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Castles of Estonia

Photo Focus: Palmse Manor

by Peter Kessler, 24 April 2022

 

Palmse Manor, Lääne-Virumaa, Estonia
Photo © Piret Meinberg

One of Estonia's grandest Baroque mansions, Palmse Manor (Palmse Mois in Estonian) and its open-air museum made up the first fully-restored manor complex in the country. Both are surrounded by the beautiful natural environment of Lahemaa National Park, with the museum providing an overview of Estonian manor life and architecture throughout the ages.

The building's unique interior is characteristic of the typical eighteenth and nineteenth century manor, with the majority of such buildings being constructed either by the noble Baltic-German families which had been there for several hundred years, or by Russian nobles and members of the imperial family who had arrived at the conclusion of the Great Northern War in 1721.

Palmse Manor, Lääne-Virumaa, Estonia
Photo © K Kimmel

The ground floor of earlier two-story manor houses usually had higher ceilings and were also more grandiose, containing parlours and reception rooms. Bedrooms were on the first floor, and the kitchen and other household rooms were in the basement.

There was a Cistercian convent located at Palmse in the thirteenth century. A possession of St Michael's Monastery in Tallinn (see links, below), it was sited on land which had been taken from the north-western corner of the territory of the native Vironians. By 1510, following the Reformation, the land was described as being a manorial estate.

Palmse Manor, Lääne-Virumaa, Estonia
Photo © Piret Meinberg

From 1677 the land was owned by a Baltic-German family (the von der Pahlens), who held it until 1923 when it was expropriated by the country's newly-independent republican government.

Construction of Palmse Manor began in 1697 under the direction of Gustav Christian von der Pahlen, and to a design by Jacob Staël von Holstein. The original building was burned down during the Great Northern War but was restored in 1730 by Arend Dietrich von der Pahlen.

The notable figure of Count Peter Ludwig von der Pahlen was born here in 1745. He would later go on to serve Russian imperial interests as the military governor of St Petersburg, the first governor for Russia of the newly-acquired duchy of Courland, and as the governor-general of the Baltic provinces under Russian control in 1800.

Palmse Manor, Lääne-Virumaa, Estonia
Photo © Piret Meinberg

The architect, J C Mohr, was commissioned to redesign the family's manor house between 1782 and 1785, which gave it the appearance it has today.

One of the more important features which was added at this time was the tiled ovens on the upper floor. Three of them are quite simple, with an embossed image of the goddess of fortune, Tychet, in the centre and half columns at the sides. The fourth, however, is considered to be a masterpiece of rococo production.

Palmse Manor, Lääne-Virumaa, Estonia
Photo © Piret Meinberg

The manor house windows and frames were changed in the nineteenth century, probably at the same time as the new wing was built (and can be seen on a drawing dated to 1840). The new wing was, however, demolished in the 1930s.

The building's south-eastern and north-western facades were characterised by a dansker-like toilet (originating as castle waste disposal features which opened out above the ground), which was usable on both floors. The classicistic front door dates to the nineteenth century.

Palmse Manor, Lääne-Virumaa, Estonia
Photo © Piret Meinberg

When Lahemaa National Park began renovating the building at the end of the 1970s, the team involved had to overcome several problems. The work was made harder due to the fact that the building had stood empty for a while. It was also not easy to distinguish between the different periods of construction.

Palmse Manor, Lääne-Virumaa, Estonia
Photo © Piret Meinberg

The collection of furniture in the manor house today did not belong to the Pahlens (with the exception of a chair in the general's room on the second floor), but has been purchased as sets or single items from various places around Estonia. The tiled stoves on the ground and first floors, however, are originals (from the beginning of the nineteenth century and from the end of the eighteenth respectively).

The modern open-air museum boasts parks, gardens, and several historical buildings aside from the manor house itself. It also features exhibitions, workshops, a training centre, a wine cellar, a romantic café, and a tavern which serves national dishes.

 

Six photos kindly contributed by Piret Meinberg, taken in July 2007, and one by K Kimmel, taken in September 2009.

Main Sources

Visit Estonia

Palmse Manor

Lonely Planet

Other Sources

Most Beautiful Manors and Castles, Valdo Praust (Grenader Grupp, Estonia, 2004)

 

Images and text copyright © Piret Meinberg, K Kimmel, & P L Kessler except where stated. An original feature for the History Files.