The idyllic town of Põltsamaa is set amid the ruins of Põltsamaa Castle. Once the centre of power for Duke Magnus, the King of Livonia in the 16th century, the castle stronghold is an amazingly eclectic jigsaw of historical pieces. The exquisite Rococo palace was built in the 18th century on the site of an old convent, while the elegant Lutheran St Nicholas's Church dates from 1633 and was reconstructed in 1952. Located in an old storehouse in the castle yard, the Põltsamaa Museum boasts some fine exhibits.
Põltsamaa is famous for what it was and for what it never has been, rather than for what it is now. As a capital city for Ivan the Terrible's vassal state, it suffered badly in the fighting between Russia, Poland and Sweden in the 1570s. The months of June 1578 and June 1941 were equal in the terror and destruction caused. The town was at its most prosperous in the 18th century when production of porcelain and glass was started, as was a printing industry. At that time, it became the third largest town in the Baltics, after Tallinn and Riga. The castle, with a Gothic exterior and a Rococo interior, dated from this era. A newspaper in Estonian was published for the first time here in 1766. Its aim was to teach Estonian peasants healthy living. No railway ever came to Põltsamaa so it missed possibilities for expansion in the late 19th century and in fact the population dropped at that time. However this would later mean that it also missed out on Russian factories and a Russian population moving in after World War II.
WHAT TO SEE
The Rose Garden beside the river was a sensible alternative to redevelopment after the war. It claims to have 3,000 plants and 800 different species.
Only the shell of the castle now remains but it hosts both classical and pop music festivals and summer markets. Beside it is the museum which surprisingly opened only in 1997. There are plenty of pictures of the castle as it used to be and much on the local hero Karl August Hermann (1851-1909), who combined songwriting with editing the local newspaper. Visitors who want to do more than look can try out the weaving looms and spinning wheels or play the harmonica.
The rebuilding of St Nicholas' Church owes everything to the persistence of the pastor Herbert Kuurme who was still active, in his nineties, until his death in 2005. Although the population of the town is only 5,000, it has the largest active Lutheran congregation outside Tallinn. He manoeuvred the Soviet authorities so skilfully that restoration could start in 1947, decades before it was considered in other churches, and he was always sure of a large congregation, despite the political statement that such activity made in those days. The church had been briefly closed before, but that was in 1895 when two fat ladies from the congregation blocked the entrance to a German pastor trying to take over from an Estonian one. The 1941 damage was caused by German advances, not by Russian retreats, and the tower fell into the body of the church. The walls of both the castle and the church survived as many are 4m thick. Several of the interior furnishings came from the University Church in Tartu, which after the war was converted into a library. The organ came from St John's Church in Viljandi, when it was deconsecrated in the 1950s, and was built in 1900 in Frankfurt an der Oder, now on the German-Polish border. It was fully restored in 2005.
Põltsamaa was first mentioned as early as in 1212. The settlement arose at the
Põltsamaa River and today 17 white bridges which cross the river – Suursild
[Big Bridge], Õpetaja Bridge [Teacher’s Bridge], Kohtumaja Bridge [Courthouse
Bridge], etc. add special attraction to the town. Põltsamaa Order Castle
was a remarkable building. The construction of this well-fortified stone
stronghold presumably began in 1272, with the convent building added in the
14th century. In the years 1570-1578 Põltsamaa was the capital of Livonian
vassal kingdom and the residence of Duke Magnus was situated on Kuningamäe
Hill. The stronghold which greatly suffered in the Livonian War lost its
military importance and in the 1770’s the convent building was reconstructed
into a castle in the Rococo style – the most sumptuous in the Baltics at that
time. The castle was in fire in 1941 and its restoration began in 1970. The
Põltsamaa Museum, located in the courtyard, offers a profound overview of
the history of the parish from the Stone Age to the present day. However, a
wine cellar, also in the courtyard, offers different sorts of wine manufactured
in Põltsamaa because Põltsamaa is the so-called wine capital of Estonia.
There was a church in Põltsamaa as early as in 1234. The imposing Põltsamaa
St. Nicholas’s Church in the courtyard was built on the walls of the former
stronghold in the middle of the 18th century. It was destroyed in 1941 but
on the initiative of Provost Herbert Kuurme its restoration began regardless
of difficulties and so it was reconsecrated in 1952. Lots of the interior of the
church has been brought from the church of Tartu University. The Russian
Orthodox Church, built in 1895, is in Lossi Street. The manor house of Uus Põltsamaa dates from the 18th century. A post office, built by the last owner
of the castle Prince Gagarin in 1911, has interesting architecture.
In 1766, Peter Ernst Wilde founded a rural hospital, a pharmacy, a nurses’
school and a printing office on Kuningamäe Hill. The printing office published
many issues of the first Estonian magazine, A Brief Instruction on ..., in
the Estonian and Latvian languages. A memorial stone marks the site of the
printing office. A monument to the War of Independence in Veski Street was
erected in 1924 and reopened in 1989. Põltsamaa has also a monument to the
people who perished in the shipwreck of the Estonia passenger ferry in 1994.
A monument in Kesk Street commemorates those who suffered from repression.
In 1935, a monument to the well-known linguist, journalist and musician
Karl August Hermann (1851-1909) was erected in Põltsamaa City Park.
A memorial stone also marks the foundation of an Estonian peasant school
in 1685. Another memorial stone to K.A. Hermann stands in his birthplace
Võhma-Nõmme, 2 km of Põltsamaa. Heino Joost, a local resident has founded
a small arboretum and a local history house in Võhma-Nõmme. Rein Joost’s
rosary in Põltsamaa is also worth visiting.