Exploring Kuressaare (Arensburg) Castle


Rather than attempt to convey the tangled and complicated nature of my sequential explorations of this castle, which is particularly complicated to navigate through, and full of locked doors, barred passages, and multiple ways of ending up at the same place, and long and glorious passages that ultimately end up nowhere and requiring one to turn around, I will attempt to give a more flowing narrative, although I feel it necessary to convey the reality of this castle first.  As it happens, I found much about this castle to be highly symbolic of my life, its general obviousness, its difficulty to navigate, its baffling nature, its complicated and often pointless passages, its fondness for books and weapons as well as for matters of logistics and politics and religion, and the way that I ended up navigating it both alone and with other people who I met from time to time as we ended up in the same place and walked together for a while before parting again.


After some plans fell through to travel to the place with others, and being rather insistent upon seeing it before the Sabbath and before the time when the autumn rains were to finally come upon this island [1], I resolved to see the castle today.  My mum and stepfather had decided to go together and they did not want to slow my pace of exploration because my stepfather is no longer very steady on his feet nor can he walk even as quickly as I can, afflicted in my feet as I often am.  Upon finding out the feast would be in Kuressaare, the castle was an obvious draw as it sits on the coast looking out on the Gulf of Riga and is the main tourist draw for the city.  Of course I wanted to see it, as it is a grand and obvious sight with its red tile and its light-colored walls, its glorious bastion and moat and solitary tower.  I was curious if the castle and this town had a great deal to do with the Hanseatic ports and trade, and from what I saw this city was instead built by a Catholic bishop of the western part of Saaremaa to aid his control of the place, and was a frequent refuge in his unsuccessful wars with the Lutherans of the area.  As it happens as well, I left for the castle alone and returned to my hotel alone but spent most of my time in and around the castle and even after leaving the castle in the fond company of friends, which is the way life frequently goes.


As I entered the courtyard and paid my 5 euro entrance fee in change acquired during the Feast so far, I noted what could be seen before entering the main keep.  There was the lonely keep with cannons in front, there was a well and a cistern supplying water to the soldiers and religious people there, and there was something decidedly more creepy and Nathanish, a room where the skeleton of a knight had been left and largely forgotten for a couple hundred years.  There was a story behind this skeleton, of course, in that the beleaguered bishop had brought a knight to help defend his realm and the knight betrayed his vow of chastity by falling in love with a girl.  The girl ended up having her hair cut and being sent off to a convent and the knight was shut up alive until he died while sitting on a chair in the outer area of the castle.  No one apparently bothered to look for him for a couple hundred years until he was found and his story was discovered.


Inside the castle itself there was much of interest. I entered the castle itself through the exit door of the natural history exhibit, which shows the soil and rock types and flora and fauna of the island of Saaremaa as a whole.  There were exhibits on various eras of history, a lot of material in Estonian and Russian that I could not read, along with a few summary guides of exhibits in English that I read happily, videos as well as artifacts in exhibits on the history of Kuressaare and of the castle during its complicated history where the castle was built by a Catholic bishop, sold to the Danes, surrendered to the Swedes and then the Russians, sold to an oddball group called the Knights of Saaremaa, taken over by the Germans towards the end of WWI, surrendered to the Estonians, taken over by the Soviets, and then taken back by the Estonians after the Russians finally left the island in 1993.  There are rooms dedicated to the material culture of ladies in the 19th and 20th centuries, including a mock Soviet apartment and some humorous propaganda posters, there are books written in Russian and Estonian showing the educational life of the area as Estonian became belatedly a literary language, there are steep stairs to climb to the battlements where one can look out to the town itself as well as to the various areas of interest outside of the castle, and there are lots of passages that go nowhere, barred doors, blocked stairwells, and a general feeling that one could easily find oneself trapped inside if one was unwary.


So, should you find yourself in Kurassaare for reasons unknown, would it be worthwhile to spend 5 euro to see this castle between Wednesday and Sunday (it is not open on Mondays or Tuesdays, for some reason)?  Yes.  You can and likely will spend hours lost in its passages and exploring its art and artifacts, the complicated life of the capital of a complicated island that somehow manages to be both in the middle of nowhere and in the middle of everything at the same time.  It will be time well spent, as disorienting as it can be to explore every stairwell and every passage that one can find, and as daunting as the array of artifacts with their explanations in languages one will likely be unable to understand unless one speaks either Estonian or Russian.  One will see glorious religious art in one room, scary Russian artifacts of violence and oppression in another room, videos of Estonian bravery in defending their culture and seeking their independence and developing their culture in still other rooms, and it will be hard to take it all in.  It will be worth it, on the other hand, even as one sits in front of impressionistic art about fisherman, walks to the drawing room of a young lady from the early 20th century, and thinks about how complicated time is for all of us.  And, after one is done exploring the castle, one can do as I did and enjoy a fine time eating pastries with friends for very reasonable prices in the town itself, or going to a chocolatier, or stopping at any number of restaurants that can be found nearby.  This is a town, like its castle, that merits exploration.

[1] See, for example:






About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in History, Military History, Musings and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Exploring Kuressaare (Arensburg) Castle

  1. Pingback: A Review Of The 2016 Feast Of Tabernacles In Kuressaare, Estonia | Edge Induced Cohesion

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