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John Sloan

The city, located on the Estonian border with Russia, is just below two broad waterfalls, on the left bank of the Narova River (165 yards wide), which flows from Lake Peipus to the Baltic, 8 miles from the town. We were able to visit Narva in 1991 and1992 but in 1993 the tension along the Estonian- Russian border prevented our group from crossing. Unfortunately the best photos we have were all taken from the walls of Ivangorod. We have a few taken at the High Herman in December 1991. Here is a summary table.


For 20 km on the road approaching Narva one can see looming ahead the outline of the famous High Herman the tower of the Narva Castle. The fortress was founded by the Danes who controlled the southern shore of the Gulf of Finland and then crontrolled by the Swedes in 16-17th centuries.Narva viewed from across the river.
The Crusading orders first prevailed in Estonia in 1208. Then in 1219 the Danes succeeded in taking Tallinin. They then conquered all the area up to the Narova River and built about 15 castles. The first mention of Narva in the Danish books is 1240. In the 1250's the area was controled by one of the high vassals of the Danish king, Dietrich von Kivel, known for starting to fortify Narva in 1256. According to the Novgorod Chronicle in 1294, Kievel's son was constructing fortifications there. In 1200's he built on the rock over the Narova River the castle style fortified structure: it contained a square piece of land fenced off by a wall with a main tower within the courtyard and the loose location of other structures within the courtyard. The height of the main tower reached 30 meters. Site was located in the corner angle where a steep ravine extending to the south met the river. It is known that in 1296 Russian traders were coming to the castle ruled then by Herny von Orghaus. Both the town and castle are mentioned in documents of 1329.High Herman View of the restored original castle keep.
The town was not built until a hundred years after the castle. Prior to that time the local inhabitants took refuge in the large outer bailey of the castle. On 9 April 1341 a small detachment from Pskov surprised the town and largely burned it down. Evidently at the time it only has a weak earthen wall. But they were unable to take the castle, despite the surprise element. King Valdemar IV Atterday in 1345 issued town rights to Narva. The charter speaks of the kind of full rights enjoyed by European towns. The Governor of Estonia, Stigot Andersen, gave Narva the same rights as Tallinin, which were in turn based on the Lubeck rights. This made Narva the eastern most town with Lubeck Rule.Castle A view of the keep.
In 1341 the castle was already constructed in two parts, the main castle tower and a northern courtyard. It was extended on the west side later. The main building shows in plans as a rectangle. It is longer on the east-west axis. The height was 40 meters and thickness of the walls was 22.5 meters. A powerful tower was located in the northwest corner. The thickness of the tower walls was 3.5 meters, making it thicker than the great towers on saarema and at Toompea Castle in Tallinin.High Herman 2 A view of the Narva castle from between merlons in the Ivangorod fortress.
The interior part of the castle contains a courtyard with its own defensive walls. On the north and east side were wings. The northern wing consisted of quarters for troops of the Danish king, officers and ranking people. Trade business was conducted in the great hall in that wing. The east wing was used for housekeeping and defensive purposes. There were some living quarters on the second floor. Courtyard View from inside the castle courtyard. The inner bailey and castle keep of Narva with the walls of Ivangorod looming across the river - a visit in December 1991. The 'high herman' stands above the castle bailey during a visit on a snowy December day. A section of the outer wall of the medieval Narva castle.

Such regular castle type fortifications were introduced into Scandinavia in the 13th century. The central feature was the round or square tower, around which were located the economic structures.
The northern courtyard was built a little later than the main keep. The castle widens to north and the courtyard strengthened that side. In the northern courtyard were the stables, shops and other housekeeping areas. A little earlier the castle gate was in the west wall of the main building, but it was then rebuilt in the northern wall. One can see fragments of the earlier gate on the first floor of the west wing of the main castle tower.
Communication between the main building and the north courtyard was maintianed. The width of the entrance was six meters and length was thirteen meters. It was defended by an iron gate. The castle was almost unapproachable on the east side against the river. The north and south sides were defended by deep natural ravines and a ditch. The castle could only be attacked on the west. There a wall and ditch were built with a bridge over the moat.
To protect the town inhabitants the Danes added the great western courtyard in 1342, after the Pskovian attack. It was not quite rectangular in plan. The south and north sides were along the ravines. The southwest corner of the great courtyard was strengthened by a round tower, at first open on the inside. Warriors in the tower could fire with arbalests along the west wall. The tower in the northwest corner also covered the wall. The old town gate was placed in this west wall from which there was a bridge over the 1.5 meter deep moat. This great court not only protected the town inhabitants, but also formed a first step toward creation of the powerful fortress. The Danish fortification methods constituted the maximum of possible vertical defense technique, relying on the great height and thickness of the tower walls. This corresponded to the kinds of weapons then in use by potential enemies.
After the raid from Pskov there was an uprising by local inhabitants (Yurev night). The Danish king realized his rule was to difficult to maintain so he sold the town and castle to the Livonian Order in 1347 for 4.5 tons of silver. The Livonians rebuilt the castle: in the inner courtyard they built Carre-style outbuildings, enlarged the tower, and surrounded the entire city of Narva with stone walls and moats. The height of the "High Herman" is 51 meters from its foot and it is 72 meters high from the level of the river. They in turn sold it to their more powerful cousins in the Teutonic Order for 21 thousand silver marks. The castle was placed under command of a powerful representative of the grand master. Thus the garrison was changed from Danish mercenaries to German monks. The castle took on the look and feel of a crusader monastery. It became a small independent state where all power was in the hands of the chief monk. A typical garrison consisted of only 10 or 12 knight-monks plus mercenaries from Germany. The Teutonic Order were expert builders. The rebuilt the castle along the lines of the monastery castles of East Prussia, including a refectory, dormatory, chapel and meeting hall.
When the knights came to power, their first order of business was to fortify the town. Only in the 1380's, when the town was secure, did they turn back to work on the castle. The town was laid out to the north, along the river, rather than around the castle on all sides. Thus, the town was much younger than most Livonian towns and was populated from the first by German colonists. There was constant war with Pskov and Novgorod. Pskov attacked again in 1367 and burned the town once more. The master of the order, William von Weimar, ordered new town plan and fortifications to be started and gave full power at Narva to his representative, Heinrich von Ol'dendorf. The town was fortified during the 1380's. There was the usual struggle between the order and the townspeople over who would pay for this major construction. By the mid 1390's the fortification was completed and the city had typical medieval walls of some 10 meters height and 1.5 to 2 meters thickness with a parapet on top and with round towers. The corner towers on northwest and northeast angles were most powerful and provided flanking fire along the northern wall. The layout is not known for certain but can be infered from the layout shown in the Swedish plan of 1634.
The town was along the river in a rough square 400 meters by 400 meters, but the northern wall was a bit longer than the southern, which was actually along the wall of the adjacent castle. These fortifications were incorporated into later fortifications, so the are not visible for the most part today. One tower in the middle of the west wall was the city gate, called Viruski. It had defensive outworks, now located on Tulevik St.
Meanwhile the castle was rebuilt with new west and north wings. Flanking fire along the northern and southern parts of the west wall was secured. When the town was fortified the great west courtyard was also rebuilt. The southwest corner tower was covered and enclosed on its inside face. A bridge was built across the castle's northern ditch to connect it with the town. This was located in the middle of the northern wall of the great western court. This gate was closed off in the 16th century, but the bridge remained until 1822.
In the 15th century another tower was added to the middle of the south wall of the castle's great west court. This was often rebuilt in later centuries. The courtyard was separated from the castle keep by in internal ditch some 40 meters wide by 3.5 meters deep with another bridge accross it.
The gate in the town's northern wall was defended on both sides by small flanking towers and also defended by outworks. It had several names according to the uses it had. In the east wall, along the river, there was also a gate, named Malenki Kalit. A fragment of this remains today. The city fortifications were tied into the castle, and were strengthened after 1425 by a ditch. The present day Kommunar street is located in the former western ditch and O Koshevo Street is in the northern ditch. One tower that is shown in the 17th century plan still exists where the west and north walls met.
The fortifications built in the late 14th and early 15th century still empahsized the vertical defense. The Teutonic Order knew cannon from the early 1330's and the Russians started using them toward the end of the 14th century, but their influence was not sufficiently serious to affect sieges or cause changes in the defensive walls, whose height and thickness were their principal strengths. The change came toward the end of the 15th century.
At the end of the 15th century, when Ivangorod was built, the Teutonic Order quickly started work on modernizing the fortifications of Narva. The first project was to build the Ustitseya, a half circle fort extending from the line of the east (river) wall. This was a platform for cannon used to confront Ivangorod across the river. The east gate was also fortified. The towers in the northern wall were modernized with rondels and in 1546 the north gate was fortified with large bulwarks.
The castle too was refortified with walls on the eastern side of the north court containing platforms for cannon. The buildings in the town were practically all wooden and virtually nothing of them remains today due to repeated fires as well as sieges. On 11 May 1558 Muscovite troops of Ivan IV seized Narva by storm. However, the Swedes attacked the town in 1577 and 1579. Finally in 1581 the Swedes, under Pontus DelaGardia, managed to capture it along with Kopor'ye, Yam, and Ivangorod while the Muscovites were busy defending Pskov from the Poles. During the Livonian War the town grew greatly in size and importance, which extended its area to the north. By the end of the war there were about 8,000 inhabitants. The Swedes considered the town more of a strategic defense point than a commercial city, so they worked especially on the fortifications. Immediately after taking it in 1581 the Swedes began major building projects incorporating the lastest designs in the defense. They turned two towers of the fortress into bastions to mount cannon. The outer appearance of the tower did not change. The Russians under Boris Gudonov besieged the city unsuccessfully again in 1590 and were not able to reach it again until the reign of Peter I. The fortifications were demanded by the new artillery. Medieval towers were replaced by rondels and bastions. The work was according to the Italian school as modified by Albert Duerer. The work was under command of Peter Khertig, a Dutch engineer. One of the new bastions was on the southwest corner of the large courtyard of the castle. In 1582 a new bastion was constructed in fromt of the Virisk Gate (in west wall). Two more of these early bastions were added later, but not much of them remains. Narva was strengthened in this period by four bastions. In the southeast corner the half bastion - Krister; in the northeast corner the Leivaval; in the northwest corner the Kuningval; and in front of the Virisk Gate the Vaneval. The first of these was built in 1623 and the last in 1634. All the medieval fortifications were incorporated into the new designs. The work was supervised by master Daniel Brandt, a Dutch engineer. Adam Olearius remarked on Narva during his visits in 1633 and 1636 that it was a very powerful fortress. The 1620-30 forts remain to some degree. The Kristerval bastion has been restored and used as a museum. The northern face and orlon and casement of Kuningval are underground now. Bastions A view of the 17th century Swedish bastions along the river side.
In the middle of the 17th century Sweden was a major power. Many fortresses were rebuilt using even more modern designs. Narva was one of the most important forts in the national defense system. In the 1640-80's many new designed were prepared by famous engineers including Georg von Shvengelen, Heinrich von Seilenberg, and John Rudenburg, but none was carried into practice. However, in 1681 the famous designer, Erik Dal'berg surveyed the town and declared in a report to the Swedish state committee that it was obsolete. He pointedly commented that if anyone seriously beseiged it, it would be better just to give it up to the enemy rather than fight. Dal'berg made a new plan beginning in 1682. The plan was approved by King Charles XI in 1686, but work had already begun in 1684. It continued until the bitter end in 1704. During this time the construction project took half the total Swedish fortification budget at a time when the country was simultaneously building over 50 forts. The Dal'berg system incorporated the best of Vauban's and the Dutch school. The design included a modern bastioned trace added around the western and northern sides at a distance from the medieval city walls. A total of nine new bastions was planned, but the Swedes succeeded in building only seven. But these made Narva one of the most modern fortresses in the Baltic region.
The Swedes began with the northern bastions Honor, Glory, and Victory; then worked on the western line Fame, Triumph, and Fortuna. Then on the smaller Peace. Fortuna and Success covered the Narva Castle on the south and west. On the east or shore side Justice was planned to cover the ditch between the castle and town from southeast of the town. It would have incorporated the old Vrangel bastion and the shore gate, but it was not completed. The ditch in front of these bastions incorporated the latest methods of stone counterscarps. Today several of these bastions are restored and work is continuing on others. Of the ravelines only one remains - number 5, located between the Honor and Victory bastions opposite the curtain wall. Dal'berg planned three gates. The central city gate was in the north curtain between Honor and Glory. Construction began in 1691 and it was finished in 1704.
In 1700 Peter the Great began his Northern War campaign against Sweden with a siege of Narva. The siege was disrupted by the appearance of the Swedish king, Charles XII, with his army and the Russian troops were defeated. Four years later the Russians returned to besiege the city for a second time. Following heavy artillery bombardment, the city was captured within an hour, despite the gallant resistance led by General Horn. Following Narva's seizure Ivangorod fell. In 1705 the Russians repaired the gate and its bridge. A new gate called King's and later Emperor's was built in the 1680's. It is located now near the building of the stomach clinic.
At the start of the Northern War the other gate was not finished. After the war the west gate was placed between the Fortune and Triumph bastions. On the east side the medieval wall was defended by a ditch between the castle and town. Peter strengthened the fortification of the area, but with the westward shifting of the Russian frontier, Narva did not come under attack and lost its military significance for the remainder of the Imperial period. No further fortifications were built in the 19th century.
In 1822 the gates were rebuilt. The west gate was called Petrovski and the east gate was known as the Water gate for its closeness to the river. The Leningrad highway and modern bridge over the river passes at this location. Repairs were made to some of the fortifications in the 1845-49 period. In 1863 Narva was removed from the official list of fortifications of the empire.
In 1920 Narva was occupied for a considerable period by German troops. Then it became part of the independent Estonia until it was incorporated into the Soviet Union in 1940 along with the republic of Estonia itself. During the course of World War II Narva was occupied by German troops. In 1944 Narva turned out to be on the front line, that ran through the river Narova and the city suffered heavily from damaging artillery shelling and air raids. Unlike the fortress of Ivangorod, Narva Castle has been fully restored. The views from the bridge over the Narova River of the two powerful opposing-each-other fortresses leave unforgettable impressions. Go to top.

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