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).

Tourist Information Center, Tallinn 2, +372 45 33 766, fax: +372 453 31 20, e-mail: kuressaare@visitestonia.com.


Kuressaare first appeared on maps around 1154. The island of Saaremaa (German, Swedish: Ă–sel) 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 Terra Mariana.

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.