Vastseliina – Bishop’s Castle Neuhausen


   Neuhausen castle was the easternmost stronghold of the Dorpat bishopric. Its task was to defend the eastern border and an important trade route to Pskov. It is possible that the impulse for its creation was the fortification in the thirties of the 14th century of the Rus fortress Izborsk. The construction of Neuhausen began around 1342 in agreement with the Livonian Order. Initially, the castle was called Frauenburg, only later it was referred to as Neuhausen.
In 1353, in the chapel located in the castle tower, a cross was seen levitating above the altar. Since then, the stronghold has also been the destination of numerous pilgrimages. The sanctity of the chapel was recognized in 1354 by pope Innocent IV himself, providing a forty day indulgence for every pilgrim who reaches the castle.
Despite the border location, the castle initially did not experience much war damages. The first serious attempt took place only in 1463, when the Russians unsuccessfully besieged Neuhausen. Under the impact of the growing threat from the east, at the turn of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the castle was extended, making it one of the most powerful in Livonia. However, it did not save the bishopric in 1558, even though the castle was strengthened by the Teutonic army sent in. After a three-week siege and repeated assaults, commander Jurgen von Uexküll gave the fortress to the armies of Ivan the Terrible. After the truce of Yam-Zapolsky in 1582, the control over the castle was taken over by the Polish-Lithuanian army, which 40 years later, after a heavy siege, was overthrown by the Swedes. Shortly afterwards, the Russians occupied Neuhausen, but then the medieval stronghold had little military significance and was in ruin at the latest from the beginning of the 18th century.


   The castle was erected on a raised headland formed by the Piusa River and a smaller stream flowing into it on the northern side. Initially it consisted of a huge, rectangular tower with internal dimensions of 11.3 x 7.8 meters, to which in the third quarter of the fourteenth century, a three-wing complex was added from the north-east, surrounding a regular, internal courtyard. The main tower had five floors. At the lowest there was a utility, storage basement, and above a vaulted chapel on the first floor. There was also a penitential cell in the chapel, inspired by the traditions of sacral architecture. The upper storeys could be residential and defensive.
   At the end of the 15th century, the entire castle was surrounded by additional, external walls reinforced with three towers and the main ward was equipped with strong, corner artillery towers: cylindrical on the south and a horseshoe on north-east  side. Noteworthy was the emphasis on their decorative side, unique in the military architecture of this region. Especially the north tower was decorated with blind recesses, the artistic effect of which was enhanced by multi-colored bricks. Colorful niches and a large Latin cross were probably supposed to emphasize the importance of the castle as a western culture outpost right on the eastern border.
   The entrance gate was on the south-west side, where it was probably necessary to overcome a long gate corridor leading through the zwinger to the area of ​​the outer ward. The residential and economic buildings were adjacent to the inner side of the defensive walls. From the south, the most endangered side was secured with a wide ditch, from the west, protection was provided by the river, and from the east and north, a smaller watercourse flowing into it and swampy areas.

Current state

   The castle is currently one of the better-preserved fortresses of the Dorpat bishopric. Fragments of walls and two huge corner towers with remarkable façade decoration have survived. Entrance to the castle area is free.

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Alttoa K., Bergholde-Wolf A., Dirveiks I., Grosmane E., Herrmann C., Kadakas V., Ose J., Randla A., Mittelalterlichen Baukunst in Livland (Estland und Lettland). Die Architektur einer historischen Grenzregion im Nordosten Europas, Berlin 2017.

Borowski T., Miasta, zamki i klasztory. Inflanty, Warszawa 2010.
Tuulse A., Die Burgen in Estland und Lettland, Dorpat 1942.