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 Läänemaa counties).
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 around 1400,
covering three floors.
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
seventeenth centuries. 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 fortifications. 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.