The Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta is a basilica church on the island of Torcello. It is a notable example of Venetian-Byzantine architecture, one of the most ancient religious edifices in the Veneto, and containing the earliest mosaics in the area of Venice.
According to an ancient inscription, it was founded by the exarch Isaac of Ravenna in 639, when Torcello was still a rival to the young nearby settlement at Venice.
Much of the plan of the original church survives as its present form is very similar to the original but the only physical parts that survive are the central apse wall and part of the baptistery that survives as part of the façade of the current church.
The first of two major renovations occurred in 864 under the direction of Bishop Adeodatus II. In this renovation, the two aisle apses that appear today were built. Also, the synthronon that fills the central apse was created and the crypt was placed under it. After this renovation, the cathedral would have resembled the current cathedral more than the original church would have but it is not until after the second and final major renovation that the cathedral appears very similar to its current design.
The final renovation was consecrated under Bishop Orso Orseolo, whose father Pietro Orseolo II was the Doge of Venice at the time, in 1008. With this renovation, Orseolo raised the nave, added windows to the western wall, and created the arcade that runs along the nave on both sides separating it from the aisles and helping to support the clerestory.
The façade is preceded by a narthex to which was once annexed the 7th century baptistry, only traces of which remain. On its side is the martyrion, dedicated to Santa Fosca. The bell tower dates from the 11th century. Also annexed was in origin the Bishop's Palace. The façade has 12 semi-columns connected by arches at the tops. The narthex (11th century) was enlarged in the 13th century. In the middle is the marble portal (1000).
The most striking exterior features are the decoration of the façade and the frontal portico, enlarged in the 14th century. The interior, with a nave and two aisles, has a marble pavement, the throne of the bishops of Altino and the sepulchre of St. Heliodorus, first bishop of Altino. The counter-façade has a mosaic of the Universal Judgement. Noteworthy is also a mosaic depicting a Madonna with Child (of the Hodegetria type) in the middle apse (15th century).
The most important artistic element of the cathedral is the mosaics, the earliest remaining mosaics in the neighbourhood of Venice. The main apse has an 11th-century mosaic of famous beauty of the standing Virgin Hodegetria, isolated against a huge gold background, above a register of standing saints. These seem originally late 11th-century, by a team of Byzantine mosaicists, but the main figure was reworked a century later after an earthquake, while the saints remain from the first period of work. The west wall (over the door) was done in this second phase: from the top it contains a Crucifixion in the gable, then a vigorous Harrowing of Hell with a large figure of Christ, above a Last Judgement taking up four lower registers. The skull of Saint Cecilia is also kept as a relic here.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.