Vyborg Castle (the Castle, for short) is the oldest of the Vyborg fortifications, which date back to the 13th century. The Castle was built on a small (170 meters by 122 meters or 560 feet by 400 feet) island in the Bay of Vyborg. It is the only completely preserved monument of Western European medieval military architecture.
The Castle was founded by Torkel Knutsson in 1293.
The high observation and military tower of the Castle was named after Saint Olaf, the king of Norway who converted Scandinavia to Christianity. The tower stood in the middle of the island; it had a rectangular floor plan and was considered the highest donjon in the Scandinavia of that time. The walls of the Castle were between 1.5 and 2 meters (5 and 6.5 feet) thick, while the walls of the tower were 4 meters (13 feet) thick. The walls of the Castle were merloned; a wooden, suspended gallery that served as a hoarding went around the perimeter of the wall.
In 1293 and 1322, Novgorod made two unsuccessful attempts to capture the Castle by storm and thereby to take back lands that had been seized by Sweden. During the second attempt, an army of Prince Yuri was forced to besiege the Castle for a whole month despite the use of stone-throwing machines.
In 1295, Birger Magnusson, a young king of Sweden, wrote the following in his letter to the councils of Lubeck and other Baltic cities: "... [I] have spent a lot of funds for the construction... in order to strengthen the kingdom and ensure safety for seafarers."
A contemporary chronicle informs that in 1442–1448 the governor Karl Knutsson "spent a lot of funds for the construction of the fortress... created the most beautiful chambers, covered them with a roof, built a merloned wall around it, it is impossible to find a more beautiful castle... ." A defence wall was constructed around the perimeter of the island to form a so-called "lower courtyard" of the Castle. The external wall included several military towers (the Fire Tower, the Watchtower, the New Tower and the Shoemaker's Tower) that had rectangular floor plans.
When the governor Knuttson became the king of Sweden, the governors that succeeded him, Erik Axelsson Tott and Sten Sture, continued developing the Castle and improving its fortifications. The first tower that had a round floor plan was built; this tower was named the Paradise Tower. The buildings of the Castle were equipped with tiled stoves, the walls of the St. Olaf's Tower were covered with wooden panels and the upper courtyard was paved with stone.
Erik Axelsson Tott also surrounded the town that had grown on the peninsula in front of the Castle with a stone wall with 10 towers, which gradually transformed the Castle into a rear defence position of the fortress.
After the Sweden's king Gustav Vasa visited the Castle in 1556, a new stage of important construction works started. The towers and buildings were rebuilt again. The coastal line was additionally fortified with wooden hanks and bulwarks.
In 1564, the main tower became as high as 7 storeys; the top part was shaped as an octagon, and cannon embrasures were cut in the three meter thick walls, which allowed all-around fire. Brick was used for the first time for the masonry of the donjon. The appearance that the tower obtained during this period has preserved till our days. Only the top part changed several times in the 17th to the 19th centuries due to rebuilding works and fires.
In 1568, a new gate with a gatehouse and a drawbridge was constructed.
In 1584, a berm faced with granite replaced the wooden hank.
In 1586, a tower was built in front of the gate followed by a watch house near the gate in 1589.
In 1595, a two-room log house was constructed.
In 1600, the bridge was rebuilt, and in 1605 a double-vaulted bastion with loopholes was constructed.
In 1606, after the architect Anthony Alsted had arrived, a castle gate was constructed. In 1606–1608 all the structures by the gate were united into a single whole and on top of it a reliable and comfortable dwelling for the governor appointed by the King of Sweden was constructed: it was Vyborg's most sumptuous house featuring wall paintings, ceiling paintings, ceramic floors and tiled stoves.
Several ponds were dug on the island; the architect Wewel constructed a fountain in one of them. In the second half of the 17th century, stone barracks were built along the external north-western wall.
On 13th June 1710, after a siege and bombardments that lasted over two months, the city was captured by an army of Peter the Great, and the last commandant of the city, Colonel Magnus Schernstrole, surrendered at the discretion of the victor. The Castle, which had been significantly damaged, was intensively repaired; however, in the second half of the 18th century, the construction of the Annenkron Fortifications started, and these fortifications securely sheltered the part of the city facing Sweden. Since that time, the military value of the Castle was rapidly decreasing, and it was used to house the garrison.
After two severe fires in the mid-19th century, the majority of the structures were destroyed, and the remaining ones were used as warehouses. The building of the barracks housed a prison, where, among others, the Decembrists Pyotr Mukhanov, Ivan Annenkov, Mikhail Mitkov and Mikhail Lunin were kept.
Since the late 1860s, a committee was working on the Castle Island; this committee prepared a description of the state of all the structures and rooms.
In 1868, Frederick Odenwal made the main measurement drawings, which indicated functions of the rooms. In 1871, the materials of the committee were published in the third volume of the transactions of the Historical Archive of Finland, in the article Plans of the Vyborg Fortress by F. Lefgren.
In the late 19th and early 20th century, the architect Arenberg developed a design of a historical museum in the Castle; however, implementation of the design lingered for too long and has never been completed.
In 1888, Emperor Alexander III instructed the war ministry to perform repair works on the Castle and to adapt it for needs of the ministry. 460,000 roubles were allocated for the major rebuilding works. The restoration and rebuilding of the Castle were performed in 1891–1894 by Russia's military engineering agency and were supervised by Colonel Engineer E. Lezedov. The exterior geometry of the Castle remained almost unchanged, but the interior layout of its rooms was altered: the ogive and semicircular vaults were replaced with beam ceilings, new window openings were created, the floor levels were changed, the medieval stone benches in the niches were removed and the walls were deprived of fireplaces. By the entrance to the tower, a large granite porch was constructed, while inside the tower a metal staircase leading up to an observation platform was installed. This was the form of the Castle that has preserved till our days.
During the 1939–1944 wars, the Castle did not suffer a lot of damage (several fires only), and it was handed over to the Soviet military after the war had finished.
In 1964, the USSR Ministry of Defence decided to house a museum in the Castle. In 1970, the Museum was opened, after the ensemble had been meticulously studied and architectural and archaeological works had been performed by a team (at the Restoration Directorate of Estonia) supervised by the architect Potti and the art expert Kaljundi and consulted by Pavel Rapoport, a doctor of historical sciences.
Since 2000, the museum has been known as the State Museum of Vyborg Castle.
Currently, the museum is famous in the region not only by its exhibitions that tell about the history of the Karelian Isthmus and about peculiarities of its nature, but also by its popular cultural programmes of music festivals and medieval festivals. One of them is the knight festival that gathers by the ancient walls of the Castle military history clubs of Russia and other countries.