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Lady Day or the Annunciation on March 25, in 1342, marked the beginning of the construction of Vastseliina castle near the frontiers of Old–Livonia and Pskov (Russia) on the land of the Bishop of Tartu. The Master of Livonian Order Dreileben initiated the creation of the stronghold for two main reasons: first his relations with Pskov had become strained and second, Russians had constructed a powerful castle in Irboska. Vastseliina was included to the defence position in the line of Kirumpää – Gaujiena – Gulbene – Rezekne – Daugavpils. Therefore the location of the castle was chosen strategically between the rivers of Piusa and Meeksi, near the crossroads of Riga and Pskov. Within the time Vastseliina become the gateway of communication with Pskov and other Russian areas for all the regions of the Southern Livonia. People started calling the stronghold “Castle of Virgin Mary”, by the time New Castle or Nienhuse or Novõi gorodok or Novum Castrum or in local language – Vastseliina.

In 1379 the Master of Order Vrymersheim described Vastseliina as the strongest and the most reinforced castle in Livonia. The stronghold had acquired this reputation probably not only on account of its impressive fortifications but as a well–known sacred place. The story tells that in one autumn night in 1353 charming music was heard in the chapel of the castle and through the bolted doors a miraculous light was seen. Once the doors opened, the guards saw white figures that moved the cross from the wall to the altar where it “stood” hovering in the air. Even four month later when the word of the miracle reached the Pope Innocentius VI, the cross was still standing without any support on the altar. Soon the pilgrims from all over the Europe started to come to see the miraculous cross. As decreed by the Pope, the visit to Vastseliina equalled with indulgence of one year and forty days. The money that came from the indulgences and donations guaranteed the constant development of the fortifications until the 16 century when the castle achieved its final dimensions.

It was only in the beginning of the Livonian War, in 1558 than the defence capacity of the castle was pushed to its limits facing the 80 000 warriors (according to the chronicler!) of Ivan the Terrible. In order to avoid the fatal damages, the castle’s garrison surrendered to Russian army. In 1582 the Poles occupied the castle after the Jam Zapolski´s peace treaty. From 1625, after the end of the war between Poland and Sweden, Vastseliina went under the rule of Swedish kingdom. The castle was completely destroyed during the The North War (1700–1721) by the solders of Tsar Peter I. Only some years earlier the Tsar himself had visited Vastseliina.

For nearly 300 years the castle ruins were forgotten. After the Estonian independence, in the 1990–s, the local inhabitants started to clean up the castle. Several restoration works followed and in 2007 the conserved northeastern tower was opened to the visitors. In 2011 a newly restored visitors´ centre will be opened including a medieval museum, a tavern and several handicraft ateliers. Traditional events as medieval days contribute to the continuous popularity of the castle area.

Architectural details

The eldest part of the castle was its main tower with the thickness of the walls up to 4.5 m. The tower had three vaulted floors for cellar, chapel and armoury and three protection floors. Today the main tower can only be traced in some parts by a stone wall of 2 m. But a cannon tower having a form of a horseshoe is rather well preserved. On its façade there is still visible the figure of a white cross, inspired by the Holy Cross, the protector of the castle. In addition one cane still admire different colours of stones, blind windows, niches and other decorative elements that contribute to the harmonious result of the construction, unique in the region considering that the stronghold was erected above all for the military functions. The castle achieved its final dimensions in 16th century and all its survived details north–eastern tower, partly preserved northern and south–eastern towers and southern wall – date back to these times.