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Peipsimaa The Place and the People

Peipsimaa The Place and the People

contents Vasknarva

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Rannapungerja-Lohusuu. . . . . . 4 Avinurme

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Sassukvere-Ranna . . . . . . . . . . . 9 Kodavere

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Varnja-Kolkja-Kasepää . . . . . . 13 Emajõe-Suursoo

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Lüübnitsa-Beresje . . . . . . . . . . 19 Värska-Podmotsa . . . . . . . . . . 20

Compiler, the author of texts: Juhani Püttsepp Photos: Ingmar Muusikus Design: Michael Walsh, Emajõe Disain Translation into English: Mall Tamm Editor: Michael Walsh Project leader: Kaja Allilender Published by: Peipsimaa Tourism NGO © in cooperation with Tartu Rural Development Association Printed by: Ecoprint Estonia, Tartu 2012

We also thank photographers who made a contribution from their archives: Lauri Kulpsoo p 9 (upper photo), p 13 (upper photo); Ove Maidla p 10 (upper photo), p 11 (lower photos), p 12 (lower photo); Arne Ader p 14 (lower photo). The author expresses his gratitude to Eha Järv for her assistance in compailing the texts, Mall Hiiemäe and Urmas Kalla, who read the manuscript and gave good advice. The idea to write the book was born during my first journalistic trips to the shores of Lake Peipsi together with Herki Köbas when we worked for the newspaper Postimees. Inner covers: the area of Lake Peipsi photographed from the height of 700 km by the Landsat (scanner thematic mapper). These photos were compiled by Urmas Peterson.



The village guarding the peace of our peoples Lake Peipsi (Lake Peipus) can be considered the protector of Finno-Ugric relatives in nature. In the Northern part of the lake, at the head of the River Narva, on the left or western bank there is Vasknarva with its fortress and a convent as if the tumbler of protection. In Russian the place is called “Syrenets” from the word “syrost” which means dampness. The first fortress in Vasknarva was built by the Master of the Order Goswin von Herike in 1349 but soon the warriors of Pskov razed it to the ground. The construction of the new fortress (partially surviving) began in 1427 under the supervision of the master-builders from Tallinn. In 1581 the forces of Pontus De la Gardie conquered it back from Russians and the fortress, suffering in repeated battles, was not fully restored. For more than one hundred years Vasknarva remained a foothold of Swedes and for centuries it was important as a trading corridor. In the 1930s there were about one thousand five hundred people in the village. During church holidays almost all the people of Vasknarva went by boats to the eastern bank of the river, the village of Skamya which at that time was part of the Republic of Estonia. Skamya, by the way, received its name already in the 10th century when Princess Olga visited it with her military unit. The local people brought a wooden bench (skamya) to the river bank for the princess to sit down. In the 21st century the number of indigenous people is so small that you can count them on your fingers and toes. Fortunately, life survives thanks to the convent with the Eelija (Ilja) Church. In the church the wonder-working icon, found in the 16th century at Kuremäe under an old oak tree, is kept. The Vasknarva Convent with about ten nuns is a part of the Kuremäe Pühtitsa Convent. An annual great event at Vasknarva is the procession led by a cross in the end of summer on Ilya’s Day, in honour of the saint whose name the church bears. Nuns carry flags, holiday-makers and their children participate in the procession trying to catch the drops of sacred water which the priest with a big brush spreads in all the directions. Secular power in the village is kept by the Border Guard Cordon. As there are no other authorities, the border guard officers have to fulfill all kinds of tasks as life demands. In winter and early spring they save fishermen, help tourists who have broken their boats, remove fallen trees from the road. Even then when a bearded motorcyclist covered with dust knocks at the door of the cordon and asks: “Ciao! Dov`è l`aeroporto?” the border guard officer Vaido Veit (in the photo) instructs him. Unfortunately, no ferry, no boat takes the visitor to the opposite bank. In the middle of the river there is the Estonia-Russia state border. Fishermen go closer to this unseen line from both sides and talk with each other across the water. “Hi, Nikolai, how are you?”, says one of the fishermen. Nikolai answers: “In the morning I could catch one pike, but the catch is small.” Both men would like to visit the opposite bank, but, however, for a handshake they have to make a round of one hundred kilometers via the border crossing point in Narva.

The groynes on the River Narva

In the 1930s the River Narva was deepened and at the beginning of the river groynes were built of limestone and granite blocks to avoid floods. The building materials were brought from the stretch of the river between Permisküla and Karoli villages by ferries. One of them capsized, later the place became a popular spawning area for fish. From the book „The River Narva” (2010)




Across the water and sands the moon is shining on the coast

The night cream “Lake Peipus“

In fact, I am a sea-lover. Even to such a degree that coming to study in Tartu made me feel at the beginning that all the taps of oxygen had been turned off. And then, in one mellow summer when I was pregnant waiting for my first child, I betrayed the sea. Lake Peipsi! Since that time I have spent at least some days at Peipsi each summer. I leave my car at the barrier and simply run to the lake. Only after that I go and greet my friends, take my things into the house, have the first glasses of wine and then everything else belonging to Peipsi follows. When is Peipsi most charming? Is it in the early morning when I walk my dachshund on the beach, the sand under my bare feet is still damp and the disc of the sun predicts another hot day? Or waiting for the evening when others have gone home and I am still lying in the sun and feel like dozing off? Oh, no! Peipsi is best at night when the stars show the way, warm waves touch your legs and it is time for night swimming. There is no better care to your glowing skin than the night cream “Lake Peipus”. Margit Kilumets, madly in love with Peipsi


My love for Peipsi began in my childhood when we were holiday-makers at Raadna. Once in the evening I got lost. My parents were running themselves out of breath and shouting all over the place but I was sitting at the fishermen’s fire, looking at the moon and listening to the accordion being played. My heart was broken. Was it the reflection of the moon in the smooth water, the pines, the sandy beach – or all together? When I became a mother myself I came back to Lake Peipsi for holidays, and now I come with my grandchild. The water in the lake gets deeper slowly, step after step and it is very nice for the little ones to dabble near the shore, and the lake gets warmer more quickly than the sea. Not a single summer has passed when I did not swim in Lake Peipsi. It has happened that on hot days the lake does not cool you, it is as warm as soup. Peipsi summer. In June there are swarms of gnats, cool nights but the days of scorching sun. The first wild strawberries. Everything is ahead. July – a classical month for holidays. Many friends, grilling, talking. Bilberries, raspberries. Grasshoppers scrape on their fiddles next to the sun-bathers. This is sweet life! In August – thunderstorms. We have admired the play of light on the lake remaining ourselves on the shore. It is so powerful that we lose the fear of thunder. By day such huge rainbows appear that you wish to swim to them. So real they seem. Once, on August evening when sitting on the stairs outside I heard soft crunching. In the morning I found a big ring of chanterelles. The mushrooms had pushed themselves to the ground. In September the beach is empty of people, and you feel sad. The sun, clouds and the water – a picture of heartening beauty and loneliness. The biggest charm of Lake Peipsi is its quiet and peaceful atmosphere, especially in the end of summer. Unfortunately, in my life I have met the people who come to the beach and into the water in their mighty cars leaving behind deep ruts. There are others who are speeding up their scooters, making terrible noise and the smoky smell of petrol makes us sick. I do not expect such tourists to come to Lake Peipsi. All the nice people who know how to value the beauty and charm of nature are most welcome. But you must be careful – you may fall in love with Peipsi! Katrin Streimann, a life-long holiday-maker at Lake Peipsi



Forests and moors where you can hear the sound of stillness Peipsimaa (the Land of Peipsi) does not only mean a big lake and surrounding lowlands but a much wider area, a region of culture with complicated history as the historians Tanel Moora and Lembit Jaanits say in their book “Peipsi” (2008). Peipsimaa also includes extensive forests and wetlands to the North of the lake: Muraka, Agusalu, Puhatu. Also, the settlements Iisaku and Mäetaguse, Kurtna with its lakes full of clear water and Kuremäe with the Pühtitsa Convent. We have heard the place names in the wilderness sounding romantic in Estonian – Virunurme, Tarumaa, Varessaare – and immediately wanted to seize a wayfarer’s stick and be bound for them. This is the area bordering on the mines of Eastern Virumaa, powerful electric power stations and industrial enterprises, but, however, it is inhabited by rare flying squirrels in the stillness of deep forests, where on a fine afternoon you may meet a huge male bear walking on two hind legs along a path. This is Alutaguse. When did the first man step on the Land of Peipsi? The answer could be – not earlier than 12,000 years ago when the last Ice Age came to an end. The settlement in the Middle Stone Age (6-5 millennia before Christ) is proved by finds from the bottom of Lake Peipsi – fishing spear heads, a hook and an arrowhead. For a long time Alutaguse was not inhabited but there is evidence that it was visited for hunting and fishing. In the 11-12th centuries the man also settled in these deep forests – coming from the East. The ethnographer Alice Moora says that among the first permanent settlers of Alutaguse there were many Votians, the people from the Baltic Finnish kindred nation. Their fate in the 20th century has not been very good. The number of the Votians speaking the Vote language today is unfortunately about ten. Researchers have connected Votians with the ancient Estonian County of Vaia (the Northern part of the present-day County of Jõgeva). This is why it is not bad to think about the fact that the blood of the extinct Votians definitely flows in the vessels of the people living in the villages near Lake Peipsi.

The path to quietude

What is there behind the blueing distance waiting for us? Where is the border between reveries and dreams? Where does the real life begin? I look across the bare land at the blueing forests, the other shore of the marshland where some single higher spots are the islands in the marsh. Although I have never been there, I know something about them. I know they are oblong mineral hillocks in the middle of a large peat plains swaying under your feet where a huge number of silver birches tries to outwin ancient aspens. In autumn when the leaves of dwarf birches fall, silver birches are still invitingly yellow. Many times I have tried to go to them but it is not so simple as I have thought. In summer the islands are separated from the edge of the marsh by a soft quaggy ground nobody dares crossing. Once in winter, when the bog pods had frozen, I was caught by a snowstorm and in the middle of the marsh I came to an open rivulet. This is how these islands in the marshland are distant and inaccessible but with years I have become aware that blueing distances must remain where they are... Edgar Kask, a photographer of nature, from the book “The path to quietude. Muraka marshland”.




The places for the artist’s spirit to escape from the world

Rein, the feet touch the bottom!

The Estonian literary classic Juhan Liiv has written about two men – Rein and Jaak – when they were coming back from Russia where they tried to find a better life. It was the time of breaking up of ice when the men came from Oudova to Lohusoo across Lake Peipsi. The warm southerly wind was blowing and by midday they had reached the centre of the lake. It began snowing. “You hear, something in the distance is murmuring. The men, as if paralyzed, listen more carefully. Yes! It is water. The ice on the lake is breaking.“ The men constantly repeat the Lord’s Prayer and rush ahead across the quaking ice. One of the men promises to give a chandelier to the church if he escapes. The other, a merchant, promises to finish cheating of his buyers. They already see the tower of the Lohusuu Church as their saver, but water is also on the ice. “The men jump from one block of ice to another, more than once they pull each other out of water, life and death are fighting”, Juhan Liiv is painting a terrible picture. Finally Rein falls into the lake but luckily. “Oh, the deuce!” shouts Rein who is knee-deep in the water having fallen from a piece of ice. “Jaak, my feet are on the bottom of the lake!“ On the next day they have forgotten all their promises. Instead of a chandelier the church gets a candlestick, the merchant continues to weigh his goods in a wrong manner.


There are two villages on the northwestern shores of Lake Peipsi, a couple of kilometers from each other, both at the mouths of rivers, Lohusuu on the River Avijõgi, Rannapungerja on the River Rannapungerja. Once the rivers were full of log rafts and raftsmen’s shouting. On the banks you could hear the accordion being played and the girls screaming with laughter and jumping across the fire. Now only a lonely angler with his rod can be seen. You cannot see Russia across the lake, even if looking with field glasses. Two small villages could be a harbour of refuge for some people to escape from the world, or a source of inspiration to an artist who is looking for nostalgic and lyrical views. The last light-house keeper at Rannapungerja Tiiu Pärn says that some people may consider life in the village dull, but all the months are fine with the exception of rainy and dark November. Although the light-house was automated about ten years ago, Tiiu Pärn is not free from obligations, especially in summer. She has to take care of grandchildren and keep an eye on them when they are swimming in the dark-coloured river between water lilies. The culmination of summer is the time of light-house concerts in June which are organized by Ilmar Kangur, the village chief, and his son actor Guido Kangur. Many people gather at concerts. The weather has always been fine, nobody knows what it is like next year. If Tiiu Pärn has time, she prepares a simple fish dish for herself. Young people may not appreciate it. Tiiu takes ten small perches, some ruffs included. She fries the fishes with oil, adds some spices, water and boils them. Nothing can be more tasteful.



The place where babies bathe in a wooden bath Once, with my father Enno Strauss, we saved an ancient oaken beer cask from the fire. Now it is standing in the Avinurme storehouse of wooden objects among new products – the exhibition of old things together with the goods of the modern times. The interest in barrels which I inherited from my forefathers is still very strong in me. From the antique shops I carry home the vessels made by our predecessors, the coopers. For centuries wood work was popular at Avinurme. In old days coopers worked in villages and families separately, some made ordinary household utensils, others winnowing sieves, still others piggins for beer for the bath houses in the capital. There was a man who made horns for herdsmen in Finland. At present there are 15 companies at Avinurme where furniture and broomsticks, pails and barrels, baskets and bath house tools are made. Every workshop makes its own products and has its own market, they do not disturb each other, they are not afraid of competition. The masters join in the Avinurme storehouse (in the photo) for selling wooden objects where everybody has enough space to sell his products. We want to show our guests that Avinurme is a nice place to live at. Beside the storehouse, the Life Style Centre also preserves genus loci and transfers the centuries-long skills to the young. For example, in the Centre you can learn how to bake the home-made bread. Before Christmas children can write letters there asking for a wooden car, a wooden horse, or a cradle for dolls as presents. In summer you can travel by a narrow-gauge train learning about the history of Avinurme (in the photo). Our family firm E. Strauss grew up from family traditions. In the childhood home farm of the mother Eve Strauss only wooden vessels were used. A wooden bucket was hanging at the pole of a draw well, in the farmhouse there were a vessel for bread dough mixing and a watertub, in the bath house a washtub, in the granary barrels for meat and cabbage, pails for mushrooms and small Baltic herrings. The father Enno Strauss, educated at the Luua Forestry School, came to work at the Avinurme folk art objects’ workshop UKU which produced piggins for the bath house and chip baskets, beer piggins and mugs. In our family we have a lot of baskets for every need. In the list of products of our firm there are about 400 different titles for wooden and chip objects. For example, a couple of years ago, it became fashionable to bake one’s bread at home. We began to make vessels for making the dough from pine trees. In the middle of Avinurme forests, we can feel the closeness of Lake Peipsi. Most of the Avinurme barrels travelled to the villages on the shores of the lake. The pike (“avi” in Estonian) reaches our table via the river. According to the legend Kalevipoeg drove pikes up the River Avijõgi. At Avinurme the pike is called “avi” not “havi” as in literary Estonian. Eveli Tooming, the marketing manager of the E.Strauss firm (in the photo)

The barrel fair at Avinurme “Who does not know the men of Avinurme with their wooden vessels? Most probably there is not a single fair in our country where there are not cartloads of wooden vessels sold by men from Avinurme. There are not farms where some vessels from Avinurme are missing.” This is what Gustav Vilbaste writes in his book “Travelling in the homeland” in 1923. Even one hundred years later the people from Avinurme can be seen selling at fairs, although at present you can order goods from Avinurme through the webpage of the storehouse, but the most economical purchases can be made at Avinurme. On the Midsummer Eve, before the village dancing, there is a lot of fresh smell of wood. Masters of tubs, barrels and baskets – all of them – have come to the fair.




The town with the biggest number of churches in Estonia

Many languages spoken at Mustvee

The pastor Eenok Haamer from Mustvee says that the local people very easily mix up the languages they speak. In the town there are many mixed marriages, mostly the Russian man had married an Estonian woman. Once the pastor Haamer, during the sepulture of an Estonian woman spoke Estonian but most of the mourners were Russians. Later many of them praised the pastor’s very good Russian language although he had spoken Estonian. “The Estonian language must have been so understandable to them that they had a feeling that I had been speaking in Russian,” says the pastor Haamer. Beside Russian and Estonian cultures there is a special corner of the Basque culture in Mustvee. This is Benito Agirre Street, a couple of hundred meters long with the houses in the apple orchards. Agirre (in full: Inazio Agirregoikoa Benito) was a Basque by nationality who perished on 9 March 1944 when his military plane made an emergency landing on Lake Peipsi. Mustvee must be a most religious place with its five churches. Certainly, there are many more churches in Tallinn where more than four hundred thousand people live, in Mustvee there are only one and a half thousand inhabitants.


The researchers of the lake leave the port of Mustvee to study Peipsi. Earlier we boarded the “Biologist” and now we have the “Õnneleid” – the ship was named after Neeme Õnneleid Mikelsaar, the founder of the Limnology Centre of the Estonian University of Life Sciences. We study Lake Peipsi seven times a year, from May to October once a month and in March in winter. Then we go on ice using a border guard hovercraft. We have even lived on Peipsi: we work on the ship, prepare food and sleep, feeling at home. When there was no state border, we went to Pskov and at Oudova we visited the restaurant “Goluboi Dunai”. We have experienced rough waters many times. Peipsi is a shallow lake, the waves are precipitous, rocking the ship. People say that during World War II, when all the sea shores were closed, the Dutch soldiers tried to catch fish from Peipsi but gave it up – they had not experienced such waves. Once at the end of September, coming from the North, there were no lights at the port of Mustvee. For the whole night we remained on the stormy lake. I have never experienced anything more terrible. My colleague Juta Haberman was lying in her cot and from time to time she stretched out her hand to touch the floor to check whether water was rising. What is common to the sea and Lake Peipsi? Both are boundless. There are many places in the middle of the lake on the Mustvee-Oudova line where you cannot see the shores but Peipsi has no salty smell of the sea. We always denote the colour of the water of Lake Peipsi as yellowish green, Lake Pskov has more brown colour. It is evident that Lake Pskov has become more eutrophic, its state is bad and step by step pollution moves to the North, to the big lake. Pollution (phosphorus, nitrogen) comes basically from the Russian side, the River Velikaya, which is proved by satellite photos. The fish catch has decreased in comparison with the 1930s when they began to measure it. The number of species preferring colder waters like lavaret, sparling, whitefish and burbot is decreasing. As Juta Haberman says Lake Peipsi is a lake in its golden manhood. On the initiative of Juta some very good books have been published both in Estonian and English. The Russian translation is in print and we hope to give it to scientific research institutions in Russia and also to the schools and libraries at the lake. When I presented the book on Lake Peipsi to the Office of the President of Estonia, I wrote a dedication “Peipsi is a precious gift of nature to Estonia, keep an eye on it!” Reet Laugaste, lake researcher (in the photo)



The length of the village street is seven kilometers Raja is a street-village near Mustvee on the shores of Lake Peipsi. Together with the neighbouring villages Kükita, Tiheda and Kasepää a village street with the length of seven kilometers is formed. The main transport vehicle of the inhabitants of Raja is a Finnish sledge (finki) in winter. In the warmer times it is a bicycle which the elderly people push on their side. Every Sunday morning, at half past eight, eight bells toll in the wooden belfry inviting Russian Old Believers to the “malenya” – salvation. The bell ringer is an old man, the warden of the Raja Old Believers Osip Jotkin. He also makes candles from the beeswax. During each service 60 candles are needed and when burning, they emit a sweet smell. The belfry, restored in 1990, and the granite foundation (repaired thanks to the EU support) are the only remains of the famous church in the Raja village which was built at the beginning of the 20th century. The church which burnt down during the war in August 1944 was the largest church of Old Believers in the world – having space for five hundred people. The icon painter Gavril Frolov had come to Raja from Voronež in Russia at the end of the 19th century. He opened a school for icon painters, taught children the Church Slavic language and singing. In 1930 Frolov passed away and he was buried behind the church where the place of his sepulchre can still be seen. During Soviet times his sepulchre was plundered and Frolov was reburied in the graveyard in 1957. Frolov’s most famous student was Pimin Sofronov (1893–1973) who opened a school for icon painters in Paris and later worked in Vatican. Frolov’s icons are kept in the convent of the Old Believers - the same house in which prayer service is held. Brown, white and red shades of colour have been used. Distant and at the same time all-seeing looks from the icons. If we do not believe in the Lord, we do not believe in ourselves and others – this is what the Old Believers say. During the malenya the soul becomes cleaner and the prayer feels better. Residents left the convent in 1989 but the rooms are kept ready as if waiting for those who want to escape from everyday life and become free to serve the Lord. Through the white lace curtains you can see the blue Peipsi. The convent was built on the shores of the lake to make Old Believers able to eat fish during fast.

Why do the fishermen of Peipsi put the bread on the table in the right way?

You see, I heard that they believed that the hunk of bread should not be turned upside down. As the loaf was baked with the upper part upwards, it should be in the same way on the table. They could even beat one another if somebody turned the loaf of bread upside down. But if you do it, they firmly believe it means that the ship may capsize. (Written down from the words of G.I.Ushakova in Kükita, the neighbouring village to Raja, in 2006. Published in the book “Peculiar shores of Lake Peipsi” by Nadežda Morozova and Yuri Novikov)




A small village, facing Lake Peipsi, with it’s back to big forests

Rafting logs on Lake Peipsi

In 1924 Karl Robert Keerberg wrote his graduation paper at the Department of Forestry of Tartu University titled “Rafting timber in the Northern Peipsi catchment area”. He describes the work of raftsmen in the rivers Omedu, Alajõgi, Avijõgi, Rannapungerja, etc. “When you come to the river, the first thing is to roll logs into water, it is piecework, 1-2 marks per log depending upon the distance. Going down the river, the workers follow the logs and push more of them into the river.” At the mouth of the river logs are tied into rafts. The row of rafts of 650 m3 was pulled by a tugboat across Lake Peipsi to Tartu. The forests near Kodavere were a good source of firewood and logs for Tartu. The timber of worse quality which was smaller than logs was cut into firewood and transported to Tartu by barges. At Omedu a part of logs remained in the factory of wooden cardboard and boards which in 1923 employed 200 people.


“Heave ho! Heave ho!” The strength of all the people on the raft was necessary to pull the raft with a lorry or a cartload on board from one bank to the other on the River Omedu. The bridge across the river was built only in 1957. The territory of some twenty kilometers of the shore of the lake from the River Omedu (the Estonian Kasepää village) up to Kallaste is inhabited from olden times by Estonians whose neighbours are Russian Old Believers. In 2012 there are 55 people living at Omedu as the Head of the Village Community Leida Jõgi says. Ove Kalme (in the photo), the owner of the Ninametsa farm, which is the southernmost in the village, looks at Lake Peipsi reaching his farmyard. He would like to go fishing, in the middle of April, the ice is still strong to carry a sleigh but the prohibition rules are very strict. For about nine months, from May to January, traps were kept in the lake, in addition to net fishery. In 2011 the lake gave Ove Kalme 40 tons of fish – pike perch, bream, perch, pike... The time of breaking up of ice is used for putting fishing devices in good order. The weels with small meshes for catching sparling remain hanging under the ceiling of the shed for nets. Three quarters of a century ago the stoves for drying sparling were heated immediately after ice was breaking. These were big stoves in which a man can move stooping to turn round the fishes lying on white sand to dry. In autumn the same stoves were used to dry the roots of chicory sent to Finnish ladies in towns to make a coffee-drink. Leida Jõgi remembers the smell of a sparling pie. The dried sparling was boiled for a second, a hard-boiled egg and fried onions were added and peppered. The sparling mixture was baked in a white dough on the baking sheet in the oven. Kodavere, the centre of the parish, is eight kilometers away. Young women went to church carrying their shoes and walking barefoot on the sandy shore. Once people were going to church, fighting with the wind blowing into their faces. In the church they prayed the Lord to change the direction of the wind. On their way back home they were again going against the wind. The strength of the storm and the ice dies down when it hits the boulders on the shore. The Ninametsa farm is also protected by boulders. According to the legend Kalevipoeg had thrown the Rookivi boulder himself to the village of Omedu. A wolf was hunting for a sheep and the hero had frightened it away with a skilful throw. The huge stone defended the people of Omedu when in the summer of the war in 1941 they had gathered behind it to find shelter during an air raid. Bullets also hit the stone. One elderly woman was waving with a white kerchief in her hand and shouting “It is us, us!” Leida Jõgi remembers that shooting stopped at once.



1000-year-old villages and an oak tree which is 1000 years old Two villages speaking in the Kodavere language stand side by side – Ranna is closer to the lake and Sassukvere is somewhat father away. What is the Kodavere language? It is a dialect where, for example, instead of “oli” they say “õli”. Fragments of a day vessel tell us that on the banks of the Sassukvere rivulet there was (“õli”) life already one thousand years ago. Retired Mart Kaldaru lives on the Tosso farm at Sassukvere which his forefathers had bought from the Ranna landlord Count Manteuffel in 1879. The legend tells that Peter von Manteuffel, called a crazy Count, went to the Kodavere church by a sleigh in summer. He had boasted that it was nice for him to look at the sparkles coming from the runners. Mart Kaldaru tells us: “The land of one farm here is not in one piece, small haylands and fields may be in ten different places. The reason is that friendly von Manteuffel wanted to give each farmer an equal share of land. The boarders of our fields are marked by stones carved with marks. Also, the fields are full of stones. In the Soviet times land improvement was carried out and the tractor, named Stalinets, with a thick cable pulled huge stones out of the fields. The road margins were full of colossal heaps of stones, then they disappeared and new heaps were made. Almost every spring new stones appeared in the field for the farmer to collect. Our farmstead is 800 meters from Lake Peipsi. As a child I went to swim several times a day. I remember how sheep were washed and horses swam. Nowadays old paths to the lake are mostly closed: with signs of “No entry”, “Private property”. We go swimming near the Kodavere church. When we have guests, it is best to offer them the local whitefish. I have a stove for making smoked fish. It can be used for one hundred fishes at a time. I start heating it with dried alder, then add fresh ones to get a good smoke. One hour and the fish is smoked. However, today there is very little whitefish left. Some twenty years ago Russian fishermen from Kallaste came to us with loads of whitefish and you could by bucketfuls. My mother Magda preserved whitefish in a tomato sauce, it was quite good but a real delicacy is the smoked whitefish.”

The oak of Ranna

The oak of Ranna, which is considered to be one thousand years old, stands at the Kallaste-Mustvee road. The forester Hendrik Relve measured it in the year 2000 and the height of the tree in the village of Ranna was 16 meters and the circumference of the tree trunk 480 centimeters. It was possible to measure correctly one branch of the earlier much bigger tree. With the help of annual rings of the tree growth Relve established that the tree was 400 years old. In the folklore archives there are several entries about the power of the oak. Once 12 young men preparing for confirmation went into its hollow and drank a bottle of vodka there. The lady of the Ranna manor had a coffeetable in the hollow. In the Swedish times there had once been 20 soldiers in it. The folklore researcher Mall Hiiemäe writes in her book “The Story of the Rannamõisa Oak” that the oak had experienced both the fear and mercy of man. During the 1905 uprising the oak was set on fire, later supports to the tree trunk have been adjusted many times. When Mart Kaldaru went to Ranna school from Sassukvere, he passed the famous oak twice a day.




Where traditions survive in the stripes of the national costume skirt

Men as pepper grains

It seems that one hundred packs of peppercorns have been spread on the snow. There are so many anglers from the holes made in the Peipsi ice. When you look at them from a high Kodavere shore, you may count three thousand men. But when the northerly cold winds blow, the men come to the shore – some go home, some into their cars to wait for the wind to die down. In early spring it may happen that the ice breaks so quickly and several men on iceblocks may drift away so that they have to be saved by border guards with hovercraft or helicopters. What else to do if you yearn to fish on Lake Peipsi? As Latvians have no lake, so powerful and huge, they are in the majority of winter anglers. On some winter Sunday, early in the morning, you can see columns of Latvian cars coming in in the direction of Lake Peipsi. Like a bird colony, the men chirping in different languages, share their impressions. Be the man an Estonian, Latvian or Russian, he wears a fur coat, warm trousers and mittens with finger-holes in them to allow the gnat larva to be fixed to the hook. If the fish does not take the bite, the impatient fisherman makes a new ice hole using either a drill or an ice pick. In spring, when the ice is thicker than half a meter you cannot use the pick. You start in the morning and get a hole in the evening. But if the fish bites, the rod flexes and you will catch a perch brightly shining in the sun.


A nice alley leads us from the road to the Kodavere St. Michael’s Church. One hundred years ago a pastor had complained that the people of Kodavere were indifferent to religion, of rough behaviour and uneducated. We cannot say that in the 21st century. Eevi Treial, a woman who lives in the village of Sääritsa and is one of the keepers of the Kodavere dialect, says that on Sundays you can even see young people and children in the church which is not most common in Estonia. An old story tells us about a day when the Kodavere Church became empty during a service when a huge shoal of breams came to the shore of the lake to spawn. The writer August Gailit describes this event in his novel “Ekke Moor” in the following way: “The bream came to the shore! As if lightening has struck the house – no sound, helpless silence. No voices. Oh Lord, the bream has come to the shore – the people’s bread, their life. /---/ Nobody sleeps at night – women have made fire in their kitchen-ranges, waiting readily with their pots and pans for the arrival of boats. Children doze not reaching their beds, even hungry dogs move about in the village, raising their snouts, looking at the lake and craving for fish.” “The times, when the boat stopped in the water because of two much fish round it, are in the past,” says Eevi Treial but many Kodavere traditions are still alive: beautiful national costumes which are worn at singing and dancing festivals by the people of even other parishes, and the local dialect. For several times in summer Eevi Treial has organized dialect camps during which even small children learn that at Kodavere you should say “õli” instead of “oli”.



Mercedes engine, airplane tyres, tractor steering wheel – a karakatitsa! As its title says, Kallaste is a town on the lakeshore which is famous for its kilometer-long Devon sandstone cliff. Swallows like to dig their nests into the cliff. It is also believed that in the bigger openings mermaids, called Russalkas, live. They are dangerous spirits with black, green or golden hair. In the Krasnogorski Church at Kallaste the Russian Old Believers light the candle with another burning candle as the ritual demands and bow to the icons, many of them presented by local fishermen. They especially believe that St. Nikolaus helps people on the water, saves fishermen, makes waves less dangerous and frightens mermaids. The leader of Old Believers at Kallaste Pavel Varunin (in the photo) says that their church survives as long as young people who learn to sing in ancient Russian language come to church. There are difficulties in following the traditions. The church calendar prescribes certain days when believers have to eat fish but according to Varunin it is more and more difficult to get the catching licenses. “We must buy frozen fish in the shop but it is not the fish we ourselves can catch in the lake!” In olden days people went fishing so that they put a small house on the sledge and the horse took it to Lake Peipsi. The horse’s eyes were closed putting a sack on its head to avoid the fear of crossing ice-cracks. The horse went then where its master wanted. People lived on the ice in the house and caught fish for a week or two. The horse was waiting, getting tired and willing to go back home. The anchor was cast into the hole in the ice and the horse was tied to the anchor so that it could not move before the sacks were full of fish. That was the time of great-grandfathers, but then all kinds of oil guzzling inventions appeared. Snowmobiles were among them but they were unsafe. At the bottom of the Mother Peipsi there are more wrecked snowmobiles than the armours of the Knights of the Cross from the Ice Battle of 1242. Then the men on the shores of Lake Peipsi invented Karakatitsa, RubberJuku by name, which consists of 77 parts being a wonder-maker. The most important parts are the tyres of a military airplane from the former Soviet Air Force base in Tartu. One tyre alone can keep half a ton on water, no fear of drowning. For discs you can use two watertubs from a sauna, the engine from an old Mercedes or a wheelchair, the petrol tank from a motorcycle. For three months you have no time for your wife in the evenings until your Karakatitsa is built! And then – fire! Fifty kilometers per hour! You rush to the lake. Everything is white, borderless, festive! The engine throbs, you add gas and the next moment you are almost flying. It is difficult to notice higher ice barriers covered with snow.

A competing vehicle is also a Finnish sledge or a finki

Not every fisherman has a Karakatitsa. “Nash motorchick nog (our little engine),” say the fishermen in Russian who prefer healthy lifestyle and go to their angling holes by the Finnish sledge. Your boots must have nails out of your soles not to suffer from the slippery ice when pushing the sledge. If you want to see Karakatitsa, come to Kallaste in February to see the competitions.




The white palace reminds us of the Baltic-German culture

Nina ice-mountains

Our Kalevipoeg wanted to build a stone bridge across Peipsi – to make his visits to Russia more comfortable. The first part of the bridge, a heap of stones can still be seen behind the Russian Orthodox Church of Nina. Somebody says that Kalevipoeg brought the stones, the other says it is Lake Peipsi which brings stones with ice every spring. When the spring winds blow from Russia, in April there may be huge ten-meter-high ice mountains between Nina and Kolkja. People come from Tartu to look at the mountains, climb up, enjoy the sun, drink wine, sledge on the slopes and they feel as if in real mountains. The people of Nina say that the ice mountains come within one night when the northeasterly wind blows and make noise. In 1925 the ice was so strong that it pushed the houses of the Nina village away from their foundations. In the following year the government gave some money for relocating the houses away from the shore. This is where they are located today.


Autumn. Midnight. At the dirty and neglected entrance to the palace an old collective farm lorry has stopped. In the hall with creaking floor boards the village people are shown a Soviet film. The palace with only some lights in the windows smells of dampness and mouldiness. Afterwards the people start dancing to the recorded disco music, later they go through Alatskivi stealing apples from gardens here and there from behind the forest comes the sound of the waves of Lake Peipsi. Graveyard. Darkness. About ten throbbing hearts round Juhan Liiv’s grave. “For how long is your homeland in darkness, how hard is your burden to bear”, recites somebody by candlelight – the great poet’s lines from his tombstone sound as a demand for freedom. A quarter of a century later. In the spring of 2012, in the Republic of Estonia, the place of Alatskivi is bright as a seagull’s white wing – fully restored, to the last stone in the fireplace. No need to steal apples. At the palace restaurant Estonian farm food, the manor’s delicacies and the Scottish dessert from red onions are served. The Scottish dessert reminds us that the palace was built in 1880–1885 by the order of the landlord von Nolken using the Scottish royal castle of Balmoral as an example. On the first floor there is a museum devoted to the great national composer Eduard Tubin where the visitor can hear his music. Eduard Tubin grew up at the Naelavere village near Alatskivi, the listeners of his first concerts played by the shepherd’s flute were his animals. In the cellar a lady from the manor, a valet, a home tutor of the landlord’s children wink at you (or it only seems so) – these are wax figures. “If you want to get acquainted with the Baltic-German manorial culture from the period of historicism, Alatskivi is the right place to visit,” says Külli Must, the head of the foundation “The Palace of Alatskivi”. In 2011 there were 30,000 visitors to the palace. Rumbling of Peipsi behind the forest, the words on Juhan Liiv’s tombstone remain the same, must remain the same, to warn the people who are too optimistic. Liiv’s poetry is being read, also in the Liiv’s museum in his home place, the Oja farm. The people who have visited Alatskivi, the palace, the museum, the graveyard – either in spring or autumn – can understand Juhan Liiv’s poetry better, feel its touch. Having finished your onion dessert, having closed the palace door, do not hurry to your car. Take time and walk on the slopes of the primeval Alatskivi valley, look at the lakes in its bottom, think about Kalevipoeg – how great a man he was. Near Alatskivi there were the only strongholds (Kalevipoeg’s bed, Alatskivi stronghold) in the area of Peipsi. This is where according to folklore legends the kings of Estonians had lived.



Old Believers treasure their churches with crosses of eight branches Wuff! My name is Charlik. I am eight years old and arrived in the Vanja village at Lake Peipsi as a puppy in April 2004. Each day my master Vassili Anufriyevich Kutkin takes me on a lead for a walk on the shores of Peipsi, the lake is behind our garden. When the ice is strong we go on the lake. There are footprints of animals, smells left behind by fishermen and cracks in the ice where I can poke my nose. Once the lake was far away from our house, there was even a forest where people picked mushrooms. In 1844 a colossal wave brought the lake to our doorstep. Zoya Ivanovna Kutkina (in the photo), my master’s wife, has a scientific book that tells about these events. Zoya is very much interested in her roots, she is also one of the founders of the live history museum of Varnja. My kennel is next to the onion-drying sheds and this is why they sometimes call me the Guardian of Onions. Onions are harvested at the end of July or the beginning of August. In October, when it is getting cold, the unsold onions are taken to the loft. This Kutkin’s variety of onion may be several hundred years old, most probably their forefathers carried the bulbs in their pockets when they came to Lake Peipsi from Central Russia in the 17th century. I am also interested in onion trade, because I allow the buyer to scratch and caress me. My master has put some hay on the bottom of my kennel. They say the hay dates back to the times when people kept cattle. It was one hundred years ago when Zoya’s great grandfather still lived. The stretch of the street which leads to Peipsi between the houses is still called today the Lazarev Zaulok or the Lazarev passage. Who uses this passage? Fishermen, swimmers. I do not bark at all of them. A fisherman may catch fish, then I can also have a bite. Zoya Ivanovna is the leader of the Varnja Old Believers’ congregation and she carefully follows the calendar when it is allowed to eat fish and when the believers must fully fast. Charlik, one of the biggest dogs in the village of Varnja (in the photo)

Peipsiääre parish

In the Peipsiääre municipality along the shores of the lake there is a row of villages Varnja, Kasepää and Kolkja forming an original six-kilometer-long village street. On the one side of the road, farther away from the lake, there is a row of houses built on high foundations and on the other side of the road there are onion drying sheds, yards for nets, brushwood, reed walls, boats and then the lake. Old men with fine beards are sitting on the benches in the shade, thinking their thoughts. Their powerful wives are bowing above colourful flowerbeds and weeding them. They have spent their time looking at the lake, fishing, taking care of the houses and gardens, fasting and praying. The Old Believers’ Congregation Head at Varnja Vassili Akentyevitsh Remets lived more than 90 years like that. In his old age he was also swimming and boating. He jumped into water from his boat but once he could not climb back. He came to the shore pushing the boat ahead of him. Then he said: “No more to the lake. Amen!“




When I look down from the clouds, I can see water and grass

The cranberries’ favourite place

At some time this was Lake Peipsi instead of almost 200 km2 of marshland. At present the surface of EmajõeSuursoo is only a meter higher than the level of water in Lake Peipsi. In spring most of the marshland is flooded and cranberries grow better here than elsewhere in Estonia. Already in the 19th century the rulers of Estonia had a plan to lower the level of water in Lake Peipsi and reclaim the marshland for arable land. Luckily this plan was not implemented and nowadays this area is protected. To get the best overview of Suursoo, you must go there by boat. You cannot otherwise reach many places. In winter the fishermen living at the mouth of the River Emajõgi keep in touch with the rest of the world using snowmobiles. When you go walking in Suursoo, you must put on high rubber boots, take along a map, a compass, and what is even better, to have a guide. You can ask for advice in the Nature Centre in the village of Kavastu.


At what time do you get up? If anybody asks it, I would answer: sorry, I am awake all the time, only sometimes I take a nap. When the sun rises, I shall go hunting, fly off the tree of my aeric, dive into the cool flows of air. Perhaps, you have also experienced happiness in some dream when you stretch out your hands and fly. On the right there is the blue Peipsi, and behind the Uhtinina waters, a lowland island of fishermen – Piirissaar. In front of me I see the Meerapalu marshland, an endless bumpy lowland full of pines. It is a part of Emajõe Suursoo (Emajõe Great Marshland). The whole place is full of water, especially in spring. Everywhere iridescent water. The convex cupolas of single islands in the marsh, high fir-trees as if with upright bristles. Soon I will see the delta of the River Emajõgi, formed by several branches, and Lake Leego on the shores of which lives Vello, the man who in some severe winters fed me with chunks of meat. From this height I can very well see the well-trodden paths of wild animals in the marshland. You see, the wolves from the ancient Järvselja pack are just moving slowly across the marshland. I know they are in no hurry because the day before yesterday they could kill a fat wild boar. Today I do not go to the carcass. I would rather eat fresh fish. In spring, during spawning time, I can catch fish in the water near the shore. But, however, it is not easy. Once I had to attack seventeen times before I could catch a bream. People ask one another “How are you?” Nobody asks me but I could answer. Not only how I live but on behalf of the whole clan of white-tailed eagles in this area: we do rather well. Sometimes you can see even five or six birds at a time. Some of us carry Estonian blue-white rings round a leg. When I have eaten enough, I sit down on my favourite place, on a branch of a dry tree on the bank of the River Emajõgi. You must also know how important it is to have a good overview of your activities and to look at the water from a high place is very nice. In the cranberry marshes the white kerchiefs of women who pick the berries appear in September. The fishermen’s boats are dozing on the lake, at the mouth of the River Emajõgi. There must be a seagull’s nest, in the prow of a wreck. Nobody is in a hurry, including me. It is a great privilege of ours, the inhabitants of Suursoo. The white-tailed eagle of Emajõe-Suursoo



The person, looking for cranberries in Meerapalu marsh, finds them You cannot reach Meerapalu without being rocked on the road. It is a gravel road. Twice a day, the regular bus passes. On a spring day in 2012 the bus did not come, the mobile shop-bus did not come either. It was impossible because the Meerapalu marshland, rich in cranberries, was flooded, covering the muddy, potholed road, with water. What has this road at the lake looked like in old days? During World War II German soldiers built a log road because it was necessary to transport cannons – Lake Peipsi was separating the enemies. Eevi Kliimand, a lady who had been the head of the Meerpalu library for 45 years, remembers that passing along this log road in a horse-driven cart was being shaken all the time, at least you did not drown. She was a child when in the winter of 1944 a big battle began. In their farmhouse there were Germans. In the livingroom there were four plank-beds and also a non-commissioned officer lived in their house. He was a nice man, he gave small Eevi chocolate rabbits when he had received a parcel from home for Easter holidays. Then the Red Army attacked across the lake. The raid was stopped. Eevi´s father went with his horse-driven sledge to the ice to bring the wounded soldiers to the farm. Seven bombs had fallen behind the cowshed of the Moia farm and even today the houses have traces of warfare. Luckily the officer had sent Eevi’s family away to a safe place in due time. In 1957 Eevi who was an eager reader, was employed at the library. She organized amateur singing and dancing and with the dance “A fisherman in the collective farm” they also participated in the singing festival in Räpina. It was not so successful as the visit of the Chinese circus to Meerapalu in the beginning of the 1960s. All the people could not find a place in the hall, some of them had to stand in the corridor. At present there are only 69 inhabitants on the shores of Lake Peipsi from Meerapalu over Pedaspää up to Virvissaare. The library is the only office that functions there. Sure, one department of the fishing enterprise “Latikas” (“Bream”) uses the port Meerpalu. Eevi’s grandfather Jaan was also a fisherman. After a catch of sparling he and his friends were having drinks at the lake. He was throwing his cap up into the air and shouting: “Eta moya shapka” (It is my cap - in Russian). The fishermen were proud of their results. This is how the farm was given a name – Moia. Eevi Kliimand says that in recent years her most beautiful experience was to be on board the “Koidula” ferryboat and sail from the port of Laaksaare to the Island Piirissaar. The sun was shining, the silvery lake in iridescent colours. What else could she dream of?

Many facets of Lake Peipsi

It is very nice to be on the lake on a fine day in July. When the sun is in the cloudless sky, the light southerly wind is blowing and in the distance the streak of dry bluish haze can be seen. As if on a huge mirror the faraway sail of a huge barge stands like a monument on the light-blue surface. A fish splashing in high reeds, a dark fishing boat sliding in liquid silver. But Peipsi is cruel and sullen in the autumn winds. Then its waves roll threateningly, spouting forth icy foam – on the shore and the stones, breaking mercilessly down everything weaker. They take, bite away the land piece after piece, and swallow tirelessly strong, firm land, very often together with fishermen’s huts from the shore. Lake Peipsi – this the best connecting link with the outer world and themselves for the people of Parapalu and Meerapalu, be it summer or winter, especially in summer the people on the shores could use only waterways because small roads in the marshland are bottomless. From the story “Peipsi” by Jaan Vahtra, an artist and writer who in the years 1901-1902 worked as a teacher at Parapalu.




The opposite shores can be seen across the state border

Come and see sparrows fly

Mehikoorma. It is a small settlement with hardly about two hundred people in the southeastern corner of the present County of Tartumaa, previously the northeastern corner of County of Võrumaa. Across the sandy stretch of the shore and Lake Lämmijärv you can see the Russian shores, the peninsula Rämeda. It is a small peaceful place. A shop, a drug store, a school, the Lutheran and the Russian Orthodox churches with graveyards, a lighthouse and the Boarder Guard Cordon. Three mobile phone masts provide a very good area of mobile coverage that freely moves across the boarder. It is strategically an important place. Near the shore there is a monument and at the lighthouse a memorial plaque to commemorate the men who perished in World War II. In summer there are some tourist buses. In autumn ornithologists observe the migration of sparrows. In winter fishermen go to the lake to catch burbots. In spring ice is drifting and by St. George’s day it is all gone.


My mother spoke about Lake Lämmijärv: it was once so narrow that at Mehikuurma (Mehikoorma) people passed over the bread-making spade to another side. Exactly so! No javelin, no arrow was shot but a bread-making spade was given to the neighbours. Peacefully, bread was baked on both sides of the border. In the 21st century three kilometers of water and the Estonian-Russian border separate Mehikuurma from the opposite shores of Haniva. In the Soviet times people from both sides went to the neighbours to buy bread and swimming competitions across lake were arranged. Now I have seen wet elks, who swam from Russia, rushing trough the village. The stronger the state border became, the better I have learned that shores on both sides belong together. Here and there the lakeside villages have double names – both in Estonian and Russian. Our Mehikuurma village is also special, it is open to all the nations. You can often find families with members of different nations. The Ice Battle (1242) is very famous in Russia. It is believed that the battlefield was in the area which can be seen from Mehikuurma. Aleksander Nevski’s fame is floating above it. On our side, somewhere near the lighthouse, there is a place where Kalevipoeg, bringing wooden boards from Russia, fell asleep. Here he wasted his boards in the battle with evil sorcerers until they heard a hedgehog teaching him – hit edgewise! The Great Northern War brought an unseen spectacle to the narrow strip of the lake at Mehikuurma. On 31 May 1702 four Swedish warships faced about one hundred smaller Russian military vessels which were coming from Pskov to try to break through to the North. The battle lasted for three days and then the Swedes retreated. The shipping line Tartu-Pskov is not yet reopened. There is also no connection between Mehikuurma and Haniva. If border crossing could become simpler, could we find Estonians who would like to see the land of their family (Estonians living behind Lake Peipsi were evacuated to Estonia in 1943 by the order of the German army)? People on the opposite shores have nice recollections of the former communication. Urmas Kalla, a man from Mehikuurma



The house without trees round it is like a box turned upside down Across the vast lowlands on the shores of Lake Peipsi, fields and forests you can see a white slender tower of the Räpina Church. Coming closer, you can see a cock on top of the tower guarding the place. There is much in Räpina to treasure: mainly the peace and quiet of Räpina with its green gardens, the comfort of the town and the surrounding land of the rural municipality. Räpina has also had difficult times in its history. Children are sent to other rooms, TV-sets are switched off, men are sent to the kitchen, and cats are forgotten in the balcony to spend the night. Is it a house of crazy people? No, it is not! A student of he Räpina Horticultural School is writing his graduation paper at home,” writes Madis Jürgen, a school graduate from the Department of Landscape Architecture. If you ask a question from a local inhabitant whether the hundreds years old Paper Factory or the three times younger Horticultural School is more important, the answer is that the school plays a bigger role. Primarily, Räpina is a town of gardens and gardeners. The architect Tiina Tallinn in her book “Gardens and Parks of Räpina” writes that the initiator of gardening was Baron Karl Gustav von Löwenwolde who in the 18th century ordered a dam to be built on the River Võhandu for three watermills. “It brought along wealth and changing of landscape – in the middle of the settlement a beautiful artificial lake was formed. Laying manorial parks and planting trees to the church in the 19th century made the environment of Räpina so precious that in the 20th century it was decided to start educating horticultural specialists at Räpina.” Let us relax and have a small walk. We can see high-gabled houses, big gardens, and parks. Old and young trees. Differently figured trees, carefully groomed hedges of trees of life and cut grasslands. Everything is in conformity with Räpina slogan: “The good home place.” The head of the municipal government of Räpina, Teet Helm (in the photo) says when casting a look to the future, he considers the most important aim – not to decrease but increase the number of population and the survival of Räpina’s image as a horticultural center, that the town would grow as nicely as the beautiful birch alleys of Räpina.

The School of Gardeners

The graduates go back to their homes all over Estonia. They begin to shape their gardens and surround houses with greenery. They tell their next-door neighbours which species to use, for long flowering hedges, how to make nice grasslands – everything to impress. This way, step by step, our homes become better – more beautiful, more cheerful, homely. The Räpina Horticultural School grooms our motherland. Madis Jürgen, from the book ”The Räpina Horticultural School – 85“




The Seto people sell smoked fish at Võõpsu

The new port of Räpina under construction

In the port of Räpina at Raigla a new pier is being built. It will be the first port in southern Peipsi where both small boats and bigger vessels can moor. In southern Peipsi there are few public places to moor – the coastline is covered with bushes and reeds. If we had a bigger boat, then coming ashore could be impossible because of the fluctuating level of water during some months. ”In the new port the depth of water will be 1.2 m under keel,” says the head of the Räpina municipality Teet Helm. News report, April 2012


When you are quickly coming along the road from the direction of Räpina, you should be careful not to miss Võõpsu. If you had crossed the Võõpsu bridge, you should turn back. In the old fishing hamlet there is much to see. Near the Russian Orthodox Church you can park your car. One hundred years ago you could not have passed Võõpsu. There was no bridge and a ferry took you over. The village is the border between ancient Võrumaa and Setomaa, the real border being the dark blue winding river. A couple of more kilometers to flow for the sacred river and it reaches Lake Peipsi. One hundred years ago the people called Võõpsu with its 16 shops and a famous square for fairs – our town. The powerful rhythm of life of the village was so strong that on some day during the local fair you even thought of permanent settling down. Now Räpina has outgrown Võõpsu. The glory of the town is still reminded by a stretch of a cobbled road and in your dainty highheeled shoes it is hard to walk but it is a real experience. Local people may say that there is no Võru-Seto border but there are two Võõpsus – one on the right, the other on the left bank of the river. The people of both villages consider themselves more linked to Räpina, not so much to the municipal centre of Setomaa Mikitamäe. There is a road for the light traffic to Räpina and in fine summer evenings there are roller skaters hurrying here and there. There may not be a border at all but people may draw it between themselves. The Võru person complains that a shy Seto can cheat him. Such complaints date back to old times when Setos were selling Võru people some flax and put a small boy inside the heap to make it weigh more and cheat more money from a Võru man. When you stop at the roadside and notice people inviting you to buy smoked fish or vegetables, don’t be afraid that in a potato sack they have put stones or nuts between smoked fishes. A guest is a treasure who brings wealth both to a Võru and a Seto man. Unfortunately they do not sell traditional clay pots and bowls of Setomaa which in ancient times the Seto people exchanged for the used textile materials while travelling from the village to village in southern Estonia. The people were singing: “the Seto were going from Võõpsu with a load of clay pots…” The used textile was taken as a raw material to the paper factory at Räpina and it was surely a good business. The Seto bowls have not fully disappeared, to see and buy them you must go to Piusa’s pottery.



When you eat the onion grown at Lake Peipsi, you will not fall ill A story from Lüübnitsa tells us that a Seto selling onions was going with his cartload from village to village offering his produce. A woman told him that her onions were better. Large as potatoes and their dog ate them. The Seto was insulted. She took her cat under her arm and in the other hand she kept a big onion. She called her dog and threw the bulb in front of the dog. Envious, being afraid that the onion was meant for the cat, the dog hungrily ate up the onion, tears in his eyes. The Seto man became friendlier and gave as a present a full basket of his onions to a clever woman for her good joke. Lüübnitsa and Beresje are two villages dozing in the summer sunshine. Behind each house there is an onion field in the size of a football field. Women are working on their knees; their bright kerchiefs protect them from the scorching sun. A village person without an onion field is like Russian vodka without 40 degrees. By the way, chopped green onion tops with sour cream make the best starter to a glass of vodka. Good onions are grown without chemical fertilizers only with the soil from the shores of Peipsi, slurry and the Lord’s support. On average, a household may have a crop of three to five tons. The people at Peipsi could supply the whole of Estonia plus half of St. Petersburg. In olden times they sent potatoes the size of a fist, and cucumbers of the size of the child’s arm to the city on the River Neva. The money received built walls and roofs for their homes. How much do the people on the shores of Peipsi get today? Some get more, some others less. Bowing over onion beds is a way of life, a tradition and a way of keeping fit. The onion from the shores of Peipsi is such that eating it the whole winter long keeps all the diseases away. The Seto people say directly: “Onion gives lust, garlic raises it!” Somehow you can see only women working in the onion fields. On hot and sunny days men flee from onion fields to catch roach, and row back from the lake when their wives, already tired after the work in the fields, are having a rest in indoors. Once a year this area opens its welcoming doors to people from far away. In August the fair of onions is held at Lüübnitsa. At the fair you can bargain, buy onions one by one, put them into each pocket. To your dear mother you can take onion wreaths. Buy it in August; it will definitely survive until April when you make the last onion soup.

The tradition of fairs

All kinds of merchants, tradesmen, buyers of domestic animals and craftsman gathered at fairs in big numbers. In the 19th century the Fair of Mustvee was considered the most important in Livonia. The Fair of Kallaste in March on the lake ice and the Fair of Räpina were also much visited. Farmers from inland came with domestic animals and farmers’ wives sold homemade cloth, socks and mittens. Local Russian women sold “susla” – a drink made of syrup, sweets and biscuits. The Estonians living on the Russian side of the lake came also to the fairs to buy sledges, carts, wooden vessels, boots and other Estonian everyday goods, which they were used to. Alice Moora from the book “About the ethnic history of the Land of Peipsi” (1964)




A beautiful country of holidays and curative springs

Tears of the Mother of Land

The tears of the Mother of Land Maarja have been the drops reaching the water of springs at Värska and making it very special – according to legend. A child may ask if raindrops are Maarja’s tears. They reach the water of springs anyhow. First they water the Palumaa mosses and lichens making them soft, swelling chanterelles and boletes, helping pine-trees to grow big. Then the tears disappear into the soil where in the thick sandstone filter each drop becomes cleaner leaving behind the grains of dust. The water is absorbed in narrow pores, wandering in stone labyrinths, imbibing the richness of minerals into it and one day it reaches the surface of land as a water in the spring.


Near the church, from the slope of the shore of the Värska Bay a spring flows out. The village people go there for their drinking water because they believe it is sacred water. Every old Seto woman and other people believe that the blessed spring gives strength and power. Already in 1936 the local pharmacist Peeter Mikhein began to bottle the water of the Värksa springs. Industrial production of mineral water began at Värska in 1970 and there is no end to it in the future. The mineral water of salty taste which we buy in the shops comes from a depth of 470 meters and contains 2 grams of minerals per liter. In the times of the young Republic of Estonia there were many military men at Värska in summer. Since 1926 there was the Northern camp initiated by General Nikolai Reek where among other units also cavalry was trained. The regiment had its orchestra and the solo player of tuba was riding a white horse. In the 21st century on the place of the Northern camp’s flagstaff square there is a singing festival dais and on the sports ground there is the Seto Farm Museum. In the streets of the small borough the walkers who breathe in fresh pine forest air are not any longer cavalrymen in superb uniforms but holidaymakers of different kinds. Mostly they reside in the Värska Spa, a lightcoloured building where the windows facing sunset open up to the silvery bay of the lake. When the lake water is too cold for bathing, people can swim in the aquatic centre. The gravel road winding between the sand hillocks in the forest takes us to the North from Värska. It is a beautiful landscape of Setoland where the wavy land is less steep than in the County of Võrumaa. The traffic sign warns that at the distance of seven kilometers in the village of Podmosta a blind alley is waiting. In front there is the lake and the state border. On the other side of the bay you can see a strikingly beautiful white church of Kulje with onionshaped domes. In the tiny Podmotsa graveyard several hundred year-old stone crosses are dozing witnessing the course of events at the marvellous lake.

This book tells us about the Land of Peipsi, the life on the shores of one of the largest lakes in Europe. We are walking on the Estonian shores of Lake Peipsi waving a hand with friendly greetings to the people living on the Russian shores. We start in the North at Vasknarva and come to the South reaching the state border at Värska. Lake Peipsi is huge, its shores and people are different. The lake unites everybody – Estonians, Russians and Setos look in awe to the lake which is their Lord and provider of food. Extraordinary things may happen here. Digging your onion field, you may find a thousand-year-old Arabian coin and your ship in autumn storms may madly roll on the high waves. You will remember a different lake – peaceful and quiet waters, speeding clouds or the moonshine telling ancient stories.

Profile for Emajõe Disain

PEIPSIMAA The Place and the People  

This book describes the hinterland of Lake Peipsi, the life on the shores of one of the largest lakes in Europe, starting in the North at Va...

PEIPSIMAA The Place and the People  

This book describes the hinterland of Lake Peipsi, the life on the shores of one of the largest lakes in Europe, starting in the North at Va...


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