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History of Vyborg Castle

Although Vyborg Fortress is very old, the official date for when it was founded is known quite precisely as it is directly linked with the Third Crusade. In 1293, the Swedish forces landed on the shores of the north part of the Gulf of Finland and attacked the Karelian defences, located on a natural island, in order to conquer new territories and convert this pagan tribe into Christianity. During that year, the Swedes constructed a castle here and named it symbolically Vyborg (it means "Holy Tower" in an Old Swedish dialect). The oldest buildings within the Fortress were built in the middle of the island, on the hill, and were protected by a circular stone wall. The square stone Keep, which was the highest Scandinavian tower for a long time, is named after St Olaf, the famous King Olaf II Haraldsson who promoted education and brought Christianity to Norway.

Vyborg Castle gave the Swedes control over the only – at that time – access to the waters of the Baltic Sea in Ruthenia and that was the reason why the Novgorod Republic, an ally and the suzerain of the Karelians, made many attempts to retake the Fortress from the Swedes. One of the most famous military expeditions of Novgorod forces to Vyborg was held in 1322, when the forces of Prince Yuriy Danilovich besieged the Fortress for nearly a month, but even the firing of trebuchets did not help. The following year saw the signing of the Treaty of Nöteborg. Under the Treaty, Vyborg and some part of the Karelian Isthmus became officially a Swedish territory. Vyborg Fortress was next transformed from a border stronghold on the eastern border of Sweden into the administrative centre of the Vyborg fief controlled by a king's governor. As a result, construction works started in the Castle, which at the time housed the governor and his retinue, as well as the commune head (administrator), a military garrison and craftsmen.

During the 1440s, Charles VIII Knutsson Bonde, the future King Charles VIII of Sweden, was the governor of Vyborg Castle. At that time big renovation works started within the Fortress. First, the works covered the governor's private chambers as well as the apartments for highly-placed guests, namely the king and important officials. A new southern wall was constructed in order to protect these structures and the Keep-Tower of St Olaf. It was fortified with four square towers: the Watchtower, the Fire Tower, the New Tower and the Prison Tower. Charles Knutsson was succeeded by notable personages: the regents of Sweden Erik Axelsson Tott and Sten Sture the Elder. During their rule, the development of the Castle continued until the second half of the 15th century. At that time the Paradise Tower was built on the south-east side of the courtyard. Unlike the other towers, it was circular. The upper courtyard was paved with stone, the residential rooms were equipped with tile stoves and many function halls were renovated.

When the Novgorod Republic was conquered by the Grand Duchy of Moscow, Russian princes intensified their attempts to take Vyborg twice as much. In 1495, a force of more than 60,000 soldiers of the Grand Duchy of Moscow besieged Vyborg Fortress for about 3 months. During one of the attacks, when the defenders were absolutely exhausted, the Fortress trembled due to an incredibly huge explosion which destroyed the enemy’s stairs at the castle walls and killed a great number of soldiers. The explosion, called the "Vyborg Thunder" by historians, was caused by the blowing up of gunpowder supplies in one of the towers on Commandant Knut Posse’s order. This event turned out to be decisive for the confrontation between the Russians and the Swedes. Soon the Grand Prince of Moscow Ivan III commanded his army to return home. In August 1555, King Gustav I Vasa spent several days within the castle walls. He decided to inspect the condition of the royal castles. The condition of Vyborg Fortress did not make the king happy so he commissioned long-lasting restoration work which was continued during the reign of his successor Eric XIV.

The large construction work was led by the German Master Hans de Porte. In the 1570s he was replaced by Jacob van Stengel. Between 1561 and 1564 the Keep was altered and a few new brick floors were added. Spiral stairs were added to the Tower and embrasures were made in the walls on the upper floors; cannons of huge calibre were set beside. During the 1580s a new stone wall was built in place of the old embankment in order to protect the north and west side of the Castle Island. In 1606 the entrance, namely the Fire Tower, and the Commissioner’s House were connected and converted into a comfortable villa called the Governor's House (later known as the Commandant's House). In winter 1616, King Gustav II Adolf visited Vyborg Fortress; he was the last Swedish monarch who stayed there. A century later, in 1710, the Russian Emperor Peter I climbed the top of the Tower of St Olav; his army conquered the town after a long siege and firing. It was the last battle in the history of Vyborg Castle. In the second half of the 18th century, when new fortifications were built in Vyborg, e.g. Rogataya Krepost (Horn Stronghold) and Annensk defences, the Castle became a completely insignificant military location.

Following the fires in 1834 and 1856, Vyborg Castle was no longer used as a garrison and the buildings that survived were turned into storehouses. The former barracks housed a prison in which many famous political prisoners were kept in different periods. In 1860 the War Ministry found the Castle to be incapable of fulfilling its defensive function and officially stopped maintaining it. It was not until thirty years later that rebuilding work began at the Castle. The abandoned and semi-destroyed building was handed over to the Military Engineering Agency in Vyborg. A large amount of work was completed, but as a result of the renovation the castle buildings very often gained a new appearance which was different from the medieval one. At that time the main structure of the Castle was altered, new domes were added to the Tower of St Olaf and the Paradise Tower, the inner design of many buildings was completely changed.

Following the October Revolution, Vyborg became a Finnish town and Finland gained independence in 1918. Vyborg Castle was used as the headquarters of the Second Finnish Division until 1940 and also when the World War II broke out. In 1944, the Castle was captured by the Russian forces and used not only for deploying guard's battalions within its walls but also as a dwelling for officers' families for nearly two decades. In 1964 Vyborg Castle was no longer a military building and it was handed over to the Inspectorate of Monument Preservation. After several years of restoration work and archaeological excavations, the building was made available to the public and the first exhibitions were opened in the Vyborg Natural Museum. The Castle was granted the status of the National Museum in 2000. It houses many exhibitions dedicated to various topics.