The castle in Wenden or in the Latvian Cēsis (Polish Kieś) was the most important among the Livonian castles, the capital of the territorial authority of the Teutonic Order and the main residence of the Livonian landmaster. It was one of the six stone castles erected in this area by the Order of Livonian Brothers of the Sword, probably around 1207, that is during the reign of the first master Wenno. It is possible that the German name Wenden comes from his name. As reported by the chronicler Henry of Latvia, in 1218 there were already two stone castles: the older built on the site of the pagan hillfort and the main, which in time turned into the capital of the Livonian lands of the Order. In the years 1207-1236 it had already the rank of commandry, it was also the seat of the master of Livonian Brothers of the Sword, Volkwin von Naumburg. The stronghold served as the main point of support during the conquest of Estonia at the beginning of the 13th century. Because of this, it was attacked many times by the heathen, but it was never conquered.
After the defeat of the crusaders at Battle of Saule in 1236 and the incorporation of the Livonian Brothers of the Sword into the Teutonic Order, the castle continued to play the role of one of the main centers of political power in Livonia. It is true that the Teutonic Knights made several attempts to transfer their capital to Riga and to subordinate the city and the archbishop, but because of the strong resistance of the townspeople, these attempts have always ended in failure. Thus, in Wenden, annual provincial chapters were held and meetings of an informal council of dignitaries that included the commanders of Rewel, Paide, Fellin, Marienburg and Kuldīga. The order convent at Wenden was one of the most numerous in Livonia, at least since 1481 it contained the main archive of the order and the treasury. The castle was subject to constant expansion and modernization, together with the city defensive walls with which it was integrated, and which were built at the turn of the 13th and 14th centuries. Then, the area was marked out for two or three extensive wards protecting the upper castle.
After secularization of the Livonian branch of the Teutonic Order, Wenden was attached to Lithuania. However, this did not protect the fortress from the invasion of the troops of Ivan the Terrible, which in 1577 took the castle and the city. This was the apogee of Moscow’s successes in the Livonian War, and soon the Lithuanian army recaptured the castle, and in its vicinity the invaders in 1588 were defeated in an open battle. Cēsis remained in Polish-Lithuanian hands until 1620, when the Swedes took it. From 1598 until 1660, it was the capital of the Wenden Voivodeship. The final end of the castle was brought by the Great Northern War, during which in 1703 the castle was conquered and destroyed by the Russian army.
The stronghold, in its mature, late medieval form, consisted of the upper castle and the surrounding wards from the north, south and east, connected with the city’s defensive walls. The fortified town secured the castle on the south side and partly from the east and west. In the remaining directions, protection was provided by an irrigated moat that was an extension of the town moat.
The oldest element of the upper ward was the chapel, built in the 13th century and having architectural details with Romanesque features. The massive west tower with a square base, was erected at the beginning of the 14th century, but rebuilt in the upper part into a cylindrical one at the beginning of the 15th century, also had an early record. On the south side, the eastern wing adjoined the chapel with warehouses and pantries in the basement, utility rooms on the ground floor (kitchen, brewery, bakery). On the first floor there was a two-aisle, vaulted, four-bay room of considerable dimensions (22 x 11 meters), possibly serving as refectory and a smaller chamber with a vault supported by a central pillar. In the refectory, four large windows opened to the eastern side, towards the outer bailey and the town, and in the southern wall between the two windows there was a fireplace. The southern range on the ground floor housed the gate passage to the outer bailey, and its first floor was occupied by another large room with four bays covered with a rib vault. Additional utility and living rooms were created at the end of the 15th century in the north wing. The most important representative rooms, as in many other order castles, were heated by a hypocaustum stove system. Located on the lower floors, they sent heated air to the first floor through a system of channels with outlets placed in the floors, closed, if necessary, with ceramic or stone flaps.
The courtyard of the upper castle, as in other conventual castles, originally had a shape similar to a square. This changed the reconstruction carried out from the end of the fifteenth century to around 1530. At that time, a cylindrical northern tower was erected, giving the upper castle a quadrilateral shape with one sharp angle, and a tower in the western wall of the southern part of the castle. These two towers, together with a slightly older, eastern one at the intersection of the northern and southern wards, provided an effective and quite modern for the early sixteenth century, artillery defense.
An interesting element of the castle was the extension of a chapel in front the line of the walls of the upper ward and the placement of the Livonian Master’s chamber with a beautiful gothic stellar vault, a sleeping recess and a fireplace in the four-sided western tower. Its vault’s ribs were made of profiled bricks, and the consoles and round bosses were cast from plaster, with the bosses originally decorated with golden stars. On the other hand, a typical element of the castle was the solution of communication between the most important rooms by means of an external, stone cloister. On the eastern side of the upper ward, a porch leading to dansker (latrine tower) was extended from the eastern wing upper floor on the slope of the hill.
The entrance gate to the castle was located on the south-west side, where an elongated gate passage was led over the ditch surrounding the upper ward, situated on a stone bridge. It led to the area of the southern outer ward, which was connected with the northern outer ward on the eastern side, at the base of the cylindrical tower. The buildings in the outer baileys had an economic function and were usually attached to the inner faces of the defensive walls.
The castle, although partially destroyed, is one of the best preserved order strongholds in Latvia. Many castle chambers survived, and some have also preserved gothic vaults. The most famous example is the chamber of the Livonian master in the western tower of the upper castle. In addition, the kitchen, armory, underground and many more have survived. The castle is of course open to visitors, and the nearby Historical Museum of Cēsis is also located in the nearby palace.
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