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The Viljandi Order Castle
Last change: 30-05-2003
The German crusaders' Order of the knights of the Sword (since 1237 Livonian Order) had conquered the ancient Sakalamaa area in a long and fierce struggle. The ancient Viljandi Stronghold surrendered to the preponderant army of the Order in August, 1223. In the next year, Volquin, the master of the order, commanded to build here strong, stone buildings for shelter.

 The Order Castle of Viljandi was built for more than 200 years. The grandiose convention building belonged among the architectural masterpieces of Old-Livonia. One can get an imagination of the interior decoration looking at the capitals hewn of dolomite and other pieces of cut decorations in the Viljandi Museum.

The Viljandi Order Castle became the residence of the economically and politically powerful commander of the order (komtur). Viljandi became the center of the large commandery which streched to Lake Peipus. The fact that the commander of Viljandi together with the commanders of Goldingen (Kuldiga), Marienburg (Aluksne), Tallinn and the bailiff of Järva (Paide) belonged to the 5-membered entourage of the Order Master, testifies to his political importance. The income of Viljandi order masters was considered to be equal to that of the master of the Livonian Order himself. Altogether 7 commanders of the Viljandi castle were able to hold an high office of the Master.

Viljandi as the central base of the Livonian Order on the Estonian territory was well fortified. By the end of the Middle Ages the order castle had three lines of fortifications (see the plan). The fourth line was formed by the mighty town walls on the north.

The convent building, characteristic to the order was the central edifice of the fortifications which streched over three adjacent hills. It is presumed to have been the largest in the Baltics.

 In 1481 under the order master Bernard von der Borch (commander Dietrich von Dornburg) the castle had its first babtism of fire. The joint armed forces of Moscow, Novgorod and Pskov were able, after the siege to conquer the town but failed to capture the fortress. During the siege the Russians, who were inexperienced in training, lost their engineer Rudolfo Fioraventi, an Italian by nationality, and in the end they had to confire themselves only to a ransom.

During the Livonian War and the following Polish-Swedish wars the fortress suffered repeated bombardements, sieges and changes of ownership. When in the beginning of the 17th century it fell into the hands of Swedes the castle was so badly destructed that it had lost its military importance. The king of Sweden donated the castle to a private person, it fell into decay and later became a valuable source of building material for the local people.

 New life in the castle hills began in the last quarter of the 19th century due to the interest among the Baltic Germans in the heritage of Livonia. The archeological excavations commenced on the initiative of Theodor Sciemann, the teacher of history at the Landesgymnasium and with the financial support of Friedrich von Ditmar, the owner of the Uue-Vändra manor revealed mighty foundations and numerous fragments of building under 9-meter thick brash. The park was laid out on the castle hills. At present it's a recreational zone and place for open-air concerts and parties. Still there are a lot of questions were are not able to answer and a huge amount of work to do by the archeologists and conservators in the future.


The Chronology

1154 - The ancient Viljandi stronghold was first mentioned in written (under the name of Falamus), in the commentaries to "Geography" by al-Idrisi.

1211 - Viljandi was sieged by the joint forces of Germans, Latvians and Livs. The defenders did not surrendered but in accordance with the agreement the priests obtained the right to baptize the local people. However, baptism was postponed due to the great bloodshed.

1223 After the defeat of Estonians in Madisepäeva (St. Matthew's day) battle (1217) both the Estonians and the Germans lived in the Stronghold.
January, 29 - "Bloody Sunday" in Viljandi. Rebel against Germans.
August - the 8,000 strong joint army of Germans, Latvians and Livs under Lippe Bernhard sieged Viljandi. After a two-week siege the defenders succumbed to thirst and of plague. The soldiers of the Russian unit who had come to assist Estonians, were hung.

1224 - Volquin, the Master of the Brethren of the Sword, commands to build stone building instead of the ancient stronghold.

1225 - Henricus de Lettis commented that by the visit of Wilhelm of Modena Viljandi was well fortified. The historians are of the opinion that it could have been a tower-fortress.

1248 - Commander was appointed to Viljandi (by 1559 there had been 39 of them in Viljandi).

1347 - There were 36 members of the order in Viljandi.

1451 - The number of the members of order had decreased to 29 (for comparison: 19 in Paide and 19 in Riga).

1470-1471 Viljandi became the residence of Johann Wolthuss von Herse, master of the order.

1481 - The army of Ivan II laid siege of Viljandi but was unable to seize it.

1488 - The visitors from Prussia noted that they had never before seen any other town so well equipped with arms and so strongly fortified as Viljandi.

1554 - The personel in the castle numbered 194.

1560 - During the Livonian War the Russian army under prince Kurbski laid siege to the castle and the town. Commander Wilhelm Fürstenberg had to surrender to the Russians due to the treachery of mercenaries.

1582 - The Castle went under the Polish reign in accordance with Jam Zapolski treaty.

1600-1620 - During the Swedish-Polish Wars, the castle passed through many hands until it was quite ruined.

1624 - Gustav II Adolf, King of Sweden donated the castle to Jacob De la Gardie. Swedish authorities excluded it from the list of fortresses.

18th-19th centuries - The remains of the castle were used as building material for the developing town.

1878-1879 - The first archeological excavations take place in the castle ruins under Theodor Sciemann's guidance.

1939 - The archeological excavations under MA Armin Tuulse in the area of so-called Villu's dungeon (name by a romantic novel).

1971-72 - Excavations under Kaur Alttoa and Udo Tiirmaa. Western wall of the convent building was in greater part conserved.

1980-ies, II half - Archeological excavations and attempts to conserve the foundations of the eastern side of the convent building.

1997 - The beginning of the another conservation project.

Kindral Laidoneri plats 10, 71020 Viljandi Estonia · · phone +372 433 3316 OK Interactive