid by emperor Ferdinand II on 29 May 1631. The structural work was finished in 1634. The church was consecrated on 1 October 1634. The finishing touch was finally given in 1674. The church was elevated to the status of basilica minor in 1927.
The impressive facade was built in the Roman-Lombardic style with dominant columns, supporting the cornice. Its architecture goes back to early Baroque churches in Rome, that in turn, rely on the facade of the Dominican church Santa Maria Novella in Florence. Above the portal one can see the statues of St. Catherine of Siena and Agnes of Montepulciano, kneeling at the feet of Our Lady, patron saint of this church.
The ornate interior is imposing by its architecture and the exquisite stucco in the decorations. Semi-circular windows allow a soft light on the frescoes of the barrel-vaulted ceiling. These are the work of Matthias Rauchmiller (1675), showing in their color and composition the influence of Peter Paul Rubens. They depict in 46 scenes the life of Our Lady.
The apse is dominated by the imposing red-marbled wooden retable in Baroque style from 1839-1840 by Carl Roesner. The gilded pulpit dates from 1700 and was made by Matthias Steinl.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.