RUINS OF THE VILJANDI ORDER CASTLE
Location: N58° 21` 15.0", E25° 35` 44.9"
The ruins of Viljand castle are actually the ruins of Viljandi order castle built by the crusaders of Sword Brethren who conquered Estonia in 1224. Viljandi was chosen as the high seat of the order. Before that the Estonian wooden stronghold had been situated at the site built at least 200 years before German invasion. Estonian stronghold was also mentioned in the chronicle of Henry of Latvia where he described the attack against Viljandi, the centre of Sakala county with combined forces of crusaders, Livs and Latgalians. Six years later, after the Battle of St. Matthew's Day where Lembitu, the leader of the Estonian resistance was killed, the crusaders strengthened their power in Viljandi. The Castle was one of the first stone fortresses in Estonia and was the second largest in size after the order castle in Riga. The main part of the complex was the convent house, which was the place of praying, eating and sleeping as well as the main fortification which was almost impossible to conquer with cold weapons. The fortress got its final shape and size in the beginning of the 16th century. The town was occupied by Swedes in 1600. It was badly damaged in the Polish-Swedish wars and was not reconstructed any more. The first excavations in the castle were performed at the end of 19th century. In the 18th century the stones from the ruins were used in construction works in Viljandi and the surrounding area was used to herd the cattle.
After the Livonian War the King of Sweden gave Viljandi town with the surrounding area as a present to Jacob de la Gardie, who was the Lord High Constable of Sweden and Governor General of Livonia. He established a manor between the castle ruins and the town. Under the rule of Russian Empire, the manor belonged to a famous Baltic-German noble family of von Ungern-Sternberg. The main building of the manor was completed in 1880. Today it becomes a home for retired people. The barnhouse of a manor has been reconstructed and there is an Estonian Traditional Music centre.
Already at the beginning of 19th century the ruins of the fortress and the park around it turned into a recreational area for the local people. The maintenance of the park, planting the trees and construction works of the open-air stage were done by prisoners who wanted to shorten their prison sentence. In order to access the castle hills from town a rope bridge was built. A lot of concerts are held in the castle ruins and there is a wonderful view over Viljandi Lake.