SAAREMAA JOURNEY PLANS
Map of Saaremaa journeys........................................................................................8 Romantic southern route....................................................................................12 Villages both new and old along the coastal road...........................................................18 Gems of the northern route – sea cliffs...............................................................................24 Wondrous landscapes on the western coast............................................................28 Legendary Sõrve Peninsula..............................................................................................36
Cover photo: Alar Truu / Kuressaare Merepäevad Photos: Maret Kaljulaid, Alar Liiv, Bianca Mikovitš, Priit Noogen, Kalmer Saar, Maris Sepp, Karl Jakob Toplaan, Valmar Voolaid.
SAAREMAA Eleven thousand years ago, an island emerged from the Baltic Sea. Humans settled the island more than 4,000 years before Christ and have persevered, outlasting foreign conquerors, plague and the devil himself. It’s said that Saaremaa was once home to an epic hero called Suur Tõll, who always saved the islanders from the worst fate. The places associated with the giant and his handiwork are as numerous as the stories passed on from generation to generation on Saaremaa. A good child has many names, as the saying goes, and Valtia is believed to be Saaremaa’s first name mentioned in writing. That was the name used by Pytheas of Massalia 330 years before the birth of Christ. Estonia’s first president during the second period of independence, Lennart Meri, theorized that Saaremaa may have been the mythical Thule that Pytheas travelled to, and that the place where the chariot of the Sun was once seen plunging to earth may have been the Kaali meteorite crater. Over the centuries, Saaremaa has also been called Osilia, Ösel, Sarrna, Ossi, Soleya and Sosolyk.
In the years immediately preceding the arrival of Christianizers in the 13th century, Saaremaa was one of the most densely populated and advanced regions of Estonia. Several ancient parishes likely formed a unified county in the 11th or 12th century. In the same era, Saaremaa men enjoyed a reputation of being feared marauders with powerful offensive fleet. Indeed, it is thought that warriors of Saaremaa raided and sacked the then Swedish capital of Sigtuna in 1187. The Ancient Saaremaa Vikings were called Ossies, celebrated for their tenacity and voyaging character. Legends tell that the crew of Leif Eiriksson, presumably the first European to set foot on the American continent, included a few men from Saaremaa. Quite recently, new discoveries have shed light on this time. Two ancient ships found buried in the village of Salme in south-western Saaremaa are believed to be 1300 years old and the last resting place of Scandinavian warriors. With such venerable seafaring traditions on Saaremaa, the island has sired many famous mariners and explorers, the most famous being F. G. von Bellingshausen, who captained the 1819-1820 voyage that discovered Antarctica. His roots lie near Pilguse Manor. Saaremaa natives have an appreciation and respect for their history. Sometimes you hear stories from long ago even from old men who congregate by village shops. Even today, legends and myths still make up an impressive part of the island’s cultural history. The Saaremaa islanders didn’t submit to the crusaders without a fight, although they were ultimately outmatched by
the larger countries’ superior military might. From the 16th to the 18th century, Saaremaa passed from one foreign ruler to another, being ruled by the Danes, the Swedes, the Teutonic Order and the Russians by turns. The Germans and the Russians were still fighting over Saaremaa even as recently as last century, when the world wars swept over the island repeatedly. Due to its great strategic position, the battles for Saaremaa were among the bloodiest seen on Estonian soil. Tehumardi and Sõrve peninsula are studded with traces of the hostilities during the world war. Numerous objects and military hardware from the world wars can be seen today in Sõrve Military Museum and the Military Equipment Museum of Saaremaa in the village of Põripõllu. After World War II, Saaremaa remained a closed region where people from the rest of the Soviet Union, even from the rest of the Estonian SSR, had to show their passports to enter or even an official invitation. Maybe because of its inaccessibility, Saaremaa has maintained its idyllic nature and image of a secret paradise on the far side of the waters.
But one thing is certain: since the late 19th century, Saaremaa has been a popular summer place and that has not changed today. Back then, getting to the island was difficult due to the primitive nature of the transport links, but now that ferries go back and forth across the strait between Muhu Island and the mainland strait tens of times each day, the only difficulty is sometimes the length of the queues. Naturally, the sea route is not the only way to get to Saaremaa. Saaremaa’s capital Kuressaare has a proper airport that meets European standards and a regular air connection to the Estonian capital, Tallinn, while in the summer period, charter flights shuttle in tourists from many farther-flung places. The airport also caters to private aviators with smaller aircraft. And there are plenty of reasons to come here in any season – more than we could possibly list here. Tens of kilometres of sandy beaches, the chance to relax in peace and quiet, enjoy rejuvenating treatment at spas. People have been coming to Saaremaa for the curative mud since the late 19th century, among them many leading cultural lights, both Estonian and
foreign, who have drawn inspiration from the sea air and unspoiled nature. But not only – the beaches and winds of Saaremaa are appreciated by the countless windsurfers and kiteboarders for whom the island is a year-round mecca. Although the island has plenty of accommodations for different requirements and tastes, many also stay with friends among the local islanders. And the islanders are hospitable – even when they’re busy. Saaremaa has also been a popular place to own a summer home, both for mainlanders and foreigners – there are more and more well-kept-up country properties and rather grand new homes perfect for summer use. Tourism and various related forms of enterprise are one of the main engines of Saaremaa’s economy. In addition to history and the innate hospitality of the islanders, one of Saaremaa’s biggest draws is its nature. The flora and fauna on Saaremaa and its outlying smaller islands are extremely diverse because of the mild maritime climate and limestone-rich soil. Protected species number more than 200, and there are close to 100 nature conservation sites, including sea cliffs, wetlands and parks. The rich flora and fauna here captivate nature fans – each year, there are more and more hiking trails and bird observation towers. Yes, Saaremaa has countless junipers and stones but it is also home to rare plants like the Saaremaa yellow rattle – endemic to the island – or the rock whitebeam, and orchids – the cousins of the ones in the Amazon. While there are no jungles on this island, forests are plentiful, including ones rarely frequented by humans. Hiking around on the island, it is more than likely that you will meet many birds, mammals, and insects. With the onset of autumn, the forest understory fills with berries, mushrooms – and people to gather them. Foraging for wild foods is still popular on the island and often locals invite mainlanders on such outings. A sauna is de rigueur after a day of tramping around in the damp fields and forests for berries, mushrooms, fish or game. Saaremaa folk cherish saunas just as they do homebrewed beer and freshly caught herring. It’s not easy to find a household on the island that lacks a sauna. What could be better in autumn and winter months than a sauna with friends and good conversation! But to actually get to know Saaremaa, you need to come here, see the island and meet the locals firsthand. Once you’re here, you could strike out and discover the island on your own, by car, by bike or even on foot. Exciting places, untouched nature and history await at every turn – one just needs to budget enough time.
KURESSAARE Historians have two main theories about Kuressaare’s name. It may be related to cranes (kurg) or the region of Courland (across the gulf to the south in modern-day Latvia), which was known for its mariners and warriors. The latter is more likely, as the Courlanders were, like the men of Saaremaa, considered the last Baltic Sea Vikings, and were frequent visitors to the northern shores, even if they didn’t come in peace. For that reason, Saaremaa has plenty of place names with the “kure” root in it. A thousand years ago, the Põduste River flowed into a large gulf with a deeply indented coastline dotted with islets, extending to Kogula Village. On the east bank of the river, where today’s Kuressaare Castle stands, was a pre-Christian fort and port with a marketplace. All the major roads on the island led here. Kuressaare may have had an ancient citadel as early as the 11th century, and according to some data, the city appeared on maps already in the 12th century. In the 13th century Northern Crusades in the Baltics, the tenacious men of Saaremaa put up the stiffest resistance to the Christianizers. The otherwise fractious crusader factions had to join forces to bring Saaremaa to heel. In winter 1227, a 20,000-strong force crossed the frozen strait and took Muhu fort after a siege that lasted several days; all of those inside were dispatched. The Crusaders then continued to Valjala, where the defenders surrendered after one day of fighting and agreed to accept Jesus Christ as their saviour. In 1233, the island was divided by casting of lots between the city of Riga, the Bishop of Riga and the Order of the Brothers of the Sword. Southern and western Saaremaa went to Riga, the Livonian Knights got eastern Saaremaa and Muhu Island, and the bishop drew central Saaremaa. A
year later, the newly inaugurated Saaremaa bishop, Heinrich I, was granted the bishop’s dominions. Heinrich was quickly able to also control the Riga city possessions, including the strategically and commercially important port of Kuressaare. New archaeological investigations show that the building of a stone citadel in Kuressaare started in the first decades of the 14th century. The bishop residing in Haapsalu needed a more secure bastion for consolidating his power among the still troublesome islanders, and as protection against the Livonian Knights who had designs on his lands. The locals were finally brought to heel after a bloody civil war in 13431345. After that, the islanders had to lay down their weapons and also give up the privileges they had previously enjoyed. Infighting between various overlords for the Saaremaa would continue in subsequent centuries as well. Kuressaare’s German name, Arensburg (Arensborch), is a reference to the Kuressaare castle as an “eagle’s fort” – the bird of prey was the symbol of John the Baptist and also crowned the bishop’s coat of arms. The first written records of Kuressaare fort are from the 1380s. These records are related to the horrible death of Bishop Heinrich III in the castle’s refuse shaft in 1381, and the report, probably from 1384, that the Tallinn town council sent eight mercenaries to the aid of the Order’s forces at Kuressaare. The first mention of the settlement of Kuressaare in historical records came even later – in a complaint dated 1427
to the Tallinn council, the Saare Bishop Christian Kuband says a Tallinner had made insulting and defamatory comments about him in a Kuressaare tavern. Kuressaare Castle would remain the seat of the Saaremaa bishops until the start of the Livonian War. The Livonian War, which broke out in 1558, brought great change to the development of what was then a hamlet. As a result, the bishop sold his possessions to Denmark and the king’s brother, Duke Magnus, became the bishop of Saaremaa. The arrival of mainland Estonian merchants who fled war gave new momentum to the development of the settlement. In early 1563, Kuressaare envoys Jakob Kohl, Wolter Rothendorf and Gert von Demter lobbied Duke Magnus for city rights for the settlement. On 8 May, the duke approved privileges based on the Law of Riga. After a conflict between Sweden and Denmark, Saaremaa came under Swedish rule. It was under the Swedes that Kuressaare began to become more like a city. In 1663, a weighhouse was established by the city’s central square and in 1670, the town hall. The heart of the community – today’s Old Town – took shape around these two structures. A great fire and plague that ravaged Kuressaare during the Great Northern War set the town’s development back. Only a few inhabitants and buildings were completely unscathed. In September 1710, when Peter the Great’s plan to establish a window to Europe had reached the island’s capital, the Swedish garrison had been completely depleted by plague. The war left scars that took decades to heal, until the Livonian vice governor Balthasar von Campenhausen was sent to oversee the rebuilding of the town, which was then more reminiscent of some backwoods village. Von Campenhausen can be credited for improving the general appearance of the city through skilled planning and revitalizing public life. In 1785, the first local newspaper began to be published, the school education system was overhauled, various clubs were established, and a theatre was in operation – and all of this drew the rural aristocracy to move to the city. Kuressaare’s population tripled in less than 100 years and became Estonia’s fourth largest town. Word of Kuressaare’s flowering reached distant places, and the city was visited by a number of prominent members of the Russian elite. In May 1804, Russian Tsar Alexander I came to Kuressaare. It’s claimed that here, at a ball thrown in his honour in the West Hall (now the police building) the tsar learned that the French Senate had proclaimed Napoleon emperor. It can be said that Kuressaare’s path to becoming a resort town started in the middle of
the 19th century when it was discovered that the mud from the coastal flats of Saaremaa had therapeutic uses. The first mud spa was built by local carpenter Jakob Weise at the incitement of the town doctor, Gottfried Eduard Normann, in the vicinity of the current city stadium. Thanks to the fame of the curative mud, the spa was soon swamped by demand, and two other mud spas were established before the close of the century. The number of holiday-makers burgeoned, resulting in the construction of a city park near the castle walls, along with a Kursaal, or pavilion, and a bandshell. Kuressaare was a beloved holiday destination among the local cultural elite and foreign tourists. Not that all holiday experiences have been as rosy – two classic Estonian writers detailed a notorious incident where a dispute between the holiday crowd and locals in the early part of the 20th century escalated into a brawl. The arrival of foreign holiday-makers was also supported by the opening of a steamship line between Riga and St. Petersburg with a stopover in Kuressaare. There was also a shipping link with Helsinki and Stockholm. Kuressaare had reinforced its status as a resort town of importance throughout the Russian empire, where Netherlands and Germany followed Sweden and Finland in opening consulates. Increasingly more attention was paid to the city’s foreign relations, including opening of more efficient transport lines with other Estonian cities and foreign countries. It’s possible to fly between Kuressaare and Tallinn and there are also many marinas that are a draw for yacht tourists. Seafaring traditions are still in fine shape on the island. It’s full speed ahead for the shipbuilding sector near Kuressaare, and the ship captains and officers who trained here are among the world’s best qualified. The drawing of the Iron Curtain put an end to resort town development, the bay of Kuressaare became unfit for swimming and the only foreign tourists that could occasionally be seen were from friendly socialist countries. Since re-independence, however, the city has been consistently and successfully working to restore its status as a celebrated resort town. The bathing beach and marina were reopened in 1999. Today’s Kuressaare is a rapidly developing resort town on the southern shore of Saaremaa. The town’s development since independence has been rapid and accelerating, having rediscovered its niche as a topflight summer hot spot. Today, the town has seven spas and wellness centres and the island is jokingly nicknamed Spa-remaa – 170 years of being a resort town has even left an imprint on folklore. Kuressaare is proud of its UNESCO title as health city and also UNICEF’s child friendly city. In Kuressaare, health is about more than just curative mud.
The city has made major investments into establishing a network of bicycle paths, now 22 kilometres long, making it even easier to discover the town. Bikes are one of the most fun ways of seeing everything in the town. Through such amenities, Kuressaare has made its townspeople more health conscious, with a range of sports complexes, recreational trails and playgrounds. Another playground, the 18-hole golf course is considered one of the best in the region. Established practically in a mire, the links are equal to the spas as in terms of attracting visitors. Incidentally, the golf course is unique in Estonia as it is practically within city limits, just 10 minutes’ walk from the spas. Although it may seem that people don’t do anything in Kuressaare besides relax, bathe in mud and play golf, that isn’t the case. Yes, winter here can have a truly pastoral atmosphere and the wood smoke from the chimneys can seem idyllic. But there is action on the weekends, the nightclubs rival the Estonian capital or the unofficial summer capital Pärnu for vibrancy. That’s to say nothing about the fact that the island hosts international cultural events all year round, the biggest being the Opera Days, the Chamber Music Days and the Kuressaare Maritime Days. Plus numerous concert tours that make a stop here. Kuressaare is an extremely culture-friendly city – it’s home to a great theatre and jazz and folk music clubs as well as entertainment venues that are always jam-packed in summers. Many legends about local people and events survive in songs and poetry. The home-grown artists and scientists, too, embody the tenaciousness the island is known for, and the same qualities have helped them to thrive in professional settings abroad. Conversely, Danes, Swedes, Germans and Russians can all find traces of their respective cultures here. Kuressaare is a place that reminds many of their childhood and offers new emotions on each visit. The well-designed urban planning has always been one of the town’s calling cards and anyone who visits will see it. Architecture from different eras – medieval to Baroque, Neoclassical to present-day – melds into a harmonious whole. Walking the streets of Kuressaare on summer nights, passing by cosy street cafés, you’ll sense a delicate mixture of sea and flower fragrances and a stimulating historical spirit filling the air. However, the greatest treasure here is the people. Inhabitants as big-hearted and generous as the Saaremaa folk are not easily found. For islanders, it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from – they will find time to tell you a story and make you feel like you are among friends you have known for decades. No doubt that is the essence of the island’s magical aura that exerts a pull and keeps people coming back for more. Yet, it’s something everyone has to see for themselves. Unlike many places where the hype is ahead of the reality, Kuressaare’s historical authenticity is real and keeps on inspiring new stories and new impressions.
S O E L A VÄIN
SAAREMAA JOURNEY PLANS Neeme
H LA NA
Pap Kõruse Käkimaa issa are Vilsa ndi 78
Tagamõisa Vaika saared
Oju TA G A LAHT Virita
Pajumõisa Kallaste Pidula
Kehila KurevereRootsiküla Pidula-Kuusiku Kõõru Kiirassaare Läägi Odalätsi
Anepesa A Endl Jõempa Kaubi Kaarma-Kungla Eikla Koidula Õha
K Ü D E MA LA HT
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Tiirimetsa Suurna Tehumardi Metsalõuka Lassi Toomalõuka Möldri S U U R K ATELTehumardi H Möldri ! Salme Lassi ABRUKA H ! Üüdibe
Gems of the northern route – sea cliffs.....................................24
Lõu Rahuste Kaimri
Väike-Ula Lindmetsa Lõupõllu
Legendary Sõrve Peninsula............................. 36 Sõrve poolsaar
Väike-Ula Lindmetsa Mässa Lõupõllu
Kaavi Mäebe Kaunispe
Tammuna Karuste Läbara Ohessaare Maantee
Sõrve poolsaar Soodevahe Laadla
Kaavi Soodevahe Mäebe
S U U R K ATEL
Wondrous landscapes on the western coast..................................... 28
Villages both new and old along the coastal road........................ 18
H ! Muratsi
Mändjala Taritu Vana-Lahetaguse
re assaa RoomAbruka
Romantic southern route...................12
M U HU Tri ig
Randküla Kavandi VäikeVõhma
Hiievälja Roobaka Õeste Aruste Viira Mätja Nihatu
Külasema Päelda Paenase Rinsi Viira Igaküla Piiri
H 7 ! 5
Vanamõisa Soonda Kantsi Mõega Linnuse Ridasi Mäla Leeskopa Suuremõisa Nurme Raegma Laheküla Simiste Pädaste Aljava
VÄ Liiva Põripõllu IK Tumala Reina E Ariste 10 V Nenu Kuninguste Ä Kalma Suurlaid IN Sundimetsa Mehama Linnaka Tareste Arju Metsara Tõre Kahutsi Levala Karja Mui Salu Pöide Kopli Pärsama Iruste Kareda Tornimäe Ula Pamma Täätsi Tagavere Oti Veere Talila PöidePuka KoigiTutku Nava Are Külma Uuemõisa Keskvere Väljaküla a Imavere Metsaääre Nõmme Kärneri Kaisa Koigi Ardla Kanissaare Kõrkvere Koiduvälja Ratla Lõpi Koikla Kapra Välta Leisi Neemi Selja Muraja Käo Audla Unguma Väkra Kingli Kakuna Räägi Kõriska Jõe Allikalahe Kõnnu Koksi Ridala Saaremetsa Kuiste Pahavalla Paju-Kurdla Jööri Saareküla Vilidu Männiku Mustla Rahu Veeriku Kübassaare Haeska Nõmjala ValjalaLööne Muraja Kogula Laimjala Aaviku poolsaar Tõnija Röösa Üüvere Mägi-Kurdla Jõelepa Udriku laid H ! Undimäe Põlluküla Asva Kahtla Kalju Kõiguste Viltina ValjalaKalli Võrsna Ariste Randvere Reeküla Liiva-Putla KaaliJursi Liiva Eiste Laevaranna Sagariste tla Kaali Ruhve Vanalõve Salavere Kõljala Kallemäe Sakla Valjala-Nurme Saue-Mustla Kangrusselja Kungla Väljaküla Masa Metsaküla Matsiranna e Turja Oessaare Püha-Kõnnu Räimaste Reo Siiksaare Sauaru Tõlluste Iilaste Püha Väljamõisa Kiritu Kuusiku Rahniku hula Sandla Pihtla Sutu Hämmelepa du Ilpla Nässuma
Raugu Jõiste Mujaste
U P S U LAHT
LÕ P E M ERI
Kallaste Raugi Vahtraste Rebaski Põitse Tupenurme Kapi Lõetsa
S U U R V ÄIN Kuivastu Virtsu - Kuivastu
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Võiküla Rässa Viirelaid
Norway Sweden Latvia
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Romantic southern route 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26
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Kudjape disc golf course, Kudjape Kudjape Cemetery, Kudjape Holy Forerunner Skiita convent, Reo Village Orthodox Church of St Andrew the Apostle in Reomäe, Reo Village Kaali meteorite crater field, Kaali village Meteoritics and limestone museum, Kaali Village Kaali shop, Kaali küla Kõljala Manor, Kõljala Village
Valjala hillfort, Valjala Valjala St. Martin’s Church, Valjala Jööri Village Museum, Madise Farm, Jööri Village Pärsamaa Village Pärsama St. Innocent Church, Pärsama Village Angla Windmill Mount and Heritage Culture Centre Karja St. Catherine (and St. Nicholas) Church, Linnaka Village Nihatu hiking trail, Nihatu Village Võlupe erratic boulder, Mujuste Village Jõiste recreational and swimming area St. John’s Church, Jaani Village Pulli sea cliff, Pulli Village Maasi Order citadel, Maasi Village Orissaare Hamlet Orissaare Harbour Orissaare Stadium oak Military Equipment Museum of Saaremaa, Põripõllu Village Causeway across Väike Vain strait “Mourning Mother” sculpture Muhu rural citadel, Linnuse Village Eemu Windmill, Linnuse Village Muhu Ostrich Farm, Nautse Village Presidendi allee (Avenue of the Presidents), Muhu Island Männiku handicraft room, Koguva Village Koguva Village and Muhu Museum Koguva Harbour, Koguva Village Vahtna uisusadam (historical harbour) and swimming area, Rootsivere Village Orthodox Church of the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God in Muhu-Rinsi, Rinsi Village Pallasmaa Beach, Pallasmaa Village Üügu sea cliff, Kallaste Village Muhu-Hellamaa Church of the Apostles St. Peter and St. Paul, Hellamaa Village Kuivastu Tavern, Muhu Island Võiküla coastal defence battery and cobblestone road, Võiküla Kuivastu Harbour, Muhu Island
Gems of the northern route – sea cliffs
Villages both new and old along the coastal road 49
Kuivastu Harbour, Muhu Island Võiküla coastal defence battery and cobblestone road, Võiküla Kuivastu Tavern, Muhu Island Lõunaranna Harbour, Simisti Village Pädaste Manor, Pädaste Village Muhu Tourist Information Centre in the Muhu Kaubahoov, Liiva Village Muhu St. Catherine’s Church, Liiva Village Presidendi allee (Avenue of the Presidents), Muhu Island Muhu Ostrich Farm, Nautse Village Eemu Windmill, Linnuse Village Muhu hillfort, Linnuse Village “Mourning Mother” sculpture Causeway across Väike Vain strait Pöide (Kahutsi) hillfort, Kahutsi Village G. W. von Aderkas Chapel, Pöide Village St. Mary’s Church in Pöide, Pöide Village Pöide disc golf course Koigi Bog, Koigi Village Protection of the Virgin Mary Orthodox Church, Tornimäe Village Kõrkvere Aavakivi (boulder), Kõrkvere Village Kübassaare forest, Kübassaare Village Kübassaare lighthouse, Kübassaare Peninsula Anikaitse sea cliff Mihkel Rand dendrarium, Neemi Village Saareküla Nature Trail, Saareküla Village Blesta Rocks, Saareküla Village Asva-Sääremäe nature trail, Saareküla “Tales of the Big Rock” nature trail, Kingli Village Memorial complex honouring poet Debora Vaarandi (1 October 1916 – 28 April 2007), Laimjala Village Paiose Laimjala shop, Laimjala Village Asva Viking village, Kahtla Village Asva hillfort, Asva Village Laidunina Lighthouse St. Basil the Great Church in Laimjala, Kahtla Village Piret’s Rock, Kõiguste Village Kõiguste Harbour, Kõiguste Village Laevnina beach, Laevranna Village Tõnija stone-cist tombs, Tõnija Village Paiose Laimjala shop, Laimjala Village Sakla Village Centre and Museum Tõlluste Manor, Tõlluste Village St. Jacob’s Church, Püha Village Pihtla Brewery Tasting Room, Pihtla Village Vätta Peninsula Abruka Island Ruhnu Island
95 96 97 98 99 100 101
Suursild (bridge), Kuressaare Oo Rock, Parila Village Kaarmise Lake, Kaarmise Village Lihulinna hillfort Konati Lake, Silla Village Konati Interpretive Trail, Silla Village Kalja hiking trail, Selgase Village Mustjala Anna Church, Mustjala Village Saint Prophet Elias Orthodox Church, Mustjala Village Piret and Tõll, Ninase Village Saaremaa Harbour, Ninase Village Ninase sea cliff bird and nature observation tower Ninase aka Tagaranna sea cliff Memorial to the Estonia ferry disaster on Ninase sea cliff Paatsa hillfort, Paatsa village Panga sea cliff, Panga Village Orthodox Church of the Presentation of the Lord into the Temple in Metsküla Tuhkana Beach, Tuhkana Village Soela Harbour Leisi adventure trail, Leisi Hamlet Triigi Harbour, Triigi Village
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St. Olga Church in Leisi, Leisi Hamlet Angla Windmill Mount and Heritage Cultural Centre German farm store, Kiratsi Village GoodKaarma soapworks, Kuke Village Kaarma hillfort, Kaarma-Kirikuküla St. Peter’s and St. Paul’s Church in Kaarma, Kaarma-Kirikuküla
Legendary Sõrve Peninsula – maritime Sõrvemaa 107 108 109 110 111
Wondrous landscapes on the western coast
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Põduste River Linnulahe nature and bird observation tower, Kuressaare Musumänniku disc golf course, Sõrve mnt 6, Kuressaare Loode coast nature and bird observation tower Loode oak forest Loode oak grove nature trail Mändjala-Järve beach Järve dunes, Järve Village Tehumardi battlefield, Tehumardi Village Tehumardi battle memorial stone Salme ship burial site, Salme Hamlet Salme River, Salme Hamlet Bellingshausen memorial stone, Lahetaguse Village Birthplace of August Mälk, Koovi Village Minizoo at Kapa Farm. Kipi Village Saaremaa juniper syrup, Leedri Village Lümanda Church of the Transfiguration of Our Lord, Lümanda Village Lümanda lime park, Lümanda Village Raunamäe observation tower, Viidu Village Viidumäe nature reserve centre, Viidu Village Audaku nature trail, Viidu Village Viidumäe nature trail, Viidu Village Ilaste windmill Käkisilma observation tower, Kuusnõmme peninsula Käkisilma–Vilsandi wading trail, Kuusnõmme peninsula Vilsandi National Park centre, Loona Village Loona-Kuusnõmme nature trail, Loona Village Kihelkonna Church bell tower, Kihelkonna Hamlet Kihelkonna St. Michael’s Church, Kihelkonna Hamlet Papisaare Harbour Vilsandi Island Mihkli Farm Museum, Viki Village Kivestu Windmill, Kõruse Village Harilaid peninsula Harilaid hiking trail, Harilaiu peninsula Kiipsaare lighthouse, Harilaid peninsula Tagamõisa wooded meadow, Tagamõisa peninsula Veere observation platform, Veere Village Veeresadam, Veere Village Abula hiking trail, Kalasma and Abula village Odalätsi springs, Odalätsi Village Pidula Manor, Pidula Village Karujärve disc golf course Karujärve recreational trails, Karujärve Village Suur Tõll’s sauna rock, Üru Village Karujärv Church of Mary Magdalene, Kärla Hamlet Hallikivi adventure park, Vennati Village Clearing of Suur Tõll, Salme Hamlet Sõrve tourist information centre, Salme Hamlet Oo rock, Parila Village Suursild, Kuressaare
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Põduste River Linnulahe nature and bird observation tower, Kuressaare Musumänniku disc golf course, Sõrve mnt 6, Kuressaare Loode coast nature and bird observation tower Loode oak forest Loode oak grove nature trail Mändjala-Järve beach Järve dunes, Järve Village Tehumardi battlefield, Tehumardi Village Tehumardi battle memorial stone Salme ship burial site, Salme Hamlet Salme River, Salme Hamlet Clearing of Suur Tõll, Salme Hamlet Sõrve tourist information centre, Salme Hamlet Anseküla Church, Anseküla Viieristi Dunes discovery trail, Mässa Village Kõrgema Spring, called ”Körgema völualligas” in Sõrve dialect – magic spring Viieristi sea cliff Mõntu Manor, Mõntu Village Mõntu Harbour Memorial stone to those deported to Germany, Mõntu Harbour Memorial stones honouring Soviet and Nazi soldiers killed in battle in Saaremaa in WWII, Sääre Village Sõrve Lighthouse, Sääre Village Tip of Sõrve peninsula and Vesitükimaa, Sääre Village WWI-era coastal defence battery no. 43, also known as Zerel, Sääre Village Sõrve Military Museum, Sääre Village Sõrve Nature and History Museum, Sääre Village 315th coastal defence battery, also known as the Stebel Battery, Sääre Village Soviet Union military 315th coastal defence battery, named the Stebel Battery commando station after the name of the commander, Sääre küla Ohesaare Sea Ciff, Ohesaare Village Jämaja Church of the Holy Trinity, Jämaja Village Jämaja Cemetery, Jämaja Village Kaunispe Harbour, Kaunispe Village Rahuste coastal meadows, Rahuste Village Lõpe-Kaimri tank defence line Lõo alvar (limestone barren) Lõu (Rebase) Lighthouse Kaugatuma and Lõo sea cliff Carl Oswald Bulla House Museum
ROMANTIC SOUTHERN ROUTE Muhu Island is known for its diverse character. Yet visitors don’t often make it to the southern shores of Saaremaa, even though there is plenty there that’s fascinating. Its multifaceted historical heritage and scenic views are waiting to be discovered.
Our trip starts at the port of Kuivastu (1), which is the ferry link between the island and mainland. The port also has facilities for providing limited service to freighters, passenger ships and recreational craft. In February 1919, Kuivastu was the place where the tragedy known as the Saaremaa Uprising began. Due to confusion sown by lack of information and propaganda from the Red forces, ordinary people on Muhu and Saaremaa rose up against the newly declared Republic of Estonia. Close to 200 people were killed or executed during the uprising. Kuivastu Tavern (3) stands forlorn at the port entrance – one of the few typical stone roadhouses to have survived. The structure, a key Muhu landmark, was built in 1840. Unfortunately, its renovation has not been completed and it no longer caters to travellers. World War I era tsarist Russian coastal defence systems can be seen in Võiküla. The foundations of batteries (2) no. 32 and 36, anti-aircraft battery no. 32a, and the three-kilometre-long cobblestoned road leading there have partially survived today, while only the railway embankment is left. It is a well-preserved road, one of the only cobblestoned ones on the island. Be careful driving on the cobblestones in a low-clearance vehicle. Heading toward Muhu’s southern shore, it is possible to make a quick side trip to Lõunaranna Harbour (4) in Simisti Village, where holiday
makers can enjoy stunning nature and tranquillity. A cocktail of history and modern exclusivity is served up by Pädaste Manor (5). The early history of the manor goes back to the 16th century. In the late 17th century, Pädaste also had an orchard next to the main house and the outbuildings. The current main building was completed in 1875 and is Neogothic in style. Heading from Pädaste to Liiva, it is worth visiting the Muhu tourist information centre (6) in the Muhu Kaubahoov, where the latest information on fascinating events and places is available. It is open every day from June to August from 11:00 to 18:00. Muhu’s most imposing structure is St. Catherine’s Church (7). One of the oldest churches in Estonia, built in an Early Gothic style, was likely erected in the 13th century in an old sacred grove of trees. The structural characteristics of the church suggest it had a defensive function. The church is home to one of two 12th–13th century Estonian gravestone markers to depict the human figure. Muhu Church is considered one of the most gracefully proportioned rural churches in Estonia. Linnuse Village is home to the Presidendi allee (President’s Alley) (8). Trees were built along Kuivastu–Kuressaare on Muhu Island in 1937–1938 as part of a home beautification campaign. Interwar president Konstantin Päts planted two oaks at the Väike Väin strait end of the tree-lined street. The causeway end of the alley was restored in a community action held in 2008. Presidents Arnold Rüütel, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, Kersti Kaljulaid and the descendants of Lennart Meri and Konstantin Päts have planted trees there. Nautse ostrich farm (9) marks the arrival of the modern age on Muhu Island. Estonia’s biggest and longest-operating ostrich farm sells ostrich souvenirs and other products. An admission fee is charged. The farm is open every day from 15 May to 15 September, and by advance arrangement at other times. Once you’ve seen the emus and other jolly denizens, it’s also worth visiting Eemu Windmill (10), which cannot go unnoticed by the big highway. A Muhu native built the working mill on an old mill foundation and the building was opened to visitors on 17 May 1980. Western Estonian and island farm windmills are a unique phenomenon in rural architecture. In Scandinavia, it has parallels only in western Finland. The park charges an admission fee.
Muhu hill-fort Muhu hill-fort has symbolic importance in Estonian history (11), where one of the bloodiest and watershed events in early Estonian history unfolded in winter 1227. At the end of the pre-Christian era, Muhu and Saaremaa were among Estonia’s most densely settled areas. In the 13th century Northern Crusades in the Baltics, the tenacious men of Saaremaa put up the stiffest resistance to the Christianizers. The factions of crusaders who otherwise constantly competed against each other for new territory had to join forces to bring Saaremaa to heel. According to the Chronicle of Henry of Livonia, a 20,000-strong force crossed the frozen strait. The final battle in the crusades started on 29 January 1227 and ended with a massacre after a six-day siege. Only a few
people in the fort survived. When the Livonian Knights and the Riga bishop’s warriors along with mainland Estonians, Livs and Latgals arrived at the Valjala citadel, the Saaremaa men, having heard of the rout in Muhu, decided to surrender without a fight and accept Christ as their saviour. Estonia and all of the Baltics were now Christianized. Abandoned for centuries, yet still standing as an imposing landmark symbolizing the onetime freedom of the local people, the fort was largely destroyed in the construction of the causeway across the Väike Väin strait in 1894 and 1895. The construction process also revealed a number of ancient weapons and several larger finds of silver jewellery and coins, which were probably hidden into the wall during the 13th century German conquest. A large amount of treasure is popularly believed to still lie in Muhu mire. In 1928, a memorial was erected in the interior courtyard of Muhu citadel to mark the tragic historical event. The original is no longer extant; it was replaced by a new one in 1967. The sculpture “Mourning Mother” (12) is also connected to war and loss. After the straightening of Kuivastu road and the moving of the causeway’s Muhu off-ramp, the sculpture is no longer visible from the road. The monument designed by Kalju Reitel marks a fraternal grave of warriors who were killed in 1944 in capture of the causeway. The causeway over Väike Väin strait (13) offers good views in different seasons. Sometimes the water level is low, exposing the bottom of the strait for hundreds of metres, while during spring storms the water can submerge the causeway. The regular shipping route between Muhu and Saaremaa was established in the 7th century. The “skates of the straits” were in use back then – single-masted sailing boats. The “culprit” in the construction of the causeway can be considered to be postal service. The poor connection between Saaremaa and its sister island of Muhu was the bigger obstacle than the crossing of the wider “great strait” between Muhu and the mainland. The idea to build a causeway between Saaremaa and Muhu dates back to 1852, and the actual decision to build it to provide better postal service was made in 1865. But the construction was delayed due to lack of funding.. The tsarist authorities allocated 14,250 roubles for construction in 1868, which was about half of the cost of the causeway, but the Baron of Kuivastu, von Buxhoeveden, managed to spend the money on other things. In 1876, Saaremaa grand marshal Oskar von Ekesparre raised the topic again, but it would be another 18 years before actual construction started. On 2 July 1894, the then civilian governor of Livonia, Mikhail Alekseyevich Zinovyev, laid the cornerstone at Kinda islet beach near Orissaare, but he himself did not live to see the end of construction. Crews worked on both directions toward the middle and it was a good source of income for locals. The foundation of stones was laid on bundles of branches to prevent it from sinking into mud. The causeway was opened for traffic two years later, on 27 July 1896, by Zinovyev’s widow and the new governor of Livonia, Vladimir Surovtsev, who named it Zinovyev (Sinowjew) Causeway.
Pöide Hill-fort and Church Small and peaceful Pöide was one of the most important power centres in Saaremaa back in pre-Christian times, and its might is indicated by Pöide (also known as Kahutsi) hill-fort (14). The rulers of Kahutsi, who controlled the Tornimäe and Maasi harbours along the strait and shipping routes through Saaremaa via rivers and the Koigi lakes, must have wielded great influence. The 11-metre-high outer slope of the oval fort is relatively well preserved. This is the Saaremaa hill-fort that has seen the most thorough archaeological investigations. Two construction phases have been identified. The first took place at the end of the pre-Viking era and the first half of the Viking Age, and the second one in the late 12th century and 13th century. People lived permanently within the fort until about the 10th century, when it was burned to the ground. Chronicles of the Christian conquest do not mention Pöide Hill-fort, so it had probably lost its defensive functions by this time. But the fact that a church was built just a few kilometres from the hill-fort, in what is regarded in folklore to be an important pre-Christian site, is telling. The proximity of Pöide Church also inspired the legend that the fort and church are connected by tunnel. St. Mary’s Church in Pöide (16) is one of the three oldest still-standing structures in Estonia, and it is quite possibly the oldest. During construction, which started in the 13th century, the foundation stones were placed by men who must have been alive during the ancient period of Estonian independence. In terms of measurements, this is the largest single-nave church in western Estonia and the archipelago, and the first version was built in the 1230s. The original church had a single nave, with no steeple or vaults. Only the lower part survives in the lateral walls of the two central vault bays of the current church. The rounded portals on the northern and southern side suggest a transitional style between Romanesque and Gothic. The round portal on the north side was demolished in the construction of a new Gothic-style entrance. The Romanesque style is also referenced by the round apse of the original church. The impressive carved stone décor in Pöide Church is one of the top examples of High Gothic in Estonia. The carved figures on the wall are the oldest images of Estonians (specifically, the people of Saaremaa). Sometime in the late 13th or early 14th century, the original church was extended in both directions by one vault bay. The massive western tower of the church is thought to be from before the St. George’s Uprising of 1343. The church was connected to the Pöide Ordenburg complex, which was built to adjoin it. Due to the breadth and dense settlement of Pöide Parish during the days of the Teutonic Order, it is possible that other chapels existed here during the Middle Ages. In 1852, a partition wall with interior windows that separated the western vault bay from the rest of the church was built. This was needed mainly for building the organ loft. The church sustained damage in fires started by lightning on several occasions. In 1554, the storm destroyed the top of the tower and the pastorate next to the building burned down. Since Pöide already had a relative lack of timber, the bishop of Saare-Lääne, Johannes Münchhausen, provided
the logs and wood the commander of Maasilinna needed to restore the church. They came from the parish’s “Paucker Ort” forests. The cladding on the spire was destroyed by lightning in 1843 and the restoration was paid for by Saareküla Manor. On 6 August 1940, lightning again damaged the steeple. The cladding and the wooden ceilings in the tower were destroyed by fire. The same day, Estonia was incorporated into the Soviet Union. Near the church is the Pöide recreational trail and disc golf and footgolf course (17), with 21 baskets in a juniperclad setting. The G. W. von Aderkas Chapel (15) is closely connected to Pöide. It is a Neoclassical grave monument that stands out for its rich dolomite stone carvings. It was erected in 1791 as the mausoleum for three families of nobleman officers – G. W. v. Aderkas, G. v. Berg and C. v. Buhrmeister. The Aderkas family controlled Pöide Manor, where a noted German writer, Walter Flex was killed in battle in the beginning of the 20th century.
Koigi Bog The nearly 4000-hectare Koigi Bog (18) includes examples of fen, bog and transitional mire. Interpretive trails and three observation towers give visitors a better look at the natural diversity. The bog is an important reservoir of fresh water that supplies Saaremaa’s groundwater strata. The mire area also has four remnant lakes. Legend holds Naistejärv (Women’s Lake) was formed from the tears of village women who came to cheer up Suur Tõll’s wife Piret when she dropped a stone on her toe. Heading toward Kübassaare, the next important site is the Church of the Protection of the Virgin Mary (19). This beautiful, spacious and tall structure is the largest of Saaremaa’s Apostolic Orthodox churches. The church built of limestone in 1873 is cross-shaped, has five towers, with a bell tower as the sixth. Aavakivi Rock in Kõrkvere (20) is Saaremaa’s only giant erratic, 4.3 metres high, with a circumference of 26.5 m, which makes it third largest in the county. Two even bigger ones can be found on the eastern shore of Vahase Island near Abruka – their circumferences are 30.3 and 29 metres. Kübassaare Forest (21) on the 62-hectare Kübassaare peninsula cannot be confused with any other woodland, as the protected wild garlic that grows here as a veritable carpet fills the understory with an onion-like fragrance. The forest is a relict habitat type in Estonia and has kept its primeval character. From the standpoint of nature protection, it is an important area due to the 327 different species of plants found here. Eight are protected species, such as February daphne, wild apple and various orchids. The nature reserve was established in 1973 to protect the forest ecosystem. The broad-leaved nemoral forest on Kübassaare Peninsula is similar to the better-known Puhtu and Abruka nemoral forests. The predominant tree species are linden, oak, ash and maple. Kübassaare was also the only known habitat of the Saaremaa subspecies of a protected butterfly species, the clouded Apollo. Unfortunately, it has likely become extinct.
Wartime coastal defence battery structures are found in the forest. Kübassaare’s reinforced concrete lighthouse (22) was built in 1924. The same location had a beacon built of wood and dating back to 1915 but it was struck by lightning and burned down in 1923. The tower is closed to visitors. The height of Anikaitse Cliff (23) is 3.54 metres, and the geological cross-section is 2.24 metres. Sauvere layers of the Soegnina and Paadla Stage are exposed on the cliff. The January storm of 2005 severely damaged the cliff, which had stood for thousands of years.
The life’s work of a Saaremaa smith, made of living wood Travelling from Tornimäe toward Saareküla, you will pass Mihkel Rand’s dendrarium (24) in the village of Neemi, a living example of the persistence and hard work of an islander. The smith Mihkel Rand (1871-1958) collected over 200 species of trees and bushes during his lifetime. It is amazing that a village blacksmith took such a deep interest in plants that he created an oasis of rarities. But that is what Mihkel of Neemi did. He started his garden in 1925 on a stony limestone knoll, seemingly a hopeless endeavour. His ambitions grew over time and he ended up bringing in seedlings and seeds from as far away as Crimea. As the limestone soil is vulnerable to drought, he worked out a clever watering system. Today there is a State Forest Management Centre information centre here and about 250 different tree and shrub species. The rarest ones are the ginkgo tree, a Lawson cypress, subalpine fir, pitch pine and many other interesting species. The dendrarium has been under nature conservation since 1958. The Saareküla nature trail (25) is also of interest to nature fans. The twokilometre trail is lined by 15 information displays that introduce the typical local plants and trees and shrubs. Saareküla is the home of one of Saaremaa’s most unusual memorials – the
Blesta stones (26). The monumental work to “the beautiful goddess of the north”, Blesta, has also been called Saaremaa’s Stonehenge due to its appearance. In the middle of a spiral of stones is a massive boulder split by a lightning bolt. The idea behind the Blesta stone is the mysterious Abali Order and its head, Prince Gregorio, a researcher of northern civilizations, believes that northerners who started migrating 30,000 years ago laid the foundation for the classical Greek and Roman civilizations. Saareküla is also the start of the Asva-Sääremäe nature trail (27). It runs through the Kahtla-Kübassaare nature reserve where land and sea, human activity and nature, history and present, all meet. Lined with 17 information boards, the trail is 7 kilometres long, and has a raft for crossing the lake, the Sääremäe recreational area and the Laidunina lighthouse. The village of Kingli in the vicinity has a nature trail called “Tales of the Big Rock” (28). The 0.5-km-long hiking trail follows the points celebrated in the first children’s book by artist and musician Henno Käo. The story starts in Käo’s homestead and proceeds to the great rock described in the book. A grave of anti-Soviet partisans and a beautiful spring are along the way. The memorial complex honouring the poet Debora Vaarandi (1 October 1916 – 28 April 2007) (29) in Laimjala is becoming more popular. The well-known song “Saaremaa Waltz” has been given physical form by sculptors Simson von Seakyll and Paul Mänd: the young Debora standing on a rock, skirt waving in the wind. After buying local treats from Paiose Laimjala store (30), head to Asva Viking village (31). The Viking village built at the crossroads of Asva fort settlement has drawn inspiration from the ancient Asva fort and tales of Saaremaa Vikings. Modern attractions are not lacking here, either, offering exciting activities and joy of discovering for visitors of different ages and nationalities. Asva hill-fort (32) is one of the best-known Bronze Age fortified settlements in northern Europe, and an entire archaeological culture has been named after it. Asva culture is a Late Bronze Age Finno-Ugric Culture that
was based on livestock farming, sealing, rudimentary agriculture and bronze smelting. The oldest traces of settlement are from the second millennium BCE, when the sole natural protection was the sea. The citadel is not easy to find. Moving on from Asva to the end of the peninsula, one can visit Laidunina lighthouse (33). Getting there by car is difficult. The red brick lighthouse is an uncommon example of the Historicist style. The lighthouse, built in 1907, is 24 metres high, and 27 metres above sea level. A large number of the churches of Saaremaa and Muhu are built of limestone, but Laimjala’s Orthodox Church of St. Vassily (Basil) (34) in the village of Kahtla is built of granite stones and the surface is plastered. The cross-shaped dome church with a rounded spire was built in 1873. A stylish 32-m-high bell tower was added in 1912 and the west wing of the church was extended. The village of Kõiguste is known for Piret’s Rock (35), a boulder with a girth of 17.9 metres and height of 3.8 metres. According to legend, Suur Tõll’s wife Piret was collecting stones for a sauna in Audla. Her apron strings broke and a stone fell on her foot. The pain brought tears to her eyes, which formed a marsh now known as Naistesoo. The beaches of Kunnati Bay feature Kõiguste Harbour (36), which is one of the deepest in the south-eastern part of the island, and Laevnina beach (37) in the village of Laevranna, which is a beloved swimming spot with a changing booth, two firepits and a pavilion and outhouse. Each year, a bonfire is lighted to honour the ancient mariners and send out the summer. The Tõnija stone cist grave (38) in the village of that name recall the times of old. The more than 2,000-year-old tomb was studied by archaeologists in 1995–2000. The PreRoman Iron Age stone cist tombs are easily accessible from the road and displayed accompanied by an explanatory text.
In Kallemäe, Paiose village store (39) sells food and beverages and local products by local entrepreneurs. From Kallemäe, there is the option of turning toward Kungla and making a small tour of the former Kungla, Turja and Siiksaare fishing villages, from which we make a circle and get to Sakla village centre and museum (40). In Sakla, the renovated former post office built in 1873 houses the guesthouse and a library. In the village centre across the yard, the addition of which is home to a museum of antiques, is Lembit Kadarik’s Radio Museum, and there is a permanent exhibition that introduces the Estonian native horse and the first kolkhoz in Soviet Estonia, the Viktor Kingissepp collective farm established here in 1947. The museum was built on the ruins of the home of former postmaster Aleksander Mihkels, who also opened the island’s first bus route. Sakla has a firepit and a swing. Travelling on toward Kuressaare, immediately after crossing the River Lõve, and taking a right turn, we get to Tõlluste Manor (41). It is privately owned, built in the 16th century. The manor’s architecture is just as interesting and noteworthy as the manor’s history. If one had to pick the manor that would be most quintessentially “Saaremaa”, it would no doubt be Tõlluste. The village of Püha is home to the main church of the former Püha parish, St. Jacob’s Church (42). One of Saaremaa’s oldest fortified churches, it was probably built in the second half of the 13th century. The church with an interrupted history and exceptional nature tends to be overshadowed by other medieval Saaremaa churches. The building, which was damaged in fire during the Livonian War, has gradually, through many renovations, taken on its current appearance. The massive walls conceal a fairly ascetic interior. Continuing on from Püha village toward Kuressaare, the Pihtla brewery and tasting room (43) are on the right. This is the oldest Estonian microbrewery, which has been turning out authentic Saaremaa farm-style beer – light and dark – for the last 25 years. Exclusive
special brews are constantly on tap in the next-door tasting room, along with regular standbys. Open from June to August, Tue-Sun 11-19, by arrangement at other times. Vätta (44) is the largest peninsula in the southern part of Saaremaa. A popular story is that once, a long, long time ago, this was an island.
Abruka To the south of Kuressaare is Abruka Island (45), a nature reserve with a luxuriant nemoral forest, which has over the decades drawn nature buffs and artists. In the Middle Ages, Abruka’s permanent inhabitants were horses that the Saaremaa bishop’s henchmen raised and grazed. The livestock farming manor was managed only in summers, and its workers and horses were brought in large boats in spring and then ferried back to the main island in the autumn. To preserve the good grazing lands, permanent settlement was avoided until the 18th century. To that point, the island had only a few individual huts for the workers. To preserve a forest ecosystem that is unusual in Estonia, the nature reserve on Abruka was established in 1937. The broad-leaved forest is dominated by linden, ash, oak, maple and elm trees. Abruka was made famous throughout the scientific world by the botanist and plant geographer Theodor Lippmaa, who wrote research works on plant pigments. The scientist is remembered on the island today by the so-called Lippmaa linden with its unusual shape of its crown. In the closing decades of the 20th century, Abruka was also popularized by writer Albert Uustulnd; the writers and twin brothers Ülo and Jüri Tuulik are from the island. Abruka can be reached by ship from the Port of Roomassaare or by chartering a trip from various service providers.
Ruhnu Those not fazed by a longer boat trip of a couple hours can devote a day to exploring the remote populated island of Ruhnu. This patch of land in the middle of the Gulf of Riga has been continuously inhabited since the early 14th century.
Peasants from Sweden preserved their culture and customs for centuries. The Estonian Provisional Government declared toward the end of World War I declared Ruhnu a part of Estonia on 17 January 1919. The inhabitants were largely cut off from the news of the world and thus government envoys were sent to the island in early June of that year. To persuade the islanders, they purchased a large quantity of seal blubber, paying partly in cash, partly in goods. It is possible that it was the 100 litres of alcohol and 150 bottles of wine that led to the Estonian national tricolour being raised above the island. In any case, it would be another two years before the people of Ruhnu, who were also courted by Latvia and who in early 1921 actually desired to join Sweden, finally agreed to stay part of Estonia. On 25 November 1923, Latvia also accepted that Ruhnu was a part of Estonia and thus it still lacks any islands to this day. The people of Ruhnu made up a separate, insular community until 1944, when most fled the Soviets to Sweden. The place names and architecture are the only vestiges of the Swedish heritage on the island today. The buildings of Korsi Farm and two Ruhnu churches are under protection as cultural monuments. St. Magdalene Church is the oldest extant wooden building in Estonia and all of northern Europe. Construction started on 22 November 1643. Estonia’s oldest and most valuable collection of glass art, including six 17th century glass paintings, was evacuated by the Ruhnu islanders in 1944 to Sweden and it is now in the Stockholm History Museum. Ruhnu’s new church was erected next to the old wooden church in 1912, but 35 years later, in 1877, the island had an ultramodern (for its time) metal lighthouse that was assembled from French-made details. The engineer was allegedly Gustave Eiffel. Ruhnu is home to one of Estonia’s deepest (787.4 m) bore holes; the extremely saline water extracted from the well has therapeutic properties. Locals say the water improves potency and call it “stallion water”.
OLD AND NEW VILLAGES ALONG THE COASTAL ROUTE This is a pleasant itinerary that takes the traveller along Saaremaa’s amazing northern coast and Muhu Island, through both historical villages and newer communities. Various sites give insight into the unique history of Muhu and Saaremaa and give a crosssection of how Saaremaa islanders and religion have got along from pre-Christian times to the present day.
A possible starting point for this tour is the Kudjape disc golf park (47), where you can work on your hand-eye coordination on a 12-hole course, or take a walk in nearby Kudjape Cemetery (48). Kudjape Cemetery was established in the 1770s and 1780s in a Neoclassical style with chapels. The cemetery has an ornate design and is a veritable museum of statuary and wrought-iron art. It is also the last resting place for soldiers killed in World War II – the remains of Germans, Russians and Estonians were laid to rest beneath the oaks. The newer part of the cemetery has a monument to victims of the Soviet deportations and a memorial plaque to the victims of the sinking of the Estonia passenger ferry. Travelling from Kudjape toward Kuivastu, it’s worth stopping by the Skete of the Holy Forerunner in the village of Reo (49). The skete is affiliated with a convent in Greece. The Estonian chapter was opened in Saaremaa in 2009 and moved to Reo in 2012. Hospitality is one of the most important tenets for the nuns at the skete, and those who stop by are bound to get a warm welcome. The nuns will be happy to answer questions and introduce the way of life at the convent. The Reomäe Andrew the Apostle Church (50) is a small Orthodox church with five spires. It was consecrated on 20 October 1873.
Kaali Lake A scant five kilometres away is the famous Kaali meteorite crater field. Geologist Ivan Reinwald’s discovery of fragments of a meteorite using a magnet in 1937 conclusively proved that the origin of the Kaali craters was extraterrestrial. Kaali Crater is the eighth largest meteorite crater in the world. It is Estonia’s most unusual natural monument, and also the most visually striking crater on the Eurasian land mass. Earlier, scientists had also proposed other interesting hypotheses. For example, it was conjectured that perhaps the crater was the water reservoir for an ancient citadel where people had built a circular retaining wall around a natural lake. The Kaali meteorite strike has been associated with different eras but the latest data indicate that it happened between 4000 and 7500 BCE, when the higher parts of Saaremaa were already densely settled. If so, the event may have killed many and influenced the region’s folklore. Archaeological digs have established that Kaali Lake and the area may have been a native religion site. Around 0 CE, Kaali Lake was surrounded by a massive stone wall, and abundant bones of domesticated animals indicate that offerings were left here. An ancient folk song mentioned that this was the place where the “Sun went to bed”. Upon reaching the fabled island of Thule, the Ancient Greek voyager Pytheas was said to have been pointed by the local barbarians to the place where the sun fell to earth. Where exactly did Pytheas journey? Was it really Orkney or the Shetland Islands? The Faroe Islands, Iceland, Greenland, the western coast of Norway, as long believed? In the 1970s, the writer, documentary film-maker and future Estonian president Lennart Meri proposed an alternative theory: Pytheas may have in fact reached Saaremaa. And the place where the sun fell to earth would be Kaali! It is not impossible that the witnesses of the cataclysmic event mistook the streaking flaming orb for the sun. If so, it must have left an indelible impression. If Saaremaa was densely settled at the time, the meteorite must have plunged the island into chaos, influencing folklore and legend. In fact, Lennart Meri considered the Kaali cataclysm to be the epicentre of Nordic folklore and even identified a passage alluding to the event in the Finnish national epic, the Kalevala. The events at Kaali may have even radiated out and left a trace on Classical culture and mythology. It is believed that the classical myth of Phaeton, son of the sun god Helios, may also be related to the Kaali meteorite. Recorded by Virgil in the 7th century BCE, the myth relates how Phaeton piloted the sun chariot for a day but lost control and, hit by one of Zeus’s thunderbolts, plunged into the River Eridanos. There are several other myths that could be associated with Kaali, although sceptics point out that the immediate after-effects were probably confined to a narrow radius around Muhu Island. Whatever the case, Kaali exerts a mysterious pull and draws thousands of voyagers each year to marvel at the perfectly round crater lake. While it is easy to lose one’s way in the maze of myths surrounding Kaali, that’s not the case with the nearby Meteoritics and Limestone Museum (52). The museum has a selection of materials related to the Kaali meteorite impact, other Estonian meteorite craters, genuine chunks of meteorites and various metal alloys formed by the heat of the impact in different parts of the world. The museum provides an overview of the structure of Saaremaa’s bedrock, mineral extraction sites, and possibilities of limestone and dolomite. The museum charges an admission fee. The local shop at Kaali (53) always carries a selection of local Saaremaa food and drink, baked goods from Kaali bakery, souvenirs and postcards. Kõljala Manor (54) is located near the meteorite field. The earliest written records of the manor date back to 1509 but the older parts of the construction have not survived.
Valjala Hill Fort and Church Ten minutes toward Kuivastu, we reach our next major pre-Christian landmark. Valjala Hill Fort (55) was once the most impregnable fortress of ancient Saaremaa. It may have been eight metres high and more than 100 metres in diameter. The fortress withstood the winter siege of 1227, but ultimately was forced to capitulate to a host of 20,000 crusaders. The capture of Valjala is considered to be the place where the 13th century Estonians made their last stand against the Northern Crusaders. The top and inside slope of the citadel earthworks are covered by loose limestone rubble – a reminder of a wall that once stood atop the earthen structures. Today, the Valjala ski and jogging trails encircle the citadel (2 and 3 km, respectively). A disc golf course can be found right before you get to the hill fort. The capitulation and conversion of the people of Saaremaa meant the beginning of the church-building era. St. Martin’s Church in Valjala (56) is the oldest surviving rural church in Estonia, and was built in a Romanesque and Gothic styles. The original church began to be constructed in 1227 after the crusaders forced the last heathen bastion, Valjala Hill Fort, to capitulate. In the last quarter of the century, the church was fortified. The church has a 13th century Romanesque baptismal font, considered one of the most unusual carved stone works in the Baltics. Valjala Church is home to Estonia’s oldest mural paintings. Although the Christian God had vanquished the Saaremaa deity Tharapita, locals never completely gave up their ancient belief system. Traces of ancient sacred shrines and sacrificial sites have survived into the present. The old-fashioned and modern meet at Jööri Village Museum (57), which was established in 1998 as part of a village community action. Note: Lööne is not far from here, either. This is where the poet Debora Vaarandi penned a work describing a community action in Lööne mire, which Raimond Valgre set to a tune in the timeless “Saaremaa Waltz” and
legendary baritone Georg Ots popularized. By serving as stewards for the donations and acquisitions, the Jööri Village Society aims to enshrine the works and activities of their forebears. The village green serves as the local event venue. The society charges an admission fee. The spacious song festival stage is used for concerts, theatre performances and the traditional Jööri traditional music festival. Moving toward Karja, we pass through the village of Pärsama (59) – the first and only Soviet-era socialist complex on Saaremaa – and St. Innocent Church in Pärsama. The single-storey brick sanctuary with one bell tower was built in 1908. A very unusual site rises by Leisi Road in Angla. This is the only windmill hill on Saaremaa that still looks like it originally did (61). Nine windmills stood here back in 1925, when the village had 13 farms. There are five of them left today: four of them post windmills and one of them a Dutch-style windmill. The Dutch-style windmill has an exhibition introducing the region’s history and agriculture. The heritage culture centre built next to the windmills has three floors’ worth of various activity workshops.
Karja Church St. Catherine’s (and Nicholas’) Church in Karja (62) seems extremely modest at first glance. Yet this, the smallest medieval sanctuary in Saaremaa (from the 13th century) has more carved stone decorations than any other rural Baltic church. The groups of sculptures in the triumphal arch depict Sts. Nicholas and Catherine, who are considered the patron saints of the church. The church also has distinctive ceiling and wall paintings, such as the Virgin Mary’s star, triskelion, devils, pentagram and twist. Karja Church (ecclesia Carries) was first mentioned in historical records in 1254. The current church building is thought to have been built in the last quarter of the 13th century. The single-nave structure in a Gothic style has retained its original look; only the antechamber on the southern side was added in a later era.
Of the medieval-era features, the stone altar, the baptismal font now under the triumphal arch, and altar crucifix (15th century) are extant. The donation box, still in use today, is believed to date from the 17th-18th centuries. The chancel, featuring three dual shields, was produced by Balthasar Raschky of Kuressaare in 1638, and the organ was built by Gustav Normann in 1882. The neo-Gothic style altar wall and painting (a copy of a painting by Guido Reni) were completed in 1887. Three trapezoidal grave plaques from the 14th and 15th century can be seen in the churchyard. The church is associated with very many legends and the church’s mural paintings reference the Kaali meteorite craters. Nihatu hiking trail (63) interweaves the Saaremaa’s distinctive natural environment and works of humankind. Species-rich alvar meadows, limestone alvars (barrens) and wooded pastureland are common habitat types. There are over 20 protected plant species. The trail, marked with juniper poles, has 1-, 2- and 4-kilometre variants. After gazing upon the 3.3-metre-high and 20.3-metregirth Võlupe erratic boulder (64), it’s worth making a stop at the Jõiste recreational site and bathing beach (65), which also offers a grill hut and ball courts. Which Estonian church is closest to the sea? That would be St. John’s Church in Saaremaa (66). The limestone structure was probably started in 1675 for treatment of lepers. The original single-nave longhouse was likely completed in 1703 and converted in 1840. In 1890, the church gained a four-register organ, but the craftsman is unknown. One of the few places where the structure of Saaremaa’s bedrock can be seen quite as clearly is Pulli Cliff (67). Running 430 metres long and 3.5 metres high, what makes the cliff unusual is the terraced shelves on the seabed, which, pummelled gently by underwater currents, produce a mysterious roar even in calm weather.
Maasi Crusader Castle The hushed sounds of the distant past can be sensed among the ruins of Maasi Crusader Castle (68). The medieval fort was erected by islanders dragooned into forced labour after the last major revolt was suppressed in 1345. That was the punishment meted out by the Livonian Order for unrest that resulted in the destruction of the Order’s bastion near Pöide Church (16). In 1564, the Order’s possessions, including Maasilinna, came under Danish control. The Danes had become the rulers of the rest of Saaremaa, which belonged to the Bishop of Saare. In the hostilities that followed, the citadel was also under Swedish control for a period; it was destroyed and restored, until in 1576, the Danish King Frederik II ordered that the citadel be blown up. In ruins ever since, Maasilinna began to be gradually excavated and restored in 2001. Today, visitors can get a good idea of what sort of structure once towered here, centuries ago. In the course of the reconstruction, the largely extant ground floor has been excavated. Parts of the second and third storeys also survive. In 1985, a unique shipwreck was found in the bottom of the Väike vain strait near Maasilinna. It was raised and is now on display at the Estonian Maritime Museum. This is a single-masted vessel built ca 1550, with a length of 16 metres and a beam of 5.5 metres. The planks of the vessel, probably built by local shipbuilders, were of local island wood and the structure features a number of unique elements. This was probably a transport vessel meant for local use. It sank after a fire. Orissaare (69) is the second-largest settlement on Saaremaa after Kuressaare. The hamlet, which is just off the main road, was first mentioned as a village in 1464. From the centre of the hamlet, very compact Stalinist architecture can be seen. One of the most famous sights in recent years has been the oak tree (71) growing in the middle of Orissaare stadium. It was originally growing next to the field but ended
up inside the stadium after an expansion in 1951. In 2015, the oak won the title of European tree of the year. 700 metres from the centre of the hamlet on Illiku Islet is the well-sheltered Port of Orissaare (70). Military buffs should definitely take time to visit the Saaremaa Military Equipment Museum in the village of Põripõllu (72). The society that operates the museum was founded in 2007 with the aim of introducing history of the 20th century wars on the island through a permanent exhibition consisting of approximately 12,000 items. The museum operates from March to October. It charges an admission fee. The causeway over Väike vain strait (13) offers good views in different seasons. Sometimes the water level is low, exposing the bottom of the strait for hundreds of metres; during spring storms the water can submerge the causeway. The regular shipping route between Muhu and Saaremaa was established in the 7th century. The “skates of the straits” were in use back then – single-masted sailing boats. The “culprit” in the construction of the causeway can be considered to be mail service. The poor connection between Saaremaa and its sister island of Muhu was a bigger obstacle than the shipping route across the wider “great strait” between Muhu and the mainland. In the mid19th century, there was talk about the necessity of building a permanent road link over a causeway. Much like the prospective bridge between Muhu and the mainland many desire today, the building of the causeway was preceded by 50 years of discussion before the plan was turned into action. In the summer of 1894, the cornerstone was laid and construction began. Crews worked on both directions toward the middle. The foundation of stones was laid on bundles of branches to prevent it from sinking into mud. The causeway was opened for traffic on 27 July 1896. After the straightening of Kuivastu road and the moving of the causeway’s Muhu off-ramp, motorists no longer saw the sculpture “Mourning Mother” (12). The monument designed by Kalju Reitel marks a fraternal grave of warriors who were killed in 1944 in capture of the causeway. War and bereavement are also themes connected to the Muhu Hill Fort (11). At the end of the pre-Christian era, Muhu and Saaremaa were among Estonia’s most densely settled areas. In the 13th century Baltic crusades, the tenacious men of Saaremaa put up the stiffest resistance to the foreign conquerors. The squads of crusaders who otherwise constantly competed against each other for overrunning new areas had to join forces to bring Saaremaa to heel. In winter 1227, a 20,000-strong force crossed the frozen strait and took Muhu fort after a six-day siege; those inside were all dispatched. That proved to be the very last battle in the doomed ancient fight for freedom. After hearing that the men of Muhu had been defeated in battle, the defenders of Valjala Hill Fort on Saaremaa also capitulated and accepted Christianization. In 1928, a memorial was erected in the interior courtyard of Muhu citadel to mark the tragic historical event. The original is no longer extant; it was replaced by a new one in 1967. Eemu Windmill (10), an operating mill, can hardly escape notice along the main road. It was built by a Muhu
local, Jüri Ling, on an ancient windmill foundation. The mill was opened on 17 May 1980. Once you have seen Eemu, it is time to go see a real live emu. And an ostrich. And a number of other exotic creatures. Nautse ostrich farm (9) marks the arrival of the modern age on Muhu Island. Estonia’s biggest and longest-operating ostrich farm sells ostrich souvenirs and other products. An admission fee is charged. The farm is open every day from 15 May to 15 September, and by advance arrangement at other times. Linnuse Village is home to the Presidendi allee (President’s Alley) (8). Trees were built along Kuivastu– Kuressaare road on Muhu Island in 1937-1938 as part of a home beautification campaign. Interwar president Konstantin Päts planted two oaks at the Väike vain strait end of the tree-lined street. The causeway end of the alley was restored in a community action held in 2008. Presidents Arnold Rüütel, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, Kersti Kaljulaid and the descendants of Lennart Meri and Konstantin Päts planted trees there.
shop, this can also be arranged by advance request. Nearby is the small and quaint Port of Koguva (75), with a museum introducing seafaring and fishing traditions and a children’s playground. Vahtna uisk port (76) in the village of Rootsivere was the place where people and goods were transported to Saaremaa before the causeway was built. An uisk was the type of ship used back in those days. It is also a prime swimming location when the water depth is right. The Orthodox Church of Mary, Virgin of Kazan (77) in the village of Rinsi recalls one vivid episode in the island’s history. In the years from 1846–1848, 2,756 Muhu islanders – close to 70% of the island’s population – converted to Orthodoxy. Rinsi congregation in western Muhu was founded in 1847. The distinguished Old Byzantine style five-tower stone church that stands there today, measuring 23 x 18 x 18 metres, was built in 1873.
Koguva Village Koguva Village (74) was first mentioned in writing in 1632, when the head of the Teutonic Order’s Livonian branch, Wolter von Plettenberg, gifted 2.5 ploughlands (a unit of land area that varied locally) by the strait to Hansken, a patriarch of the Smuul family. Koguva is a typical cluster village where the farms are nestled close together in the middle of fields and grazing land. This is one of the most outstanding examples of Estonian peasant architecture, and is also known in Estonia as the birthplace of the writer Juhan Smuul. Muhu Museum provides an overview of both Muhu folk costume and farm architecture. An admission fee is charged. The museum is open every day from 15 May to 15 September, and from Tue-Sat at other times. The Männiku Handicraft Workshop (73) is a place to see and learn about the work of artisans. Buy products straight from the makers – textiles with Muhu embroidery, leather handicraft, and rugs woven on a loom. If you are an arts and crafts aficionado and want to participate in a work-
Lovers of scenic views should head to Üügu Cliff (79). The top of the cliff, some distance from the water, is made up by biohermal dolomite layers – rock formed millions years ago from remnants of corals. The 300 m long cliff is the most extensive on the island of Muhu. It rises 18.4 metres above sea level. Here and there, traces of World War I trenches built by the Russian tsarist army can be found. The vertical limestone wall rises up to seven metres from the foot. A string of caves are located at the midline of the escarpment. The two largest are nicknamed Goat Chamber and Billy Goat’s Room. In the summer months, a herd of horses rustles the reeds beneath the cliff. There is a fetching sea view from the top of the cliff. Ancient shrines are located here, such as the Silmaallikas spring, which the old Saaremaa folk believed had curative properties. The healing powers were thought to be activated by an offering of silver coins. From Üügu Cliff, the road leads through Hellamaa back to Kuivastu road. The Saints Peter and Paul Orthodox Church in Hellamaa (80) was built in 1868. The sanctuary with a ship-shaped narrower altar part is the second oldest Orthodox Church in Saare County. From the road, a fascinating side trip can be made to Võiküla coastal defence battery (2). Tsarist Russia built several such defensive systems during World War One, including two cannon batteries in Võiküla, nos. 32 and 36, and anti-aircraft battery no. 32a. The foundations of the batteries and the three-kilometre-long cobblestoned road leading there have partially survived today, while only the embankment is left of the railway. It is a well-preserved road, one of the only cobblestoned ones on the island. Be careful if driving on the cobblestones with a low-clearance vehicle! Most people – whether locals or tourists – arrive and leave the island via the port of Kuivastu (1). The port on the east coast of Muhu is the main transit point between the island and mainland Estonia. The port also serves freighters, passenger ship and recreational craft. Right next to the port is Kuivastu Tavern building (3), one of the few typical stone roadhouses built after 1840. Unfortunately, it no longer caters to travellers.
GEMS OF THE NORTHERN SHORE – SEA CLIFFS This multifaceted itinerary passes Saaremaa’s highest cliffs, giving visitors an opportunity to observe the development of the Paleobaltic Sea and its life forms (416 to 443 million years ago), enjoy stunning views of the sea and see unique places of interest.
The beginning of our journey leads past the Suursild (81), a bridge built in the early 19th century. It was an important connecting link across the then big and wide River Põduste and its lush floodplain. It is one of Estonia’s largest, longest and oldest stone bridges and is protected as an architectural monument. Those interested in legends about Suur Tõll, Saaremaa’s mythical giant, should drive a few kilometres toward Kihelkonna, where the unusually shaped Oo Kivi (82) can be seen along the roadside. In Saare dialect, it means Horse Rock. The elongated boulder is indeed reminiscent of a horse’s back and one of the many Suur Tõll legends is connected to it. As the story goes, the Devil’s wife demanded a servant girl. Tired of his wife’s nagging, the Devil turned himself into a horse, cast a spell on a suitable lass and slung her over his back and hastened home. But near Kellamäe, he was waylaid by the giant Tõll, who had been told by a little bird to stop the girl-rustler. The giant came to her assistance and cut off the head of the horse with a staff of
rowan wood. The head of the horse sank into the ground with a hissing sound. The body of the horse became a rock. Setting a course for Aste, turning from Saia to Kärla and then Tagaranna and Mustjala, we reach Kaarmise Lake (83) after a few kilometres. The shores of the lake, which has two islands, are gradual and mainly rocky, with sand in some spots. It’s a good place for swimming. Lihulinn (84) is the biggest hill fort in Saaremaa. The fort is in the forest, away from villages, on sand dunes partially bounded by mires. The diameter of the elongated oval shaped hill fort is 270 m in the NW-SE direction and 70 m across. The courtyard area is 18,000 square metres. The fort has not been thoroughly investigated, but holes dug into the inner base of the earthworks turned up halfburned ends of logs and a half-metre layer of charcoal, which is probably from the fort’s timber fortifications. Lihulinn was in use around 1000 CE – at the end of the Viking Age. Konati Lake (85) in the village of Silla is a modern artificial lake formed when an abandoned limestone quarry filled with groundwater. Swimmers should be careful here, as the lakebed is terraced with sudden drop-offs. The completely natural Konati interpretive trail (86) passes through the lakeshore area, giving an overview of forest management and a 120-year-old protected forest. The one- and three-kilometre trails are marked with points of interest. The Kalja hiking trail nearby (87) can be accessed from kilometre marker 2 on Mustjala–Kihelkonna road. The first hundred metres or so are pleasant to walk. The kilometre-long hiking trail introduces the Kalja Stream karst area, measuring 250 x 300 m. There are seven larger karstic depressions, of which the deepest one has a girth of 18 m and a depth of 5.5 m. During spring flooding, the karst area is under water, but during drier times, it can be seen clearly how the bedrock – limestone – is exposed. The underground Kalja River surfaces for a short stretch near Küdema karstic depression. Anna Church in Mustjala (88) was built in 1863 in the site of an old chapel. The church, unlike many other older ones, is not named after a saint but Anna Sehested (nee Lykke), the wife of Saaremaa governor Claus Maltesen Sehested. She had the chapel built back in 1605. The church is an example of Historicist Eclectic architecture. Its high steeple was a key landmark for seafarers. For mariners, Küdema Bay was and is significant. Its shores offer both great views and secure anchorages. Heading from Mustjala to the bay’s western shore, the first sight we pass is the Prophet Elias Orthodox Church (89). The limestone-walled cross-shaped church building with a central dome and four corner towers was built in 1873.
Ninase Village The giant figures of Piret and Tõll (90), windmills disguised as folk-costumed “dolls”, signal that we have arrived at Ninase Peninsula. Young brides-to-be have a tradition of placing a stone inscribed with their maiden name under Piret’s skirt, which is believed to bring good fortune later in the marriage. The port of Saaremaa (91) has two docks for serving ships up to 200 metres in length, plus 30 berths for yachts. At the tip of the peninsula is Ninase (also known as Tagaranna) Cliff (93). The highest point along the 1500 m long cliff is more than 5 metres. There are abundant military objects along the cliff, particularly trenches lined with stones.
A few hundred metres from the sea rises the 12-metre-high Ninase bird and nature observation tower (92). The tower is for public use for birders, nature enthusiasts, tourists and hikers. A monument to the victims of the 1994 Estonia passenger ferry disaster (94) was inaugurated here on 28 September 1999, and each year a memorial bonfire is lighted on the anniversary of the sinking. Heading toward the eastern shore of the bay, Paatsa hill fort (95) is within striking distance. The fort with a low, sandy circular wall was built on a previously unfortified site at the turn of the 13th and 14th centuries. It was probably a production base for smiths and iron smelters in the ancient era and was abandoned after the St. George’s Night uprising. The Paatsa forges got their iron from Tuiu a few kilometres hence. There bog iron ore was smelted from the dawn of the Viking Age until the mid-14th century. Over 250 years, researchers believe more than 2,000 tonnes of iron was produced, of which over half was sold. The iron trade was lucrative for the islanders, earning them some 10 tonnes of silver. Quite a few handfuls of silver were sacrificed as an offering at the best known sacrificial site in Saaremaa, at Panga Cliff (96). The highest place in western Estonia and the islands is 21.3 metres above sea level and the cliff runs for 2.5 km. The sunsets here are spectacular and it is an ideal tranquil natural beauty spot. A few hundred metres from the coast is an underwater drop-off that can be seen in rough weather as the breaker lines.
Metsküla Church Travelling east along the coast, we pass the Orthodox Church of the Presentation of the Lord into the Temple (97), which is the only Orthodox church on Saaremaa to be built completely of wood. The church built in 1914 has two steeples, which symbolize the twin nature of Christ in the Orthodox tradition: divine and human. The church is open to all comers – just ring the number posted on the church wall. Nearby Tuhkana Beach (98) is one of the best places to swim in northern Saaremaa. Unlike the beaches along Saaremaa’s southern shore, the water becomes deep quickly here. In slightly stronger north winds, the waves put on a show here. Soela Harbour (99) has been a place for putting out to sea for centuries, but it’s also a nice seaside recreational area. One of the most important harbours on Saaremaa’s north coast can be seen straight across Upsulaht Bay from Soela – Triigi (101). It is the port for ferries to Hiiumaa, and can be entered by smaller merchant ships, yachts, speedboats and other recreational craft. The port has berths for local inhabitants’ boats. Besides quaint small shops and places to eat, the hamlet of Leisi has a ropes course (100). The course has various challenges consisting of ropes, nets and cables, which test balance, agility and strength. It’s at your own risk but no special safety gear is required, as it is just 150 cm off the ground. Another sight worth seeing in the hamlet is St. Olga’s Church (102). The cross-shaped limestone building with a central dome and four corner towers was built in 1873.
Angla Windmill Hill A very unusual site rises by Leili Road in Angla. This is the only windmill hill on Saaremaa that still looks like it originally did (61). Nine windmills stood here back in 1925, when the village had 13 farms. There are five of them left today: four of
them post windmills and one of them a Dutch-style windmill. The Dutch-style windmill has an exhibition introducing the region’s history and agriculture. The heritage culture centre built next to the windmills has three floors’ worth of various activity workshops. The German farm shop in the village of Kiratsi (103) is a true village general store. And that’s not all… It also boasts a farm café serving artisanal ice cream made from local farm-fresh milk and homemade baked goods. The shop carries local food products and crafts by local artisans. Fascinating activities are also found in the village of Kuke at GoodKaarma soap house (104). This unique organic farm produces and sells ecological soaps and other bodycare products. As befits a farm cottage industry, all the products here are handmade, not industrial goods. Enrol in a soap making workshop, where you can make your own bar of soap. There is a fee for the course and it is available by advance registration. Just visiting the soap house is free of charge. The soap house also has a garden café and gift shop. Open from 1 June to 31 August every day from 10-18, and by advance arrangement at other times.
Kaarma Hill-fort and Church Before arriving in Kuressaare, Kaarma Hill-fort (105) and Kaarma Church (106) are a must-see. Located next to each other, they provide a look at the dual nature of Saaremaa’s history. Although Saaremaa became the last county in Estonia to surrender to massed crusader forces in 1227, this did not quench their thirst for freedom. Already in 1237, the foreign forces were driven out of the island and four years after that, Saaremaa sued for peace, signing a treaty with Ordermaster Andreas de Velven. The fact that Saaremaa was considered a force to be reckoned is shown by the new treaty signed with ordermaster Anno von Sangerhausen in 1255, where the men of Saaremaa were granted new rights. The agreement also mentions the most important Saaremaa noblemen of the day, Ylle, Culle, Enu, Muntelene, Tappete, Yalde, Melte and Cake and it is intimated that the islanders even had their own seal used to validate letters. But as said, feed a wolf as much as you want, it will still look to the forest. Only five years later, having heard that the Prussian and Livonian knights had been dealt a heavy blow by the Lithuanians, Saaremaa rose up again. That winter, the Order managed to put together a large force of Danish king’s vassals and the men of Riga and invaded the island. This time the Saaremaa folk decided to shelter in Kaarma Hill-fort, believed to have been established in the 12th century. The defenders put up dogged resistance and mounted a counterattack but finally the knights took the fort by storm. All those within the fort were killed, and the force pillaged the area for two more days. On the third day, Saaremaa sued for peace and handed over
hostages to the Ordermaster as a guarantee. The hill-fort is right on the banks of the River Põduste, which flows into the sea near Kuressaare. In the preChristian era and during the years of the Baltic crusades, the river was still a marine estuary full of little islands and shoals extending to Kaarma, where the area’s most important harbour was likely located. Today, the river is narrow and can be navigated only by inflatable boat at best. The fort no longer witnesses bloodbaths but rather hosts summer song festivals, concerts and bonfires, in winter it is also a popular sledding hill. The Kaarma Church of St. Peter and Paul just 100 metres form the fort was built in the late 13th century with one nave, a second nave was added later. The addition of the second nave is noted on a plaque by the entrance with the words: “SEL AAS TAL ON SEKIRK WAL MIS SA NUD PET RI PAE WAL AN1407”. These words have been considered to be the oldest written Estonian language, but the style and the wording suggest a later era. This is the largest sacral building in western Estonia and the one richest in imagery. The east wall of the choir is adorned by a triple window, rare in Estonia. Kaarma Church was the first church in Saaremaa to use flying buttresses. Another Tõll story is related to the latter. Kaarma Church was said to be built by Tõll’s son, who was quarrelling with his father. When the church was about to be completed, Tõll went to see it. The son, who knew the old man’s temper, was afraid he would topple the church, so he quickly built support structures. Tõll saw that his son was afraid but in the end didn’t take any action against the church, although it was bigger than the Kärla Church he himself built. The pastor of Kaarma, Hermann Harten, helped the Kaarma Church to have a place of its own in the cultural legacy of Saaremaa and Estonia as a singing nation. He founded one of the first all-Estonian choirs in Saaremaa and Estonia.
WONDROUS LANDSCAPES ON THE WESTERN COAST Western Saaremaa is known for its amazing landscapes. The region is also famous for biodiversity and Vilsandi Island, a paradise for birds. This itinerary will introduce the history of the area through cultural and natural sights.
We’ll start the route by taking the old Sõrve postal road, which began to be built in 1795 and which meanders over the low coastal promontories until it reaches the end of the peninsula. To reach the postal road, one had to first cross the River Põduste (107). During pre-Christian times, boat traffic ran up the river through the Põduste floodplain to an ancient port used to transport goods to the Kaarma (Carmele) fort. Later, a fishing village took shape at the mouth of the river, home to fishermen, boat builders and local trading. One of the longest rivers in Saaremaa, it is 30.5 km long. The Linnulahe nature and birding tower (108) can be reached by way of a 400-m-long boardwalk accessed from Sõrve Road from behind the Kuressaare Tuulte Roos kindergarten. The observation tower affords views of the waters of the Linnulahe ornithological sanctuary and the resident bird life. It is one of the first nature reserves in Estonia, established back in 1927.
Under the trees of Musumännik on the shore of Linnulahe Bay, there are not only pleasant health and walking paths but also a disc golf park (109). The 18-basket course has a total length of about 2.5 km. Part of the course is located in Linnulahe nature reserve, so players, joggers and walkers are asked to move in a clockwise direction in the park and be mindful of their fellow park users and plant and animal life. People with an interest in nature – particularly bird fans – will always find the Loode coastal nature and bird observation tower (110). From here, all of bird-rich Kuressaare Bay, Laiamadala Islets and the new shipping canal to Kuressaare bird port are visible. The Port of Roomassaare, Abruka and Vahase islands, the shallow coastal waters off Looderanna and part of Suur Katla Bay are farther off. There is a widespread belief that the oldest generation of the Loode oak grove (111) are made up of trees left over from a shipbuilding campaign launched by Peter the Great. The oak grove is home to several rare species of herbaceous and woody plants. The oak forest has been under nature protection since 1955. The oldest generation of the oak trees is at least 450 years old. Through the ages, the place has been a favourite spot for people walking in nature. Here several major figures of Estonian cultural history have spent time – the Aavik brothers, Eerik Haamer, Lydia Koidula, Heli Lääts. The Loode oak grove interpretive nature trail (112) offers an overview of how rich the plant and animal life is here. The path starts in the parking lot of Loode oak grove and is 2.8 km long. The circuit, which can be hiked in any weather without getting feet wet, is also lined with information boards on objects of observation. Mändjala-Järve bathing beach (113) is the most popular one in Saaremaa and the most frequented summer spot in nice summer weather. The 8-km-long sandy beach and forested dune recreational also area offers more secluded places for sunbathing. The sea gets deeper relatively gradually and is well-suited for children. Travelling along the breach toward Sõrve, it may not even be noticeable how the landscape changes and suddenly you find yourself on the Järve sand dunes (114). The 4 kilometres of higher shelf beach and the forested sand dunes between the road and the sea are about 3,000 years old. The dunes are mainly low, an average of 1.5 m high and of no particular shape. The tops of the dunes are about five metres high. The pine forests covering the dunes are home to various lichens and, in season, lingonberries. The vegetation includes a number of protected and rare species. The low sea cliff offers lovely views of the sea and coastline.
Tehumardi Battlefield While enjoying the ravishing views and amazing fragrance of the pine forests, it’s worth reflecting on the wounds that the twists and turns of history once scored this ground with. A memorial shaped like a broken sword marks the site of Tehumardi Battle (115). This is the site of one of the bloodiest encounters in Saaremaa – a night battle that was especially tragic since the deaths of hundreds no longer had any determining importance on the outcome of the war. In early October 1944, it seemed that the battle for Estonia was over. The Red Army, which had conquered mainland Estonia had invaded Saaremaa. The Nazi forces retreated, waging a defensive battle, to Sõrve Peninsula. The retreat of German units on the River Nasva was covered by a 360-man battalion led by Captain Klaus Ritter. On the evening of 8 October, they began retreating along the highway to Sõrve. Beside them, a second 300-man German battalion was moving along the beach. That same day, a motorized advance squad of the Estonian rifle corps was sent on a mission to break through the German lines and reach Salme Village near the beginning of the peninsula. They were followed by 317 Red Army troops from the 1st Battalion of the 917th Rifle Corps. The Red Army units had no idea that two German battalions were marching toward Sõrve behind them. And the Germans didn’t know the Red Army was ahead of them. The Red Army personnel and Ritter’s battalion walked side by side for some distance, unaware of each other. When they reached Tehumardi, the parties realized what was going on. A skirmish that broke out on the night of 8 October escalated into a pitched hand-tohand battle where soldiers were felled with knives, shovels and gun barrels. Two hundred men were killed on each side. The battle delayed the Soviet advance by just one day. In 1967, a concrete and dolomite memorial and memorial field to the Red Army soldiers were erected on the seaward side of the battleground. A bit further, going inland from the road, a memorial was opened in 2012 at the site of the battle honouring the soldiers killed on the Nazi side as well (116). Almost 1000 years ago, during the Viking era, the River Salme was still a navigable strait that separated Sõrve from the rest of Saaremaa. The place name comes from a dialect word, “salm”, which means a channel or water between islands. On maps as late as the 18th century, Sõrve is clearly separated from Saaremaa by a wide expanse of water. The River Salme is exceptional in that it has two mouths. One is on the Gulf of Riga and the other in the main Baltic Sea. The water in the river can flow in either direction, depending on the sea water level. According to legend, the devil once wanted to dig a ditch that would separate Sõrve from Saaremaa and sink it along with the men of Sõrve. The men of Sõrve sum-
moned Suur Tõll to help. He grabbed a hive of bees, rushed to the devil and cast the hive at his feet. The Devil didn’t even take any notice of the giant. But then he felt the stings. And saw the bees. Whatever his powers, he had nothing against the bees and fled. The bees gave chase in a swarm and kept on stinging him. The Devil reached a young stand of spruce where he finally was able to shake the swarm. In great pain, the Devil put a curse on the bees, forbidding them from crossing the ditch. Since that time, there have been no bees in Sõrve. The ditch is still there today, in the form of the River Salme. Sõrvemaa knows other place-name legends connected to Suur Tõll, part of which can be seen as attractions in Suur Tõll’s Raiesmaa (155). The theme park has activities for people of all ages. In the Sõrve tourist information centre (156) one can order the services of a local guide and get information and maps in different languages about accommodations and sights on Sõrve. The centre, open in the summer season, is located in the historical municipality building built in 1893. At the top of the building’s front gate is an artistic weathervane restored in 2014. Weathervanes are important cultural symbols in Sõrvemaa.
The ancient ships of Salme While Salme is known throughout Saaremaa and Estonia for its active community theatre, the place name made world headlines about 10 years ago when Viking ships were found buried on the coast in 2008 and 2010 (117). The smaller ship buried in the gravel and sand was discovered accidentally during excavations and at first the bones were considered to
date from the Second World War. The fragments of ancient weapons and rivets that held the planking together suggested the ship had been buried as a funeral. A larger ship, discovered two years later, made a bigger sensation. Today we know that the 40 warriors buried on the ships in around 750 AD were from Sweden, probably from Mälaren. They must have been important leading warriors and their entourage, as a sword had been placed by each one. Many of the skeletons bore signs of battle wounds – severed upper arms, traces of damage done by cutting weapons on skulls, ribs, vertebrae and knucklebones, an arrowhead in the head of a femur. Most of the swords were single-bladed and they all had signs of being exposed to fire. Besides the human skeletons and swords, the bones of dogs and birds, shields, knives, spearheads and arrowheads, sharpening stones, playing pieces, dice, combs made of horn and beads were found. The neck vertebrae of the man with the grandest sword had fused, so it must have been hard for him to turn his head. In the mouth of that individual, the king piece from the Viking board game hnefatafl was found, indicating his high status. It will forever remain a secret how the men died and why they were buried in Salme. Were they pillaging on these foreign shores or were they mercenaries who had served some king of Saaremaa? Were they fighting against the locals or among each other? Did they refuse to pay a levy for passing through the straits or were they the ones charging a price? In any case, the find is unique on the world level, the larger ship is the oldest known sailing ship in the Baltic Sea region. It is also the largest mass grave of warriors from that era found anywhere.
Continuing past Salme, turn west toward Jämaja after Läätsa and then toward Lõmala, we reach a curvy coastal road that leads past picturesque views to the village of Lahetaguse. These were the childhood playing grounds of the explorer Fabian Gottlieb Benjamin von Bellingshausen.
Admiral Bellingshausen’s birthplace Bellingshausen was born on 20 September 1778 on Lahetaguse Manor. At the age of 10, he was sent to the cadet corps of Kronstadt’s naval academy, which he graduated with the rank of michman. From 1803–1806, he was a member of the first Russian circumnavigation of the world, captained by Adam Johann von Krusenstern, who also had roots in Estonia. It was on Krusenstern’s recommendation that he was selected as captain of the Russian Antarctica expedition in 1819. The aim of the expedition was to discover the Antarctic continent, which had been hypothesized to exist for centuries. “Between pieces of ice and smaller ice islands, I glimpsed a great massif of ice (…) which stretched as far as the eye could see, almost like land.” That is how Bellingshausen described the moment he caught sight of Antarctica on 27 February 1820. After the Antarctica expedition, Bellingshausen headed to the Black Sea, where he performed hydrographic observations and took part in the Russo-Turkish War. From 1833–1839 he lived and worked in Tallinn in the service of the Russian Baltic Fleet, at Pikk 28 – now the home to the Swedish Embassy. After that, he was appointed military governor of Kronstadt. In 1843, Bellingshausen was prompted to admiral and the next year he was elected member of the Admiralty Council. In 1845, Bellingshausen was involved in founding the Russian Geographic Society. Bellingshausen died in 1852 and is buried in Kronstadt. In 1968, a memorial stone was installed in his honour in Lahetaguse (119). Two kilometres away in the village of Koovi is the birthplace of beloved writer August Mälk (120). The farm now in private ownership is marked with a memorial plaque. Mälk (1900–1987) rose to fame for his warm novels and plays describing the lives of coastal people. In 1944, he fled the Soviets to Sweden, where he lived for the rest of his life. The neighbouring village of Kipi is home to Kapa Farm’s mini-zoo (121). The denizens here include a friendly donkey and pony, goats, rabbits, geese, ducks, chickens and in the summer, offspring for both viewing and petting. The farm can be visited every day for a small admission fee. Visitors can follow up their visit to the zoo with some archery or air gun practice. Heading toward Lümanda, it’s worth popping into Leedri (122), because in this village with old farms from 500 years ago, a crew known as the Siirupiemandad produce unique products from juniper syrup. In Lümanda, it is definitely worth visiting the Church of the Transfiguration of Our Lord (123), which was built in 1867. The two-spired church is reminiscent of a ship and in the Orthodox tradition, the two steeples symbolize the twin nature of Christ: divine and human. The church has
excellent acoustics and an interesting interior, with a crown chandelier carved from wood. Lümanda Lime Park (124) give visitors a chance to see how lime and paints in different colours used to be made from an ordinary piece of limestone and how tar could be obtained from a tree. The park has a hiking trail and screens a film inside a 135-year-old church. The park charges an admission fee.
Viidumäe reserve Saaremaa’s highest point of land is not far from here now – Raunamägi and a 123-metre-high, 80-step observation tower (125). The view of the tower is deceptive – it seems that Saaremaa lacks any settlements or people – just forest, forest and more forest. But this is no wonder, because the tower is in the middle of Viidumäe nature reserve. The reserve was established in 1957, and has an area of 1873 ha. Viidumäe nature reserve is located in Saaremaa’s oldest and most upland part, which started rising from the water about 10,500 years ago and which reaches a height of 58 metres above sea level. 85% of Viidumäe is forested. Two interpretive trails start at Viidumäe visitor centre (126) and make a loop, returning to the centre. One is the 2.2-km-long Audaku interpretive nature trail (127), which passes through typical key biotopes of western Saaremaa. The species-rich fen can be crossed on boardwalk, and there is a large information signboard by a restored wooded meadow. The 1.8-km-long Viidumäe interpretive nature trail (128) has information signs and introduces the characteristic biotopes of western Saaremaa, running mainly through different forests. Continuing from Viidumägi toward Kihelkonna, it’s worth taking the opportunity to see Ilaste Windmill (129). The windmill is from 1891 and it worked non-stop for close to a century. Flour was ground here until the mid1970s and the last miller, Ilaste Sander, was still working at the mill in the early 1980s. The mill has exhibits devoted to the Estonian writer Aadu Hint’s life and work and the history and present lives of families in two nearby villages, Kulli and Kuusnõmme. It is also possible to undertake a hike directly to the Käkisilma observation tower on Kuusnõmme peninsula (130). The 15-metre high tower affords a view of Kuusnõmme and Kihelkonna Bay, with much of Vilsandi Island and the smaller islets visible. The tent site here, with a parking lot for five buses or several dozen cars, is the start of Käkisilma–Vilsandi hiking trail (131). Passing sea islands and crossing a shallow seabed, the 4.8 km trail offers sweeping views, and the chance to see seabirds and coastal plant life up close. It is recommended to walk this trail when the water is shallow and warm, as in high water, strong currents and poor weather it is dangerous. It is worth asking the State Forest Management Centre’s Vilsandi National Park visitor centre in Loona (132) for the latest information before setting off. The visitor centre for Estonia’s oldest national park, from 1910, is in an old manor house and all of the services here are free of charge. The permanent exhibition introduces the
nature and history of Vilsandi National Park, and screens nature films about the park and Saaremaa. The Rock House contains different fossils. The centre is the start of a 10-kmlong Loona–Kuusnõmme nature trail. Those who don’t feel like hiking can look around Kihelkonna, a community about 3 km away. It has a bell tower that is unique in the Baltics (134), separate from the imposing St. Michael’s Church. The tower was built in 1638 and is located a few hundred metres away. In 2009, it got a new bell tower, and the bells are rung at noon.
Kihelkonna’s St. Michael’s Church (135) was built in the late 19th century. Before that, the church looked similar to other fortified churches built in the third quarter of the 13th century. The organ, altar wall and chancel of the building are the oldest in Estonia. The church’s campanile is the only building of its kind in Estonia. From the church, a 3-km-long old cobblestoned road leads to Papissaare Harbour (136). This is the location of WWI-era tsarist Russian seaplane hangars. There is a boat connection to Vilsandi Island.
Harilaid and Saaremaa’s “Tower of Pisa”
Vilsandi National Park includes the main island, the surrounding islets and rocks, and the bays of Kihelkonna, Kuusnõmme and Atla along with their islands, about 100 of them. Vilsandi Island (137) is the heart of Vilsandi National Park. Thanks to the rich seabird populations, it is known as a bird paradise. The island has an area of 8.7 km² and it is considered to be over 2,000 years old. Vilsandi has a 6 km and 12 km hiking trail. The trails take in the island’s way of life, and its natural and maritime heritage. The island has a lighthouse and a restored marine rescue centre. The island can be reached by regular ship connection and chartered vessels. Before WWII, Vilsandi was home to about 200 people, but today there are fewer than 10 full-time residents. Over the years, the island has drawn writers, artists and musicians for whom the unique environment and remoteness have been a source of inspiration. Here Juhan Saar, Heino Väli, Aleksander Suuman, Jaan Tätte, Tõnu Õnnepalu and many others have created works. Instead of visiting Vilsandi or on the way back, take time to visit the Mihkli Farm Museum in Viki Village near Kihelkonna (138). This is one of the most unusual memory institutions in Estonia, because there was no need for acquisitions: besides the full ensemble of complex of buildings, a well endowed collection of household items once used here has survived. Nearly without exception, the items were hand-crafted by the former farm inhabitants over two centuries. The museum charges an admission fee. Leaving Viki and heading toward Veere, you pass through Kõruse Village with Kivestu Windmill built in 1781 (139), the third-oldest windmill in Saaremaa. The old handicraft techniques used to restore the windmill in 2015 are of interest. They fell out of use back in the early 19th century.
With its wondrous views and marine panorama, the Harilaid Peninsula (140) is a favourite spot for photographers. The 3.6 km² peninsula is part of Vilsandi National Park, and is covered with large expanses of sand and talus beach, and with pine trees in the south. The central part of the peninsula has a brackish lake. The peninsula features biodiverse and abundant flora with many protected species. The 8-km-long hiking trail is worth checking out (141). It starts from the parking lot at the beginning of the peninsula and leading to Kiipsaare Lighthouse (142). The developments at lighthouse over time are a vivid reminder of how powerful the coastal processes are in shaping the beaches. The 26 metre high concrete tower was completed in 1933, about 100–150 metres from the beach. Now it is far from the sea and it has become tilted, sometimes more than other times. Known as Saaremaa’s Leaning Tower, the photos taken there constantly change slightly. Once you have been to Harilaid, you can head to Veere across Tagamõisa wooded meadow (143). Saaremaa’s largest wooded meadow and third in Estonia in terms of species richness, the nature reserve has an area of 133 hectares with 67 species counted per square metre. Veere observation platform (144) is located at a height of 12 m at Vaigu sea cliff and has a good view of the sea and Tagalaht Bay. A stair leads down to the beach. In the 1930s, it was an important fishing centre and boat harbour. Veere Harbour (145) was built from 1960–1963. It has a depth of four or five metres and it is one of the main yearround sprat and Baltic herring ports on Saaremaa. If you proceed around the coast to the other shore of Tagalaht Bay, it is possible to see the seaside nature on Abula hiking trail (146). The 6.8-km-long trail is particularly nice in spring. The pine forest growing on limestone alvar and the cliff offer a habitat to many plant and animal species.
Pidula and Odalätsi Instead of Abula, it is also possible to make a side trip to the right, to the Odalätsi springs (147). These are Saaremaa’s springs with the greatest flow rate, and Pidula Stream, which feeds Pidula’s fish species, also rises here. The marshy banks of the stream are home to several protected plant species. There is a parking lot by the side of the road; boardwalks lead to the springs in the forest. The people of old said that washing your face and hands with the spring water or drinking it kept you young. Suur Tõll legends are also related to the spring. Tõll was said to have found the Devil sleeping in Pidula forest and started beating him with rowan tree sticks. The Devil ran off in great pain, and managed to step on his spear in the process, breaking it. He lamented: “Oda läts!” (the spear went!). He trod so heavily while fleeing that he left holes and springs started flowing from them. The name of Pidula Village and Pidula Manor (148) is associated with a leper house that was located near here in the Middle Ages. The manor building is from the mid18th century, and the addition at the rear from the early 19th century. Fragments of ceiling paintings have survived in the room. The contemporary formal garden-style park from the Baroque era adds value to Pidula Manor building. Saaremaa’s oldest and best-known lake is probably Karujärv (152). The 8000-year-old lake has five islands. According to folk belief, Karujärv got its name from seven bears who fought in this spot. God had to bring down such a rainstorm to break up the fight that a lake was formed. The bears scattered, leaving seven coves. Due to its sandy beach, Karujärv is a beloved recreational and swimming area. Near the lake is a 24-basket Karujärve disc golf park (149) and Karujärve recreational trails (150). The two-, three-, five- and ten-kilometre trail are for jogging and walking. If there is snow in winter, ski trails are groomed here with modern equipment.
In the neighbourhood is also the Suur Tõll heater stone (151). The 4.5 m high and 6.6-m-long rock is from the bottom of the Baltic Sea or Finland, like most Saaremaa erratic boulders. They reached the island during the last Ice Age with continental ice sheets and as the climate warmed, they stayed there, the ice melting around them and stranding them. Many of the large boulders in western Saaremaa are associated with legends. And who other than Suur Tõll could be responsible for them being there. Kärla’s St. Mary Magdalene Church (153) was built in 1842–1843 in place of a medieval church that was in danger of collapsing. The medieval church was likely established in the third quarter of the 13th century. Kärla Church is home to one of Estonia’s most beautiful Renaissance wood sculptures – the epitaph of Otto von Buxhoeveden from 1591. Travelling from Kärla to Kuressaare, Hallikivi adventure park is on the side of the road (154). Four floors of various attractions, a 120-metre-long ropes course with a zipline, offers the opportunity to have fun for both young and old. The park is open in the summer. At other times, it takes reservations. Oo Stone (82) in Parila Village translates as Horse Stone in Saaremaa dialect. The elongated boulder is indeed reminiscent of a horse’s back and another Suur Tõll legend is connected to it. The Devil’s wife demanded a servant girl. Tired of his wife’s nagging, the Devil turned himself into a horse, cast a spell on a suitable lass and slung her over his back and hurried home. But near Kellamäe, he was waylaid by Tõll, who had been told by a little bird to stop the girl rustler. The giant came to her assistance and cut off the head of the horse with a staff of rowan wood, which sank into the ground with a hissing sound. The body of the horse became a rock. Entering the island capital Kuressaare, we pass majestic Suursild Bridge (81), which was built in the early 19th century and is currently used for pedestrians and cyclists. It is one of Estonia’s largest, longest and oldest stone bridges and is protected as an architectural monument.
LEGENDARY SÕRVE PENINSULA – MARITIME SÕRVEMAA
Due to its position at the crossroads of important trading routes, Saaremaa has always been in the sphere of interest of the world’s great powers. It is not easy to find a place on the island where blood has not been spilled at some point.
Over the last one hundred years, Sõrve Peninsula has been hit the hardest. At the end of the Second World War, the retreating German forces engaged in heavy fighting against the Estonian corps of the Soviet Army. The consequences were devastating for the peninsula – 17 of the 23 largest villages were more or less wiped off the map and 3,000 people were deported to Germany. A Suur Tõll legend is also related to Sõrve and the war. On his deathbed, the giant was said to have promised to rise again and come to the aid of the islanders if war broke out. But once shepherd boys were playing on his grave and called out: “Tõll, Tõll, rise and shine. There’s war in Sõrve.” Tõll rose from the dead but upon seeing no fighting and enemy forces anywhere, he was furious and vowed never to rise again. And so Saaremaa was left without the protection of Tõll. In addition to being a battlefield, Sõrve Peninsula is a coastal area of Saaremaa with a very rich cultural, historical and natural history. Sõrvemaa begins at the River Salme and extends 32 km to the tip of Sõrve Säär. The narrowest part of the peninsula is on the Läätsa-Üüdibe line, just 1.8 km separates the Gulf of Riga from the rest of the Baltic Sea. The River Salme is the remnant of a strait that existed here 2,000 years ago. Back then, the current peninsula was still a separate island rising from the sea.
Sõrve Peninsula was mentioned in writing for the first time in 1234 in connection with the Riga Bishopric. In 1795, a postal road began to be built from Kuressaare to Sõrve, which meandered along the low coastal promontories until it reached the tip of the peninsula. It was originally 51 km long. To reach the postal road, one had to first cross the River Põduste (107). During pre-Christian times, nautical traffic ran up the river through the Põduste floodplain to an ancient port used to transport goods to the Kaarma (Carmele) fort. Later, a fishing village took shape at the mouth of the river, home to fishermen, boat builders and local trading. One of the longest rivers in Saaremaa, it is 30.5 km long. The Linnulahe nature and birding tower (108) can be reached by way of a 400 m long boardwalk accessed from Sõrve Road from behind the Kuressaare Tuulte Roos kindergarten. The observation tower affords views of the waters of the Linnulahe ornithological sanctuary and the resident bird life. It is one of the first nature reserves in Estonia, established back in 1927. Under the trees of Musumännik on the shore of Linnulahe Bay, there are not only pleasant health and walking paths but a disc golf park (109). The 18-basket course has a total length of about 2.5 km. Part of the course is located in Linnulahe nature reserve, so players, joggers and walkers are asked to move in a clockwise direction in the park and be mindful of their fellow park users and plant and animal life. People with an interest in nature – particularly bird fans – will always find the Loode coastal nature and bird observation tower (110). From here, all of bird-rich Kuressaare Bay, Laiamadala Islets and the new shipping canal to Kuressaare bird port are visible. The Port of Roomassaare, Abruka and Vahase islands, the shallow coastal waters off Looderanna and part of Suur Katla Bay are farther off.
There is a widespread belief that the oldest generation of the Loode oak grove (111) are made up of trees left over from a shipbuilding campaign launched by Peter the Great. The oak grove is home to several rare species of herbaceous and woody plants. The oak forest has been under nature protection since 1955. The oldest generation of the oak trees is at least 450 years old. Through the ages, the place has been a favourite place for people walking in nature. Here several major figures of Estonian cultural history have spent time – the Aavik brothers, Eerik Haamer, Lydia Koidula, Heli Lääts. The Loode oak grove interpretive nature trail (112) offers an overview of how rich the plant and animal life is here. The path starts in the parking lot of Loode oak grove and is 2.8 km long. The circuit can be hiked in any weather without getting feet wet and is lined with boards with information on objects of observation. Mändjala-Järve bathing beach (113) is the most popular one in Saaremaa and the most frequented summer spot in nice summer weather. In the 8-km-long sandy beach and forested dune recreational area one can also find more secluded places for sunbathing. The sea gets deeper relatively gradually and is well-suited for children. Travelling along the breach toward Sõrve, it may not even be noticeable how the landscape changes and suddenly you find yourself on the Järve sand dunes (114). The 4 kilometres of higher shelf beach and the forested sand dunes between the road and the sea are about 3,000 years old. The dunes are mainly low, an average of 1.5 m high and of no particular shape. The tops of the dunes are about five metres high. The pine forests covering the dunes are home to various lichens and, in season, lingonberries. The vegetation includes a number of protected and rare species. The low sea cliff offers lovely views of the sea and coastline.
Germans didn’t know the Red Army was ahead of them. The Red Army personnel and Ritter’s battalion walked side by side for some distance, unaware of each other. When they reached Tehumardi, the parties realized what was going on. A skirmish that broke out on the night of 8 October escalated into a pitched hand-to-hand battle where soldiers were felled with knives, shovels and gun barrels. Two hundred men were killed on each side. The battle delayed the Soviet advance by just one day. In 1967, a concrete and dolomite memorial and memorial field to the Red Army soldiers were erected on the seaward side of the battleground. A bit further, going inland from the road, a memorial was opened in 2012 at the site of the battle for the soldiers killed on the Nazi side as well (116). Almost 1000 years ago, during the Viking era, the River Salme was still a navigable strait that separated Sõrve from the rest of Saaremaa. The place name comes from a dialect word, “salm”, which means a channel or water between is-
Tehumardi Battlefield While enjoying the ravishing views and amazing fragrance of the pine forests, it’s worth thinking about the wounds that the twists and turns of history once scored this ground with. A memorial shaped like a broken sword marks the site of Tehumardi Battle (115). This is the site of one of the bloodiest encounters in Saaremaa – a night battle that was especially tragic since the deaths of hundreds no longer had any determining importance on the outcome of the war. In early October 1944, it seemed that the battle for Estonia was over. The Red Army, which had conquered mainland Estonia had invaded Saaremaa. The Nazi forces retreated, waging a defensive battle, to Sõrve Peninsula. The retreat of German units on the River Nasva was covered by a 360-man battalion led by Captain Klaus Ritter. On the evening of 8 October, they began retreating along the highway to Sõrve. Beside them, a second 300-man German battalion was moving along the beach. That same day, a motorized advance squad of the Estonian rifle corps was sent on a mission to break through the German lines and reach Salme Village near the beginning of the peninsula. They were followed by 317 Red Army troops from the 1st Battalion of the 917th Rifle Corps. The Red Army units had no idea that two German battalions were marching toward Sõrve behind them. And the
lands. On maps as late as the 18th century, Sõrve is clearly separated from Saaremaa by a wide expanse of water. The River Salme is exceptional in that it has two mouths. One is on the Gulf of Riga and the other in the main Baltic Sea. The water in the river can flow in either direction, depending on the sea water level. According to legend, the devil once wanted to dig a ditch that would separate Sõrve from Saaremaa and sink it along with the men of Sõrve. The men of Sõrve summoned Suur Tõll to help. He grabbed a hive of bees, rushed to the devil and cast the hive at his feet. The Devil didn’t even take any notice of the giant. But then he felt the stings. And saw the
bees. Whatever his powers, he had nothing against the bees and fled. The bees gave chase in a swarm and kept on stinging him. The Devil reached a young stand of spruce where he finally was able to shake the swarm. In great pain, the Devil put a curse on the bees, forbidding them from crossing the ditch. Since that time, there have been no bees in Sõrve. The ditch is still there today, in the form of the River Salme. Sõrvemaa knows other place-name legends connected to Suur Tõll, part of which can be seen as attractions in Suur Tõll’s Raiesmaa (155). The theme park has activities for people of all ages. In the Sõrve tourist information centre (156) one can order the services of a local guide and get information and maps in different languages about accommodations and sights on Sõrve. The centre, open in the summer season, is located in the historical municipality building built in 1893. At the top of the building’s front gate is an artistic weathervane restored in 2014. Weathervanes are important cultural symbols in Sõrvemaa.
The ancient ships of Salme While Salme is known throughout Saaremaa and Estonia for its active community theatre, the place name made world headlines about 10 years ago when Viking ships were found buried on the coast in 2008 and 2010 (117). The smaller ship buried in the gravel and sand was discovered accidentally during excavations and at first the bones were considered to date from the Second World War. The fragments of ancient weapons and rivets that held the planking together suggested the ship had been buried as a funeral. A larger ship, discovered two years later, made a bigger sensation. Today we know that the 40 warriors buried on the ships in
around 750 AD were from Sweden, probably from Mälaren. They must have been important leading warriors and their entourage, as a sword had been placed by each one. Many of the skeletons bore signs of battle wounds – severed upper arms, traces of damage done by cutting weapons on skulls, ribs, vertebrae and knucklebones, an arrowhead in the head of a femur. Most of the swords were single-bladed and they all had signs of being exposed to fire. Besides the human skeletons and swords, the bones of dogs and birds, shields, knives, spearheads and arrowheads, sharpening stones, playing pieces, dice, combs made of horn and beads were found. The neck vertebrae of the man with the grandest sword had fused, so it must have been hard for him to turn his head. In the mouth of that individual, the king piece from the Viking board game hnefatafl was found, indicating his high status. It will forever remain a secret how the men died and why they were buried in Salme. Were they pillaging on these foreign shores or were they mercenaries who had served some king of Saaremaa? Were they fighting against the locals or among each other? Did they refuse to pay a levy for passing through the straits or were they the ones charging a price? In any case, the find is unique on the world level, the larger ship is the oldest known sailing ship in the Baltic Sea region. It is also the largest mass grave of warriors from that era found anywhere. Anseküla (157) is a good place for a unique look at what no longer exists. It was once the site of a church whose tower served as a lighthouse and seamark. The church was destroyed in Second World War battles, a new lighthouse being built in its place in the early 1950s. In Estonian cultural history, Anseküla is special because in the mid-19th century the Baltic German man by the name of Martin Körber served as pastor here. The secular songs and hymns he wrote spread all across Estonia and nearby Massinõmme hosted a local one-day singing event in 1863, six years before the first nationwide song festival. At Viieristi, nature lovers can go on a hike over dunes (158). The one-kilometre trail starts along the old postal road, goes over high dune embankments and through forested dunes, passing the highest point in the dunes, 34.5 m above sea level. The trail finishes on the Viieristi–Lõupõllu road near the Kõrgema “magic spring” (159). It is known locally as a holy spring that is believed to restore health, and in particular cures eye afflictions. The old custom is for women to fetch water on Christmas Eve Day and New Year’s Eve, when the magical power is at its peak. It is not a sacrificial site so no offerings should be left! The source can be hard to find because it is located at the top of a small hill. It is about 700 m from the Viieristi crossroads by Lõupõllu road and is not marked very prominently. Viieristi coastal terrace (160) runs as an unbroken stretch for 7 kilometres between the villages of Vintri and Mõntu. The highest point of the terrace is 24–27 m above sea level, and it rises 15–18 m above the base. At the foot of the terrace is a springfen about 10–50 m in width. A total of 22 protected plant species, 13 of them included in the Estonian Red Book, have been found there. From the road, a broad path leads through the pine forest to an observation site at the edge of the cliff. From the edge, a stair leads down
to the observation deck. The trailhead is marked by a low post with a nature protection symbol by the roadside. From 1873 to 1919, Mõntu Manor was owned by the long-time chairman of the Saaremaa Knighthood Oskar von Ekesparre, who spared no energy or money to develop and design the manor’s buildings and park (161) in a style befitting the station. The manor buildings were completely destroyed by war. A number of rare tree species still grow in the park. On the park’s seaside terrace (5 metres above sea level) is a beautiful view of the Gulf of Riga, the Irbe Strait and the Port of Mõntu. The coastal terrace is a good example of active erosion where the “sea eats the land”. The process became active after the port’s quays were built. The Port of Mõntu (162) was built during the First World War on Sõrve Peninsula to transport materials for fortifications being developed. Before the Second World War, Sõrve was a densely settled, thriving area. In the fierce battles of autumn 1944, a large share of the population of Sõrve was evacuated to Germany in what amounted to a deportation. The event is commemorated by a memorial opened in 2002 (163) at the Port of Mõntu, from which the majority of inhabitants were deported. An extraordinary picture of memorial stones (164) to the Soviet and Nazi soldiers killed in the Saaremaa battles of the Second World War can be seen in the village of Sääre. The memorial stones installed on the high WWI-era defensive fortifications are practically next to each other. The bronze plaque honouring the German soldiers has a cross and the words:”Zum Gedenken der auf Sworbe im Herbst 1944 geffallenen deutschen Soldaten” (in memory of the German soldiers who fell in Sõrve in autumn 1944). In the past, the memorial stone to the Soviet soldiers read, in Estonian and Russian, “Here the resistance of the fascist forces in the Estonian SSR was ultimately defeated”. Only a granite plaque with Russian inscription is currently installed.
Sõrve Lighthouse The 52-metre-high Sõrve Lighthouse (165) is one of the best-known structures in Saaremaa. Just about everyone who visits Sõrve has a picture taken with the lighthouse in the background. The slender navigational beacon is far from the first one that warns ships against running aground on the shoals. The dangers of the coast were already well known in the 17th century. In September 1646, the Livonian governor-general Gabriel Oxenstierna ordered a primitive signalling device to be built on a small island just off the end of the peninsula. This was a small structure like a well mechanism, with a fire-basket on one end burning coal and wood, and a counterweight on the other. The autumn storms soon showed that the location was poorly chosen and the beacon was moved to the tip of the peninsula itself. In 1770, a stone tower was erected in the same spot; it was damaged in the First World War. After the war, the lighthouse was restored, but in 1944, retreating Nazi forces blew up the tower. For more than 10 years, a temporary wooden lighthouse served as a signal for ships, until it was replaced by a reinforced concrete beacon in late 1960. Its powerful light can even be seen from the Latvian coast. The light-
house was closed for years, but is once again open to the public for sweeping views. Anyone who wants to find out what it is like to stand on the edge of the world should walk to the very end of Sõrve Peninsula, Vesitükimaa (166). The area consists of four islets that form a 2.7 km long chain stretching out into the water. Here the Gulf of Riga meets the main Baltic Sea; here you can stand with one foot in the Gulf of Riga (the Irbe Strait) and the other in the Baltic Sea. In Sääre village, one can find the WWI-era Russian coastal defence battery no. 43, called the Zerel (167), which was meant to close the Irbe Strait to German ships. The long-distance artillery guns had a range of more than 30 kilometres to the coast of Courland. The two furthest gun foundations in the battery are located in the yard of the Sõrve Military Museum (168). The exhibits in the museum based in a former border guard station and military fortifications consist of various military and marine objects found in Sõrve. It is open every day of the week in summer from 10am to 8pm and at other times by advance reservation. The ticket also includes admission to the natural history museum (169) in the same location. The museum has collections of butterflies, birds, fossils and much else that has been found in Sõrve. Besides nature, it covers the non-military history of Sõrve, and household and farming implements. It is open every day of the week in summer from 10am to 8pm and at other times by advance reservation.
Stebel Coastal Defence Battery Hard to get to, but fascinating as a military complex, coastal defence battery no. 315, aka the Stebel Battery (170) was built in 1940–1941. In total, nine such batteries were established on the island, and this one, named after Red Army Captain Aleksandr Stebel, was the most powerful and modern. It consisted of two standalone underground artillery towers, an observation tower furnished with a long-distance measurement instrument and a boiler plant, plus a barracks complex for 350 soldiers and offices. Each tower block had electric generators, pump station, fan room, storage facilities, crew quarters and an infirmary. The battery’s observation was camouflaged to look like a windmill. The Stebel artillery guns had a range of 40 km, and the shells were so large that they could be tracked with the naked eye. The two-storey underground commando station (171) has survived; its lower level is flooded. This facility had a generator, central heating, living quarters with indoor plumbing, a mess hall and storage facilities. It also housed a feature that was state of the art back then – a mechanical computing device for fire leading. In 1941, the Red Army personnel retreated in the face of German attack and abandoned the battery. Besides military objects, Sõrve also has objects of a completely different sort. In Iide Village stands a house with grand tower (181), where photographer to the Russian imperial court Carl Oswald Bulla (26 February 1855 – 28 November 1929) lived out his days. The photographer left Russia in 1918 and moved to the birthplace of his wife Christine Keselberg on Saaremaa. He lived and worked on
Sõrve for 11 years, documenting Saaremaa natives in folk costume going about their daily lives. The Bulla House Museum exhibits give an overview of the photographer’s work in Russia and Saaremaa. Besides the numerous photographs, Carl Bulla’s valuable camera can be seen. Bulla is buried in Jämaja Cemetery. Travelling along the western coast of the peninsula to the north, one reaches the Ohesaare cliff, 0.9 km long and up to 4 metres high, consisting of limestone and soft marlstone (172). It is one of the geologically youngest sea cliffs in Estonia and, being exposed to the open sea, it is still being eroded by storm surge. Jämaja Village is home to the Trinity Church (173), which got its current form during a major renovation in 1864. The motif of the altar painting, “Save Me, O Lord” is generally found in churches where the roar of the sea can be heard. Jämaja Cemetery (174) is the Estonian cemetery closest to the sea. It has two large cross-shaped memorials to ship crews who perished at different times and two different monuments to Sõrve people who suffered during the war. The chapel of the Buxhoeveden family, one of the oldest and most venerable Livonian families, is the oldest stone sacral building in Saaremaa. In 2015, a memorial was erected to the Russian imperial court photographer, the world-famous Carl Bulla and his wife, who was from Sõrve. The port of Kaunispe (175), exposed to the open sea, has often been wracked by storms but has always been rebuilt. The port offers lovely views of the sea and there’s also a good sandy beach for swimming. The port hosts traditional open-sea swimming competitions. Rahuste coastal meadows (176) are among the best-preserved seaside meadows that are continually grazed. During the spring and autumn migration, flocks of birds stop over here. Lõpe-Kaimri features something of interest to military history buffs – a WWII-era anti-tank line (177). The two rows of high concrete pyramids start at the Baltic Sea waterline and run about 1 km across the peninsula to the Gulf of Riga. It was supposed to tear up the enemy’s tanks and halt their advance, but the fortification was never finished due to battles already being waged. For the local people, the defensive fortification construction was a good source of income. Estonia’s best example of a limestone barren is Lõo alvar (178), a meadow with a very thin layer of soil atop limestone rock that dries completely out in summers. Alvars are a very rare form of landscape. A number of rare plant and lichen species grow on the reserve. Cup-marked cult stones from the Bronze Age, about 5,000 years ago, have been found on the alvar. Here, too, is one of Estonia’s most gracefully proportioned lighthouses – Lõu, also known as Rebase (179). It was designed and built in 1931 by a well-known lighthouse builder Armas Luige and a narrow coastal road leads to it.
Kaugatuma and Lõo cliff (180) The cliff is only a few metres high. A fossil-rich limestone outcrop by the same name is also found here. The bank is under nature protection and chipping away at the rock with a hammer on one’s own is prohibited. However, fossils can be examined on the walls of the cliff and the limestone floors at the base, including in the areas subject to erosion by wave action. The southernmost part of the terraces is called Lõo cliff. This, too, is wellknown among geologists for its fossils dating back to the Silurian Period (about 400 million years ago).
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