History Files
 
 

 

Castles of Estonia

Photo Focus: Helme Order Castle

by Peter Kessler, 16 February 2013. Updated 7 November 2021

 

Helme Castle in Valgamaa, Estonia
Photo © E Tätte

Helme Order Castle (Helme Ordulinnus in Estonian) lies near Tõrva, in Valgamaa, in the south-east of Estonia. The precise date on which it was founded is unknown, but it is generally believed to have been in the early fourteenth century.

At this time, this area of Estonia was under the control of the Livonian Knights, a German crusading order which had played a key part in the recent conquest of the Baltic lands, ostensibly for reasons of spreading Christianity, but also to grab land and make some fortunes.

Additional construction work took place over the next century or two, possibly in the aftermath of the Battle of Tannenberg in 1410. The castle was blown up by the Swedes in the early seventeenth century as part of their campaign to take control of Livonia and Estonia.

Helme Castle in Valgamaa, Estonia
Photo © E Tätte

Helme Castle is located on a bank above the river, with that bank, in places, reaching up to twenty metres above the water. It is believed to have been built on the site of an earlier, Ugaunian fortress, the Ugaunians being a group Estonians who had burned down the Kievan fortress of Yuryev in 1061 (see the 'Rulers of Estonia' links, below).

Helme parish church is mentioned in 1329, during a Lithuanian raid. The castle probably also existed by this time, less than a century after the Germans took control of the Baltics. The church survives as a ruin today, but in a much better condition than the castle.

Helme Castle in Valgamaa, Estonia
Photo © E Tätte

The castle covered an approximate area of five thousand square metres and was a true German crusader fortress, with just one entrance opening to the west which was protected by two moats.

A mantle ring wall with various rooms along its inner face ringed the castle, built largely in quarried stone. It was amongst those parts of the castle which were destroyed by the Swedes and has not been conserved.

 

All photos kindly contributed by E Tätte, taken in April 2007.

Main Sources

Helme, Mart (compiler) - Guide to Castles in Estonia, Kunst, Estonia, 2003

Kiaupa, Zigmantas, with Ain Mäesalu, Ago Pajur, and Gvido Straube (compilers) - The History of the Baltic Countries, AS Bit, Estonia, 2008

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

Online Sources

Estonian Manors

 

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