Ordensburg Fellin (Viljandi)

It has taken me a very long while to gather myself for another look at a castle. There is no good reason for this—so, finally, here I go again.

It was my absolute pleasure to visit Viljandi recently. Today, Viljandi is a smallish town in Southern Estonia, but for the Livonian Order it was one of the centres of their existence. As such, the efforts they poured into making this the most impregnable of their fortresses were second to none, as evidenced by a 15th century Prussian who visited the castle to acclaim it ‘the most well armed I’ve ever seen’.

Much of the castle only survives as a layer of rubble, but the few walls which still stand are an inspiring sight, if mainly for the lake that sits just beside the castle hills. Hills in plural, because the main structure of the castle was built on three hillocks, of probably natural origin, that lie on the northwestern lake coast. The Medieval city of Fellin took up another few of these hillocks, creating a very defensible position.

The site of the castle was, before the crusaders took it over, the location of a well-defended Estonian stronghold which was finally conquered in 1211. The qualities that the location offered were clearly appreciated by the Germans who started fortifying and garrisoning the position. The Order’s style of construction was centred around their convent house and courtyard. At Fellin, this was circled by another set of stone outer walls on the largest plateau.

The castle is an inspired mix of bricks and stone, with stone forming the foundation for the construction but the structures finished by ornate brickwork.

The scenery is more Mediterranean than Baltic on a sunny day, and I was able to appreciate why the Hochmeisters of the Livonian Order liked staying here—I’d imagine most visitors on such a day would be happy to stay for just a moment longer and to have this extend into the future.

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