Kuressaare is the capital of Saaremaa, the largest island in
Estonia. The earliest records of Kuressaare are in documents from
1381, which mentions that the city was the fortified residence of
the local Catholic bishop and that it was the main center of the
islands of western Estonia. Kuressaare was formerly known as
Ahrensburg and received city status in 1563. The population of the
city is about 13,000 people (2018).
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Kuressaare first appeared on maps around 1154. The island of
Saaremaa (German, Swedish: Ösel) was conquered by the Livonian sword
brothers at Folkvin of Naumburg in 1227, who soon allied with the
Teutonic knights. The first documentation of the castle (arx
aquilae) was found in Latin texts written in 1381 and 1422. Over
time, a city grew and flourished around the fortress, which became
known as Ahrensburg or Kuressaarelinn. He became the throne of the
bishopric of Ozel-Vik, founded by Albert of Riga in 1228, part of
Johann von Munchausen, bishop since 1542, converted to Protestantism. With the offensive of the troops of the Russian Tsar Ivan IV during the Livonian War, Munchausen sold his lands to the Danish king Frederick II in 1559 and returned to Germany. Frederick sent his younger brother Prince Magnus to Kuressaare, where he was elected bishop the following year. It was thanks to his influence that the city received its civil charter in 1563, following the model of Riga. The bishopric was finally secularized in 1572, and Kuressaare passed to the Danish crown.
In 1645, it came under Swedish control under the Bremsebro Treaty after the defeat of Denmark in the Torstenson War. Queen Christina of Sweden bestowed upon her favorite, Magnus Gabriel de la Gardie, the title of Count of Ahrensburg, a German and Swedish name for Kuressaare at the time. The city was burned to the ground by Russian troops in 1710 during the Great Northern War and suffered greatly from the plague. Abandoned by the Swedes, it was incorporated into Livonia by the Russian Empire under the Treaty of Nystad in 1721.
In the 19th century, Kuressaare became a popular seaside resort on the Baltic coast. During World War I, between September and October 1917, German land and naval forces occupied Saaremaa with Operation Albion. During World War II, the battle of Tehumardi took place. In October 1990, Kuressaare became the first city in Estonia to regain its self-governing status.