History Files
 
 

 

Castles of Estonia

Photo Focus: Haapsalu Episcopal Castle

by Peter Kessler, 9 March 2013. Updated 5 November 2021

 

Haapsalu Episcopal Castle in Estonia
Photo © K Kimmel

Construction on Haapsalu Episcopal Castle began in the second quarter of the thirteenth century, as part of the German crusader efforts to conquer all of the Baltics.

Bishop Hermann I de Becheshovede of Ísel-Wiek granted town rights to Haapsalu in 1279, transferring the official seat of the bishopric there at the same time. The inner castle already existed by this stage, consisting of the cathedral and living quarters for canons. The outer castle walls which surround the site and contain the inner castle in the centre of the north wall were probably begun by this time.

Haapsalu Episcopal Castle in Estonia
Photo © K Kimmel

The bishop moved to his new residence of Kuressaare Episcopal Castle in the late fourteenth century. After the bishopric of Ísel-Wiek was ended in 1559, Haapsalu lost its main raison d'etre. Several fires damaged the castle in the seventeenth century and it was decommissioned at the end of that century.

As an episcopal castle, built and controlled by the Catholic church, the attached 'Dome Church' was an impressive example of early Gothic architecture mixed with Romanesque elements. It was probably built in the 1260s, following the style of the Cistercian Order.

Haapsalu Episcopal Castle in Estonia
Photo © K Kimmel

The round baptism chapel on the eastern side was added in the fourteenth or fifteenth century, before the structure was abandoned. The church has been restored and since 1990 it has been actively used by the local congregation of the Estonian Lutheran Church.

The western side of the castle houses a picturesque twenty-nine metre high watchtower which dates from the thirteenth century. It was later used as a bell tower. Even outside the outer curtain wall, shown here, the tower is still visible.

Haapsalu Episcopal Castle in Estonia
Photo © K Kimmel

The castle was expanded into its current shape in the sixteenth century when the outer wall surrounding it and its cannon towers was completed. The walls reached a height of ten metres and were over one metre thick. The garden gate is shown here, flanked by the foundations of lost buildings.

Haapsalu Episcopal Castle in Estonia
Photo © K Kimmel

Inside the walls there were moats and bastions housing cannon, but however well defended the castle was, it couldn't escape the coming wars. The Livonian Wars of the sixteenth century not only ended the semi-independent bishopric which had built the castle, it also badly damaged the castle itself.

Haapsalu Episcopal Castle in Estonia
Photo © K Kimmel

The castle was no longer used as a defensive structure by the Swedes who ruled after the Livonian Wars. The walls were partially demolished during the Great Northern War in 1710, at the command of Czar Peter whose Russians succeeded the Swedes. This left it as the partial ruin which largely survives today.

 

All photos kindly contributed by K Kimmel, taken in August 2006 & September 2009.

Main Sources

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

Online Sources

Castles.info

Estonian Manors

 

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