Saaremaa Island

Saaremaa - the biggest island of Estonia is known as a good recreation place with unique nature and a lot of sights. Saaremaa has retained its uniqueness due to its location and insulation. In the villages there are still stone fences and houses with thatched roofs, beautiful national costumes and dialectal language are still used. Junipers, dolomite, windmills and the famous local home-brewed beer are considered the symbols of Saaremaa. 

The territory of Saaremaa has been inhabited for about eight thousand years. The ancient fight for freedom ended in 1227 when German and Danish crusaders occupied Saaremaa. The German occupation lasted until 1559 when the island was sold to the king of Denmark. From 1645 to 1710 Saaremaa was under the rule of Sweden. 

In 1710, during the Nordic War Saaremaa was occupied by the troops of Peter the First and the island became a part of tsarist Russia. As a strategically important place, Saaremaa was a battlefield during World War I and during World War II. Saaremaa as well as the whole Estonia was liberated from the Soviet dictatorship that had lasted a half of a century in August 1991. 

Because of its mild maritime climate and soil rich in lime, Saaremaa has very rich flora and fauna. Over two hundred local species -from Rhinanthus osiliensis to marbled seals (Phoca hispida) - have received special protection status. In Saaremaa a great number of Roman snails, rare butterflies and beautiful orchids can be found. Each year hundreds of thousands of migratory birds visit Saaremaa and a great number of them are under protection, e.g. barnacle goose and mute swan. Besides Viidumae and Vilsandi Nature Reserves, there are over two hundred single nature objects under protection - parks, high cliffs, large trees, erratic boulders and unique marshy lowlands. The meteorite crater at Kaali is the biggest in Europe and easily approachable for visitors. 

Among the numerous sights of Saaremaa, several are worth calling special attention to, e.g. Angla windmill hill, Mustjala cliff, bell tower built in the 17Ih century at Kihelkonna, manor house at Loona, ruins of Maasi castle of order, and Mihkli Farm Museum at Viki. The medieval churches of Saaremaa have remarkable archaic architecture, e.g. churches of Poide and Karja. The oldest of them - the church of Valjala - was built in the 13th century. 


The most important tourist sight in the only town of the county, Kuressaare (up to 1917 Arensburg) is the bishopric castle dating from the 13lh century. This castle is unique in the Baltic countries. Kuressaare is also known for its beautiful and well preserved old town.

Kuressaare is a highly valued tourist destination among both domestic and foreign visitors due to its location, security and well kept scenes. Thousands of people visit the place every year. 

The most outstanding attractions here are the bishopric castle-fortification from the 13th century and the surrounding town park, established in the second half of the 19th century and rich in plant species. The town centre, showing historically valuable architecture is a protection zone with one and two-storied buildings of the classicist style. In Central Square, the 17th century baroque Town Hall and Scales House from the Swedish era are located. 

Kuressaare has a rich cultural life and you can hardly get bored here. Particularly many events take place in the summertime. Traditional chamber music and opera days as well as park concerts are the main events to attract crowds. 

In a building right in the town centre the culture centre and library will move. Here are also rooms for conferences, seminars and the town festive events but also a cinema hall and public access to the Internet. 

In 1999, the Kuressaare Town Theatre opened its doors in a newly restored building. Performances are given by islanders and visiting theatres. 
1. KURESSAARE TOWN HALL (Tallinna Str 2) The Town Hall of Kuressaare with its clean cut, simple, but distinguished lines represents the Northern Baroque style. The Swedish nobleman, Count Magnus Gabriel de la Gardie, is the creator credited with the idea of building the hall and even drew the first sketches himself. The Town Hall was built between 1653 and 1670, under the guidance of master builder, Franz Stiemer and stonemason, J. Hansson. The Latin text above the portal - SEMPER OFFICIO FUNGITUR UTILITATI HOMINUM CONSULENS ET SOCIETATI. ANNO MDCLXX (The will of the people is consulted and the good of society is followed. AD 1670) stresses the public use of the building. The Town Hall was restored to its original appearance and function during a renovation which was accomplished between 1961 and 1973 by the architect, A. Maasik, and art historian, H. Sirel. The Town Hall now houses a tourist information centre and an art gallery and occasionally serves as a venue for concerts. 

2. THE WEIGHING HOUSE (Tallinna Str 3) The Weighing House is located in the central square, opposite the Town Hall. The Weighing House was built in 1666 as a place to keep the public scales, while the central square served as the market place. This is the only building of its type that has survived in Estonia. The main attraction of the small two story limestone building is in the strict symmetry in the architecture and the scaled gable, decorating the fa?ade. The Weighing House was enlarged with a single story building in the 18th Century, probably for stables. The building has had numerous functions throughout the centuries. At the turn of the 18th Century, it accommodated the Town Guard, at the turn of the 19th, the Town Post Station. The initial fa?ade was restored in 1980 - 1982, by the architect, L. Hansar, and the historian, A. M. Hallik. 


3. THE KNIGHTHOOD BUILDING (Lossi Str 1) The Knighthood Building was built by von Dellingshausen at the end of the 18th Century and today, it accommodates the County Government of Saaremaa. At the beginning of the 19th Century, the house belonged to the Nobility of Saaremaa, then in 1912, to the Noblemen's club. The County Government of Saaremaa bought the house in 1920. The foundation of the building is symmetrical, with a high socle floor. The fa?ade is proportionately divided by three protuberances, the central of which is crowned by a bow-shaped pediment. The balcony with dolomite marble columns and an iron balustrade decorates the fa?ade. 

4. FACADE OF THE COURT HOUSE (Tallinna Str 19) Today the house accommodates the Kuressaare Customs Office and the Border Guard Office of the Saaremaa region 

This was not the first church to be built in the town: there had been a medieval church, which was destroyed in a fire, near the stronghold on the site of the present castle park. Likely, soon after the fire, a building site was acquired near the central square and the building of the new church seems to have been completed in the 1630s. It was a modest rectangular building, the walls of which make up the nave of the present church. The church was damaged by fire in the Great Northern War (in 1710) and was reconstructed during the subsequent decades (consecrated in 1729). In the course of the reconstruction work, a choir was added. In 1828, the church was again ravaged by fire and was rebuilt under the supervision of the architect Heinrich L'wener in 1835 - 1836, when it acquired its current appearance. 

6. MONUMENT OF THE WAR OF INDEPENDENCE - The monument opposite the County Government Building is dedicated to commemorate the islanders who lost their lives in the battles of the Estonian War of Independence (1918 - 1920). The famous Estonian sculptor, Amandus Adamson, has depicted a wounded soldier leaning on a rock. On the back side of the monument, there are bronze plaques with 160 names of the fallen. The monument was demolished by the Soviet Army on the 18th of June 1940, and was restored and erected in this location in the autumn of 1942. In the spring of 1945, the monument was once again destroyed by the Soviets. It was restored in 1990, and on July 23, Victory Day, it was rededicated. The sculptor is Mati Varik. 

7. ST. NICHOLAS ORTHODOX CHURCH (Lossi Str 8). Ancient trees shade the late classical Orthodox Church of St. Nicholas with its two cupolas, built in 1790. Houses from the same period have also been preserved on other streets of the old town. 

8. KURESSAARE EPISCOPAL CASTLE (Lossihoov 1). The most noteworthy site in Kuressaare is the Episcopal Castle, dating from the 13th Century, the only Medieval fortress left in the Baltics. The towers, Sturvolt and Tall Hermann, were not begun until 1338. The castle was built of local dolomite marble and was surrounded by a rectangular outwork, a moat and a rampart. A town grew up around the Bishop's Castle and in 1563, it was granted the status of an independent city. Prior to that, in 1559, the last bishop had sold the castle and the town to Denmark. In 1836, the fortress was eliminated from the list of Russian fortifications, and in subsequent years, it was used for various purposes and now houses the Saaremaa Museum of History and Nature. The castle is also a venue for cultural events: concerts are held in the Chapter House which has excellent acoustics, in the summer, a caf is available on top of the tower, which offers a breathtaking view of the surroundings, the sea, the island of Abruka and other islets. 

9. THE TOWN PARK Toward the end of the 19th Century, a park was established in the vicinity of the castle. The park boasts avenues of linden trees, chestnuts and elms, and some exotic species like red beech. To mark the site of the old church and commemorate those buried there, a modest memorial was erected of limestone. One side of the monument displays a text describing the history of the park, and a quote from the German poet, Fr. Schiller: "Wirke Gutes, du nährest der Menschheit göttliche Pflanze." (Do good, for you will feed the divine plant of mankind.) 

10. RESORT CLUB The renovated Resort Club in the park was built in the 19th century and now houses a cafe, a bar and a concert hall. In summer concerts take place in the square in front of it. 

11. THE AAVIKS' MUSEUM (Vallimaa Str 7) The Aaviks'Museum is often called the museum of musical language and the language of music: Johannes Aavik (1880-1973) was a distinguished linguist and language researcher who discovered phonetic homogeneity , while his cousin, Joosep Aavik, (1899-1898) was a music teacher, organist, conductor and composer. 

12. KUDJAPE CEMETERY Is located about 3 km from the town centre. It is a unique graveyard with classic chapels, crypt and chamber graves and monuments made of local marble. The cemetery is rich in hewn stone and metal designs. The oldest grave dates back to the year 1787. Several well-known people who have lived in Kuressaare, like Johann Wilhelm Ludvig von Luce (1756 - 1842), Jean Baptiste Holzmayer (1839 - 1890), Friedrich Sigismund Stern (1812 - 1889), Martin K�rber (1817 - 1893) and others have been buried here. There is also a monument made in honour of the islanders who were held prisoner, and in the southern part of the cemetery, there is an area designated for both the German and Russian military. 

13. KURESSAARE TOWN THEATRE (Tallinna Str 20)- In 1999, the Kuressaare Town Theatre opened its doors in a newly restored building. Performances are given by islanders and visiting troupes. 

14. SUUR TALL AND PIRET - Tauno Kangro's vision of the heroes of Saaremaa.