The Esphigmenou Monastery is located on the northeastern coast of the Athos Peninsula close to the Monastery of Chilandari. It is ranked eighteenth in the hierarchical order of the twenty monasteries located on the peninsula.
Esphigmenou monastery has existed since the 10th century, although Athonite tradition attributes its founding to Empress Pulcheria, the sister of Emperor Theodosius II, in the 5th century. The origin of the name for the monastery is uncertain. The name of the monastery came from a founding monk who wore a tight belt or from the name of the site upon which the monastery was built. The monastery is built near the sea as at the time it was built the sea was safe from foreign attackers. Manuscripts, however, record serious raids in 1047 and 1534. The 1534 raid was the most severe and was preceded by a fire in 1491.
In between the raids and fire Esphigmenou was favored by the emperors in Constantinople as imperial chrysobulls record the acquisition of property for Esphigmenou in Prolakas, Sloutarass, Krosouvo, Vrasta, Thessaloniki, and Constantinople. Also, Esphigmenou is noted as being the home, in 1310, of St. Athanasius who was Patriarch of Constantinople and of Gregory Palamas, in 1335, who was Archbishop of Thessalonki.
In the 17th century, Esphigmenou entered into a period of decline due to serious financial difficulties. The monastery began a recovery during the following century. This recovery was aided by Grigorios, Metropolitan of Melenikion who made payment of the monastery's debts his main project.
In early part of the 19th century, Theodoritos of Lavra, as the abbot of Esphigmenou, reorganized the monastery as a coenobium and began the construction of a new katholikon in 1806 on the site of an earlier church built in 1010. He built other new buildings such as a new refectory as well. Between 1821 and 1832 Esphigmenou ceased to exist as a monastery as the Ottoman Turkish army commandeered and used the monastery buildings as barracks during the Greek war for independence. With the departure of the Turkish forces, the monastery was restored by Agathangelos Ayiannanitis. The rebuilding effort continued until 1870 and resulted in the construction of the monastery's modern buildings. These included the addition of a exonarthex on the katholikon, construction of the bell tower and a number of chapels and the southern gateway.
The katholikon is dedicated to the Ascension of Our Lord. There are two chapels in the katholikon and seven outside of it.
The monastery library contains 372 manuscripts and over 8,000 printed books. Among the treasures held by the monastery, Esphigmenou's most treasured possession is the icon of Our Lady Eleousa. In addition to relics of saints, the monastery possesses the so-called cross of Pulcheria and a large part of the tent used by Napoleon. The tent remnant is used as the curtain for the sanctuary door in the katholikon on the feast day of the Holy Ascension.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.