One of the known pleasures of driving through the countryside in this part of the world is the vast number of castles and manor houses one encounters. And it seems that each one is more amazing and rich in history than the last. How to highlight a gem among gems? How to establish the best example of Baltic beauty? With such historic and architectural variation, it would be impossible to narrow the selection down to one castle that stands out among the crowd. In an effort to cross times, locations, styles and ages, TBT staff has compiled a list of some of the castles worth visiting in the Baltics. But be forewarned -there are many that have been left out of this list. Let this list simply be a spark to explore the region and find a gem of your own.
The Bauska region of Latvia has a mini France hidden in its vast fields. Built between 1738 and 1740, Rundales Castle with its enchanting baroque aura and fragile pompousness of the rococo interior is so Versaille-like that it almost doesn't feel Latvian. The castle was a caprice of the last duke of Kurzeme, Ernest Johan Biron who ordered Rastrelli to create a summer residence. Luckily, the castle didn't suffer great damage during the war period and has retained the medley of styles it has acquired as each proprietor put their mark on it. Never particularly crowded, one has the freedom to amble through the endless enfilades and soak up the splendid decor in a tranquil atmosphere. The promenades in the French garden and along the park alleys give you the feeling of supreme aristocratic peacefulness. The restaurant, where the service is in the hands of servants dressed in period costume, serves up recipes that have preserved the old traditions. Undoubtedly, Rundales is a must on your castle itinerary.
Once upon a time, a man named Johan murdered his brother in order to win the heart of the woman they both loved. But despite marrying the woman of his dreams, the bloodstain, hidden behind the fireplace, was to doom his existenceâ€¦ This story and many others find a home in the medieval castle at Edole. This castle has the most anarchistic history imaginable. Since being built as a massive fortress in the late 13th century, the castle has succumbed to many chaotic architectural additions. These changes saw Edole go from a representative minor duke's household to a neo-gothic pearl with an English park. Then it almost completely burnt down and like all good castles, was restored again. But despite the changes, it has preserved the majestic medieval tower and a real atmosphere of mystery. When visiting Kuldiga you can stay at the little hotel in the castle where the palpable feeling of a friendly ghost is sure to be felt by even the biggest sceptics.
Dating back to the 12th century, the picturesque Trakai Castle is chronicled as the ancient capital of Lithuania. Only 30 kilometers from Vilnius, Trakai now has become the foremost tourist attraction in the area.
Trakai was the center of politics and defense for the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Surrounded by several lakes the castle's defense system was determined by the natural environment. After the Zalgiris Battle in 1410 and the crushing of the Teutonic Order, Trakai became the official residence of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania.
The town of Trakai has a long history of being a haven for tolerance and understanding. Various multinational communities including Germans, Russians, Karaims and Tartars have settled together here. Peaceful coexistence of different cultures has been a feature of Trakai for many years.
In its later life, the castle served as a prison before being destroyed in 1655 during the war with Moscow. It has suffered throughout the years 's especially in war times.
The restoration of the castle was started under the Soviet regime and in 1962 the first exposition was launched in the restored central chamber. Today Trakai is the symbol of Lithuania's Medieval past and serves as a museum, a must-see spot for newlyweds, and a stage for classical music concerts.
While in Haapsalu, you will be overwhelmed with the ancient beauty of the Episcopal castle. It was built in 1265, after several skirmishes and religious conflicts as the place for the diocese cathedral and stronghold. The St. Nicholas Dome Church, the largest one-nave church in the Baltic States, was also built on the site at this time. Under the reign of Bishop Johannes IV Kievel (1515-1527), the structure of the castle achieved its current shape. A strong, thick, circular wall up to 1.8 meters in width surrounds the fortress. Over the years the castle has suffered damage due to war and, according to historical facts, in 1715 Tsar Peter I ordered the castle to be destroyed. In the late 1800's, the church was restored and the ruined castle grounds turned into a park. During Soviet times, the church was used as a granary but today is once again open to its congregation. Today, the castle ruins are located in the center of the modern city.
Birinu Castle, surrounded by lakes and parks, is one of the most typically Latvian castles. The neo-gothic castle was built in the 19th century in a picturesque area where libiesu tribes are thought to have lived in the 13th century. Despite severe damage caused during the Soviet times, the interior still retains the renaissance spaciousness while the exterior, although lacking its former greatness still pleases the eye with its fairy-tale like towers and charming terraces. Today the castle is particularly attractive to the public as it has a well-developed system of leisure facilities: bike, boat and horse rent, a bar at the lake, a swimming area and a wonderfully cozy hotel. Abounding in romantic myths, Birinu is a popular place for wedding celebrations. A visit to Birinu is a quaint Latvian pastoral experience with a touch of grandeur.
Kuressaare Episcopal Castle, dating from the early 13th century, is the most noteworthy site in Kuressaare. The castle was built of local dolomite marble and was surrounded by a rectangular outwork, a moat and a rampart. A town grew up around the Bishop's Castle and in 1563, it was granted the status of an independent city. Prior to that, in 1559, the last bishop sold the castle and the town to Denmark. In 1836, the fortress was eliminated from the list of Russian fortifications, and in subsequent years, it was used for various purposes and now houses the Saaremaa Museum of History and Nature. The castle is also a venue for cultural events such as concerts at the Chapter House, which has excellent acoustics. During the summer, a cafe that offers a breathtaking view of the surroundings, the sea, the island of Abruka and other islets is open in the tower.
Fortress is a Russian medieval castle that was built by Ivan III in 1492.
The fortress sits near the Narva River, opposite the city of Narva. The castle's purpose was to fend off the Teutonic Knights. The castle measures 1600 sq. m., and has 14 meter high walls. In 1496, the entire population inside the fortress was killed after a seven hour siege by Swedish forces. However, the Swedes fled after they learned that Muscovite forces were approaching to retake the castle.
The fortress and the land around it have changed hands repeatedly and the castle has been reconstructed and fortified many times, becoming one of the strongest defensive structures in the 16th century. The castle was in development until the 17th century - a large, sprawling fortress with several lines of defense.
Inside the fortress, there are two churches - one dedicated to the Virgin's Assumption (1496) and another one, dedicated to St. Nicholas (built in the late 16th century but later reconstructed).