Padise Stronghold, or the Old Stronghold (Vanalinnamägi) as it is popularly known, is a site of the Middle Iron Age (7th-8th centuries) hill fort sitting on a high promontory in the bend of the Kloostri River. The stronghold was surrounded by earthworks and a log fence; excavations at the site, however, have yielded but a few artefacts: a flat arrowhead, fragment of an ornamental bronze pin, a fire iron and pieces of clay pottery. The Padise Stronghold was not permanently inhabited, instead it was used for defensive purposes in the mould of other hill forts found in the coastal regions of Estonia. The location of the stronghold suggests connections with the sea and a harbour site. After all, in ancient times the sea cut into the land for more than one kilometre between Kurkse and Madise, forming a deep bight sheltered from western winds, which could have served as a suitable location for a harbour. Seeing that the road passing by Padise Monastery was already in existence at that time, it is quite likely that the road junction, offering a convenient location for commercial activities, was chosen for a harbour site. Subsequently a stronghold was built to protect the trading port.
On the other hand, the establishment of the Padise Stronghold has been associated with the formation of parishes: Padise emerged as the centre of the Vomentaga parish. Parishes (kihelkonnad) in those days simultaneously functioned as territorial defence subdivisions and administrative units based on a mutual agreement or covenant – kihl – of their members. One of the principal tasks of a parish was to protect its residents, and what better way to offer shelter and security than to build a stronghold.
Archaeological excavations, the latest to date, were carried out at the Padise Stronghold in 1963 and 1964 under the supervision of the researcher of the Academy of Sciences Osvald Saadre.
In all likelihood, in 1220 the Dünamünde Cistercian Monastery was granted about 30 plough-lands in the neighbourhood of Padise in compensation for the monks’ assistance in the religious conversion (Christianisation) and baptism of the locals after the conquest of Estonia. Probably the first building to be erected was a stone chapel, and a group of monks from Dünamünde Monastery were sent to Padise to serve the chapel and take care of the local religious affairs.
The forced sale of the lands of Dünamünde Monastery around Riga to the Teutonic Order in 1305 was an impetus for the relocation of the monastery’s brethren to Padise in 1310, and the building of a large fortified monastery complex. The year 1317 saw the start of the construction work of the independent Padise Monastery. The St. George’s Night Uprising of 1343, during which, according to chronicles, Estonians killed 28 monks of Padise and burned down the monastery, was only a minor setback. The heyday of the monastery came in around 1400, by which time, in addition to its extensive possessions in Estonia, the monastery had purchased lands in Southern Finland near present-day Helsinki, also in Porvoo, Sipo and Pernaja. At the beginning of the 15th century, however, the monastery sold its property in Finland and Livonia, and even though new lands were acquired in the vicinity of Padise and elsewhere in the present-day counties of Harjumaa and Läänemaa, the decline of the monastery had already begun.
The year 1445 saw the completion of a large gate tower with the forecourt as well as residential and household quarters on the south-western side. Also, it was probably not until then that the vaulting of the abbey church was completed.
The monastery managed to escape the consequences of the Lutheran Reformation in the 1520s. When the Russian troops invaded Estonia and Livonia towards the end of the 1550s, the last Master of the Order of Livonia Gotthard Kettler feared that the Swedes would seize the monastery-fortress. He therefore took possession of Padise at the end of 1558, and the following year expropriated the monastery, disbanded the brotherhood, and declared all the buildings and lands to be the property of the Order. The main building of the monastery was converted into a military fortress. The monastery had thus ceased to function in Padise.
During the Livonian War the Swedish troops took the monastery in the autumn of 1561. In 1576, having conquered Läänemaa, the Russian troops reached Padise. The monastery was under siege for two days, after which it surrendered on February 20, 1576.
The Russians fortified the monastery, building a spacious forecourt surrounded by a wall and towers on the northern side, and digging a moat on the eastern side. The perimeter walls were probably erected using stones taken from the cloister and some outbuildings, which were pulled down.
The Russian troops stayed in Padise for four years. Padise was the closest fortress to Tallinn, which was held by Russians.
Having learned in 1580 that the Russians holding Padise had a shortage of food, the Swedes decided to take the fortress with a long siege by starving out the defenders. The siege eventually lasted 13 weeks. Throughout the war, the monastery buildings took the heaviest bombardment from the south, so the worst damage was inflicted on the southern wing and the southern walls of the eastern and western wings.
The Livonian War ended in 1583 with an armistice between Sweden and Russia. Swedish conquests in the Polish-Swedish war were legitimised by the Truce of Altmark in 1629, which consolidated the predominance of the Swedish Crown in the territory of Estonia.
In 1622 King Gustav II Adolf of Sweden donated large part of the possessions of the former Padise Monastery to the Riga Burgomaster Thomas Ramm, heritable to descendants in the male line. The gift prompted the Ramm family to settle in Estonia.
The new owner rebuilt the abbey into a spacious and comfortable family home. Inspired by the Baroque style in architecture popular in Europe during the 17th century, he broke through the walls to create new large quadrangular doorways and windows, split the church with an inserted ceiling, and built a huge kitchen with a mantel chimney in the western bay of vault. Rooms featuring classicist style cornices were plastered and whitewashed and furnished with colourful tiled Dutch stoves, banishing the chilly darkness that had been shrouding the old building, and replacing it with light and warmth.
The Ramm family lived on the premises until 1766, when the monastery was struck by lightning and burned to the ground, after which the construction works of the adjacent manor house were launched. The crumbling parts of the monastery, which had been converted into household quarters, provided building material for the manor house.