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Kuressaare Episcopal Castle is also
known as Kuressaare Stronghold, the Bishop's Palace, and perhaps
less commonly by its old German name of Schloβ Arensburg.
It dates to the early thirteenth century and is sited on the south-western edge of the town of
Kuressaare in Saaremaa, with Lääne Meri (Western Sea) behind it. The position was selected
because the important roads from inner Saaremaa have always
Another reason was because this was an ancient port for trade even
before the arrival of the German crusaders, when the people of
Saaremaa were feared as the piratical raiders known as the Eastern
Vikings. The Livonian Knights conquered central, southern, and western Estonia
by 1227, and a small and modest stronghold was built by the governing authority: the
bishop of Ösel-Wiek (the German names for modern Saaremaa and
The bishop ruled his domains as a
semi-independent prince after the
region's conquest, but it wasn't until after the St George's Day
Uprising of 1343-1345 that Kuressaare was turned into a large and powerful
stronghold, built of local dolomite marble and surrounded by a
rectangular outwork, a moat, and a rampart. When he visited from the
mainland, the bishop would reside in the inner courtyard area.
The main building work was completed in around 1400, covering three
The first floor is partially below
ground level and provides storage areas, while the main floor was
designed with two-nave representational rooms, a chapel, a festive
refectory, and covered arcades. The top floor typically served for
defensive purposes. On one corner is the Sturvolt defensive tower, while
its more slender brother is the Tall Hermann
watchtower which is separated from the rest of the stronghold by a
deep pit which was crossed by means of a drawbridge.
In the fifteenth century the main stronghold was surrounded by a
large frontal stronghold that was turned into
earthworks with four strong corner bastions in the sixteenth and
During the Livonian Wars (1559-1583), the castle was
almost the only one not to be touched by the wars, and even now it
retains its Medieval form. In 1559, the last German prince-bishop
sold the castle and the town to Denmark, and the Danes created a
duchy out of Saaremaa.
The town that had
grown up around the Bishop's Castle was granted the status of an
independent city in 1563.
During the Great Northern War, the castle was partially damaged in
1711, but later repaired, and in 1836, it was removed from the list of Russian
Full restoration work was carried out in 1968-1985, and the castle
now houses the Saaremaa Museum of History and Nature, and also
provides a venue for various cultural events.