Location of Saaremaa in Estonia
|Archipelago||West Estonian archipelago|
|Area||2,673 km2 (1,032 sq mi)|
|Pop. density||11.7 /km2 (30.3 /sq mi)|
Saaremaa (Estonian pronunciation: [ˈsɑːremɑː] ; German and Swedish: Ösel; ) is the largest island in Estonia, measuring 2,673 km2 (1,032 sq mi). The main island of Saare County, it is located in the Baltic Sea, south of Hiiumaa island and west of Muhu island, and belongs to the West Estonian Archipelago. The capital of the island is Kuressaare, which in January 2018 had 13,276 inhabitants. The whole island had a recorded population in January 2017 of 31,357.
An island or isle is any piece of sub-continental land that is surrounded by water. Very small islands such as emergent land features on atolls can be called islets, skerries, cays or keys. An island in a river or a lake island may be called an eyot or ait, and a small island off the coast may be called a holm. A grouping of geographically or geologically related islands is called an archipelago, such as the Philippines.
Estonia, officially the Republic of Estonia, is a country in Northern Europe. It is bordered to the north by the Gulf of Finland with Finland on the other side, to the west by the Baltic Sea with Sweden on the other side, to the south by Latvia (343 km), and to the east by Lake Peipus and Russia (338.6 km). The territory of Estonia consists of a mainland and 2,222 islands in the Baltic Sea, covering a total area of 45,227 km2 (17,462 sq mi), water 2,839 km2 (1,096 sq mi), land area 42,388 km2 (16,366 sq mi), and is influenced by a humid continental climate. The official language of the country, Estonian, is the second most spoken Finnic language.
Saare County, or Saaremaa; is one of 15 counties of Estonia. It consists of Saaremaa, the largest island of Estonia, and several smaller islands near it, most notably Muhu, Ruhnu, Abruka and Vilsandi. The county borders Lääne County to the east, Hiiu County to the north, and Latvia to the south.. In January 2013 Saare County had a population of 30,966, constituting 2.4% of the population of Estonia.
The island is called Saaremaa in Estonian, and in Finnish Saarenmaa—literally "isle land" or "island land".In old Scandinavian sagas, Saaremaa is called Eysysla and in the Icelandic Sagas Eysýsla, which means exactly the same as the name of the island in Estonian: "the district (land) of island". This is the origin of the island's name in Danish Øsel, German and Swedish, Ösel, Gutnish Oysl, and in Latin, Osilia. The name Eysysla appears sometimes together with Adalsysla, "the big land", perhaps 'Suuremaa' or 'Suur Maa' in Estonian, which refers to mainland Estonia. In Latvian, the island is called Sāmsala, which means "the island of Saami". Saaremaa is believed by some scholars to have been the historic Ultima Thule.
The Estonian language is the official language of Estonia, spoken natively by about 1.1 million people: 922,000 people in Estonia and 160,000 outside Estonia. It is a Southern Finnic language and is the second most spoken language among all the Finnic languages.
Finnish is a Finnic language spoken by the majority of the population in Finland and by ethnic Finns outside Finland. Finnish is one of the two official languages of Finland ; Finnish is also an official minority language in Sweden. In Sweden, both Standard Finnish and Meänkieli, a Finnish dialect, are spoken. The Kven language, a dialect of Finnish, is spoken in Northern Norway by a minority group of Finnish descent.
Danish is a North Germanic language spoken by around six million people, principally in Denmark and in the region of Southern Schleswig in northern Germany, where it has minority language status. Also, minor Danish-speaking communities are found in Norway, Sweden, Spain, the United States, Canada, Brazil, and Argentina. Due to immigration and language shift in urban areas, around 15–20% of the population of Greenland speak Danish as their first language.
According to archaeological finds, the territory of Saaremaa has been inhabited from at least 5000 BCE.Pre-Viking age Salme ship burials have been found in Sõrve Peninsula. Sagas talk about numerous skirmishes between islanders and Vikings. Saaremaa was the wealthiest county of ancient Estonia and the home of notorious Estonian pirates, sometimes called the Eastern Vikings. The Chronicle of Henry of Livonia describes a fleet of sixteen ships and five hundred Osilians ravaging the area that is now southern Sweden, then belonging to Denmark. In 1206, King Valdemar II of Denmark built a fortress on the island but found no volunteers to man it. The Danes burned it themselves and left.
The Salme ships are two clinker-built ships of Scandinavian origin discovered in 2008 and 2010 near Salme village on the island of Saaremaa, Estonia. Both ships were used for ship burials here around AD 700-750 in the Nordic Iron Age and contained the remains of more than 40 warriors killed in battle, as well as numerous weapons and other artifacts.
Sõrve Peninsula is a peninsula which forms the southernmost section of the Estonian island Saaremaa. Its length is 32 km, and its maximum width 10 km. South of it lies Irbe Strait, the main entrance to the Gulf of Riga of the Baltic Sea.
Vikings were Norse seafarers, mainly speaking the Old Norse language, who during the late 8th to late 11th centuries, raided and traded from their Northern European homelands across wide areas of Europe, and explored westwards to Iceland, Greenland, and Vinland. The term is also commonly extended in modern English and other vernaculars to the inhabitants of Norse home communities during what has become known as the Viking Age. This period of Nordic military, mercantile and demographic expansion constitutes an important element in the early medieval history of Scandinavia, Estonia, the British Isles, France, Kievan Rus' and Sicily.
Probably around 1000, Gunnar Hámundarson from Iceland took part in a Viking raid at Eysýsla (Saaremaa). There he obtained his famous atgeir, by taking it from a man named Hallgrímur. Njáls saga tells the following:
Gunnar Hámundarson was a 10th century Icelandic chieftain. He lived in Hlíðarendi in Fljótshlíð and is probably better known as Gunnar of Hlíðarendi. He features prominently in the first half of Njáls saga, which tells of the chain of events ultimately leading to his death in battle.
An atgeir, sometimes called a "mail-piercer" or "hewing-spear," was a type of polearm in use in Viking Age Scandinavia and Norse colonies in the British Isles and Iceland. It is usually translated in English as "halberd", but most likely closer resembled a bill or glaive during the Viking age. Another view is that the term had no association with a specific weapon until it is used as an anachronism in saga literature to lend weight to accounts of special weapons. Later the word was used for typical European halberds, and even later multipurpose staves with spearheads were called atgeirsstafir.
Njáls saga is a thirteenth-century Icelandic saga that describes events between 960 and 1020. The principal characters are the friends Njáll Þorgeirsson, a lawyer and a sage, and Gunnar Hámundarson, a formidable warrior. Gunnar's wife instigates a feud that leads to the death of many characters over several decades including the killing by fire of the eponymous "Burnt Njáll". The saga deals with this process of blood feuds in the Icelandic Commonwealth, showing how the requirements of honor could lead to minor slights spiralling into destructive and prolonged bloodshed. Insults where a character's manhood is called into question are especially prominent and may reflect an author critical of an overly restrictive ideal of masculinity. Another characteristic of the narrative is the presence of omens and prophetic dreams. It is disputed whether this reflects a fatalistic outlook on the part of the author.
Thence they held on south to Denmark and thence east to Smálönd and had victory wherever they went. They did not come back in autumn. The next summer they held on to Rafala (Tallinn) and fell in there with sea-rovers, and fought at once, and won the fight. After that they steered east to Eysýsla (Saaremaa) and lay there somewhile under a ness. There they saw a man coming down from the ness above them; Gunnar went on shore to meet the man, and they had a talk. Gunnar asked him his name, and he said it was Tófi. Gunnar asked again what he wanted.
"Thee I want to see," says the man. "Two warships lie on the other side under the ness, and I will tell thee who command them: two brothers are the captains—one's name is Hallgrímur, and the other's Kolskeggur. I know them to be mighty men of war; and I know too that they have such good weapons that the like are not to be had. Hallgrímur has an atgeir which he had made by seething-spells; and this is what the spells say, that no weapon shall give him his death-blow save that atgeir. That thing follows it too that it is known at once when a man is to be slain with that atgeir, for something sings in it so loudly that it may be heard a long way off—such a strong nature has that atgeir in it.
The Chronicle of Henry of Livonia describes a fleet of sixteen ships and five hundred "Estonian pirates" ravaging the area that is now southern Sweden, then belonging to Denmark. In the XIVth book of Gesta Danorum, Saxo Grammaticus describes a battle on Öland in 1170 in which the Danish king Valdemar I mobilised his entire fleet to curb the incursions of Couronian and Estonian pirates.
Sweden, officially the Kingdom of Sweden, is a Scandinavian Nordic country in Northern Europe. It borders Norway to the west and north and Finland to the east, and is connected to Denmark in the southwest by a bridge-tunnel across the Öresund, a strait at the Swedish-Danish border. At 450,295 square kilometres (173,860 sq mi), Sweden is the largest country in Northern Europe, the third-largest country in the European Union and the fifth largest country in Europe by area. Sweden has a total population of 10.2 million of which 2.4 million has a foreign background. It has a low population density of 22 inhabitants per square kilometre (57/sq mi). The highest concentration is in the southern half of the country.
Denmark, officially the Kingdom of Denmark, is a Nordic country and the southernmost of the Scandinavian nations. Denmark lies southwest of Sweden and south of Norway, and is bordered to the south by Germany. The Kingdom of Denmark also comprises two autonomous constituent countries in the North Atlantic Ocean: the Faroe Islands and Greenland. Denmark proper consists of a peninsula, Jutland, and an archipelago of 443 named islands, with the largest being Zealand, Funen and the North Jutlandic Island. The islands are characterised by flat, arable land and sandy coasts, low elevation and a temperate climate. Denmark has a total area of 42,924 km2 (16,573 sq mi), land area of 42,394 km2 (16,368 sq mi), and the total area including Greenland and the Faroe Islands is 2,210,579 km2 (853,509 sq mi), and a population of 5.8 million.
Gesta Danorum is a patriotic work of Danish history, by the 13th century author Saxo Grammaticus. It is the most ambitious literary undertaking of medieval Denmark and is an essential source for the nation's early history. It is also one of the oldest known written documents about the history of Estonia and Latvia.
Perhaps the most renowned raid by the inhabitants of Estonia occurred in 1187, with the attack on the Swedish town of Sigtuna (other candidates as raiders are Karelians and Curonians). Among the casualties of this raid was the Swedish archbishop Johannes. Archaeological excavations have not verified the traditions of destruction of the town. Normal life in Sigtuna continued until town started to slowly lose its importance during 13th century due to navigability problems caused by post-glacial rebound.
Sigtuna is a locality situated in Sigtuna Municipality, Stockholm County, Sweden with 8,444 inhabitants in 2010. It is the namesake of the municipality even though the seat is in Märsta. Sigtuna is, despite its small population, for historical reasons often still referred to as a stad. Statistics Sweden, however, only counts localities with more than 10,000 inhabitants as stads .
Karelians are a Baltic-Finnic ethnic group who are native to the Northern European historical region of Karelia, which is today split between Finland and Russia.
The Curonians or Kurs were a Baltic tribe living on the shores of the Baltic Sea in what are now the western parts of Latvia and Lithuania from the 5th to the 16th centuries, when they merged with other Baltic tribes. They gave their name to the region of Courland (Kurzeme), and they spoke the Old Curonian language. Curonian lands were conquered by the Livonian Order in 1266 and they eventually merged with other Baltic tribes participating in the ethnogenesis of Lithuanians and Latvians. Direct descendants of the Curonians include the Kursenieki of the Curonian Spit and the so-called Curonian Kings of Courland.
In 1227, Saaremaa was conquered by the Livonian Brothers of the Sword during the Livonian Crusade but remained a hotbed of Estonian resistance. The crusaders founded the Bishopric of Ösel-Wiek there. When the Order was defeated by the Lithuanian army in the Battle of Saule in 1236, the Saaremaa islanders rebelled. The conflict was ended by a treaty that was signed by the Osilians and the Master of the Order. In the following year, the Sword-Brothers were absorbed into the Teutonic Order. As the crusaders' hold on Saaremaa got stronger, Christianity also became more established on the island, and to this day Saaremaa has a unique set of medieval churches in Kaarma, Karja, Kihelkonna, Muhu, Pöide, Püha and Valjala churches. The crusader's fortress Kuressaare Castle, known in German as Schloss Arensburg, was built by the Teutonic Order, beginning in 1380, for the bishops of Ösel-Wieck (Estonian: Saare-Lääne). It is one of the most well-preserved medieval castles in Estonia and bears testimony to the late Medieval Age.
During the 14th–16th centuries, and possibly earlier, local inhabitants started to expand across the Baltic Sea into surrounding areas thus establishing villages at Livonian coast.
Most of Saaremaa was ruled directly by the Bishopric of Ösel-Wiek, while some parts were enfeoffed to the Livonian Order. In 1559, the bishopric and Saaremaa were sold to Denmark, becoming part of Danish Estonia. From 1570 until 1645 the entire island was under Danish possession.
In 1645, Saaremaa was ceded from Denmark to Sweden by the Treaty of Brömsebro. In 1721, along with the rest of Livonia, Saaremaa (then known by its Swedish name of Ösel) was ceded to the Russian Empire by the Treaty of Nystad, becoming a part of the Governorate of Livonia.
In 1840 the first spa opened in Kuressaare (then known as Arensburg), and the town experienced renaissance and became a resort for Russians and Baltic Germans.
In World War I, the Estonian islands were conquered by Imperial German Army in October 1917 and remained occupied (Operation Albion) until the end of hostilities. Estonia became independent after the October Revolution and the collapse of the Russian Empire. As a result of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, the new state was incorporated into the Soviet Union in June 1940 as the Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic. Most of the Baltic German population of the island was evacuated to Germany following the Pact. The island was occupied by Nazi Germany in 1941 (Operation Beowulf); German troops remained there until expelled by the Red Army in the Moonzund Landing Operation in October and November 1944. In 1946, Saaremaa was declared a restricted zone, closed to foreigners and to most mainland Estonians. It remained a restricted area until 1989.
Estonia gained independence on August 20, 1991, during the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
The island forms the main barrier between the Gulf of Riga and the Baltic Sea. To the south of it is the main passage out of the gulf, the Irbe Strait, next to Sõrve Peninsula, the southernmost portion of the island. In Medieval times islanders crossed the strait to form fishing villages on the Livonian coast, notably Pitrags. In those days it was easier and quicker to cross the strait towards nearby Kolka, Saunags or Mazirbe, than travel by horse large distances inland. The highest point on the island is 54 m above sea level. One feature found on the island is the Kaali crater. The island has lots of forested terrain. One of the symbols of the island is the juniper.
More than 10,000 years ago the first parts of Saaremaa arose from the Baltic Ice Lake. The uplift of the Earth's crust is continuing even today, at 2 millimetres (0.079 in) per year. The West Estonian islands are lowlying plains resting on limestone, their average elevation being about 15 metres (49 ft) above sea level. Limestone has become denuded in a great number of places, resulting in cliffs, limestone pits and quarries at Mustjala, Ninase, Pulli, Üügu and Kaugatuma.
Because of its mild maritime climate and a variety of soils, Saaremaa has a rich flora, illustrated by the fact that 80% of the plant species found in Estonia are represented here. Altogether 1200 species of vascular plants can be found in Saaremaa. About 120 of the local plant species are rare ones that have received special protection status. The most famous endemic species is Rhinanthus osiliensis, a rare little flower growing mostly in spring fens. Rare and beautiful flowers are widespread; out of the 36 species found in Estonia, 35 of them are found on Saaremaa and neighbouring islands.
Over 40% of Saaremaa is covered with forests. They are mostly mixed forests but in some areas one can find broad-leaved (deciduous) trees, which are relict plant communities of former milder climatic periods. Wooded meadows were common in Saaremaa before World War II, but many of these unique natural complexes have gradually become overgrown and thus turned into the ordinary forest. The same is true for alvars (limestone areas covered with thin soil and stunted vegetation). Once a typical and exclusive landscape element in Saaremaa alvars are now in decline. Nature conservation planning for Saaremaa now includes protection of the largest and most unusual alvar areas.
Saaremaa has a wide variety of rare wildlife species, ranging from insects to seals. The smallest protected wildlife species include Cloude Apolle butterflies and Roman snails.
The coastal areas of Saaremaa are famous seal habitats. The gray seal that is common here can be found in three large permanent resting areas on the islets off the coast in the western and southern parts of Saaremaa. The local population of grey seals is slightly increasing. Ringed seals can be encountered everywhere in the coastal waters of Saaremaa but, because of their timidity, it has not been possible to make an estimation of their number.
The islands lie in the East Atlantic Flyway, a migration path of waterfowl. This "bird road" connects northeastern Europe with Arctic regions. Each year hundreds of thousands of migratory birds visit Saaremaa in spring and autumn. The barnacle goose, mute swan, whooper swan, eider, shelduck and a great many other bird species have been given protection status. But on the whole, the islands are somewhat poorer in wildlife species than the mainland. Neither mole, mink, nor otter can be found here, the lynx and the brown bear are infrequent guests.
Kaali is a small group of nine unique meteorite craters on Saaremaa. The largest of the craters measures 110 metres (360 ft) in diameter and contains a small lake, known as Kaali järv ("Lake Kaali"). The meteor cluster had an impact velocity of 10–20 kilometres per second (6–12 mi/s) and a mass of 20–80 tons. At the altitude of 5–10 kilometres (3–6 mi) the meteor broke into pieces. The largest fragment produced the main crater with a depth of 22 metres (72 ft). Eight smaller craters with diameters ranging from 12 to 40 metres (39 to 131 ft) and depths varying from 1 to 4 metres (3 to 13 ft) are all within 1 kilometre (0.62 mi) of the main crater. The age estimates of the crater vary, with 4000 ± 1000 BCE being a commonly accepted estimate, though other estimates suggest the explosion was as recent as 660 ± 85 BCE. The energy of the impact — about 80 TJ (20 kilotons of TNT), comparable with the Hiroshima bomb) — burned forests within a radius of 6 kilometres (3.7 mi). There are numerous legends related to the crater; these are summarized by Lennart Meri in his book Hõbevalge.
Dolomite, limestone, curative mud, mineral water, ceramic clay, sand, and gravel are the major local resources. Of these local resources, dolomite is perhaps the most famous above all.
The majority of the population is Estonian (97%). The biggest minority nationality is Russian, comprising 2% of the inhabitants. Compared to the Republic of Estonia on the whole, the population of Saare County and particularly of Kuressaare town is younger, whereas the number of the retired people is considerably smaller. Saaremaa is located in the centre of the Baltic region with the most rapidly growing market in Europe, containing 70 million consumers. Gates to the West include not only the newly reconstructed Kuressaare Airport and Roomassaare Port, the operation of modern ferries between Saaremaa and the mainland but also the rapid development of the telecommunications, highly important for the island. Saaremaa is a tourist destination, revisited by 35% of foreign and 95% of domestic tourists. Saaremaa has an entrepreneur-friendly, safe, and strain-free economic environment.
Saaremaa is reached by TS Laevad's ferries from Virtsu on the Estonian mainland to Kuivastu on Muhu island, which is itself connected to Saaremaa by a causeway, the Väinatamm. Saaremaa can also be reached by ferry from Sõru on the island of Hiiumaa to Triigi. There are also passenger services from Roomassaare to the smaller island of Abruka. During many winters it is possible to drive to Saaremaa by an ice road between the mainland and Muhu or between Saaremaa and the island of Hiiumaa.
There are regular bus services from Tallinn, Pärnu and Tartu on the mainland, which use the ferry from Virtsu to Muhu.
There is an airport at Kuressaare with regular flights to Tallinn operated by Transaviabaltika. In the summer season there are regular service to Ruhnu and Pärnu operated by Luftverkehr Friesland Harle, and a twice weekly service to Stockholm operated by Estonian Air.
Historically there was a Soviet air base at Aste during the Cold War. Plans to connect Saaremaa to the mainland either by the Saaremaa Bridge or Saaremaa Tunnel are being studied.
FC Kuressaare competes in the first tier of Estonian football, the Meistriliiga. Saaremaa competes in the biannual Island Games.
There are three main international traditional sport events in Saaremaa:
Saaremaa has more spas than anywhere else in Estonia.
Hiiumaa Finnish: Hiidenmaa) is the second largest island (989 km2) in Estonia. It is in the Baltic Sea, north of the island of Saaremaa, part of the West Estonian archipelago. Its largest town is Kärdla. Along with several smaller neighboring islands, the island makes up Hiiu County; one of the 15 counties of Estonia.
Counties are the first-level administrative subdivisions of Estonia. Estonian territory is composed of 15 counties, including 13 on the mainland and 2 on islands. The government of each county is led by a maavanem (governor) who represents the national government at the regional level. Governors are appointed by the national government for a term of five years.
Kuressaare, also known as Arensburg, is a town and a municipality on Saaremaa island in Estonia. It is the capital of Saare County and the westernmost town in Estonia. The recorded population on 1 January 2018 was 13,276.
Muhu, is an island in the Baltic Sea. With an area of 198 km2 (76 sq mi) it is the third largest island belonging to Estonia, after Saaremaa and Hiiumaa.
The Bishopric of Ösel–Wiek was a Roman Catholic diocese and semi-independent prince-bishopric in the Holy Roman Empire, covering what are now Saare, Hiiu and Lääne counties of Estonia.
Operation Beowulf refers to two German plans to occupy the islands of Saaremaa, Hiiumaa and Muhu, off the Estonian west coast. Both plans had the same objectives but assumed differing start points. The attack, using Beowulf II, started on 8 September 1941 and had achieved its objectives by 21 October.
The Oeselians or Osilians, is a historic, as well as a current English-usage, name for the inhabitants of Saaremaa, an Estonian island in the Baltic Sea. In modern Estonian, they are called saarlased. The name was first used by Henry of Livonia in the 13th century. The inhabitants of Saaremaa are often mentioned in the historic written sources during the Estonian Viking Age.
The Livonian Crusade was the conquest of the territory constituting modern Latvia and Estonia during the pope-sanctioned Northern Crusades, performed mostly by Germans from the Holy Roman Empire and Danes. It ended with the creation of the Terra Mariana and Duchy of Estonia. The lands on the eastern shores of the Baltic Sea were the last corners of Europe to be Christianized.
The Battle of Tehumardi was one of the most brutal engagements during the fighting on the Estonian island of Saaremaa (Oesel) in 1944.
The Moonsund Landing Operation, also known as the Moonzund landing operation, was an amphibious operation and offensive by the Red Army during World War II, taking place in late 1944. It was part of the Baltic Offensive, and was designed to clear German forces of Army Group North from the islands in East Baltic Sea, the West Estonian archipelago. The attacking forces were from the 8th Army of the Leningrad Front.
The occupation of Estonia by the German Empire occurred during the later stages of the First World War. On October 11–21, 1917, the Imperial German Army occupied the West Estonian archipelago, consisting of the islands of Saaremaa (Ösel), Hiiumaa (Dagö), and Muhu (Mühn).
Liiva may refer to several places in Estonia:
Kaarma-Kirikuküla is a village in Saaremaa Parish, Saare County in western Estonia. As of 2011 Census, the settlement's population was 18.
Kaali is a village in Saaremaa Parish, Saare County in western Estonia, 18 kilometres (11 mi) from Kuressaare, the island capital. Valjala, to the north-east, is the nearest town.
Kuressaare Castle, also Kuressaare Episcopal Castle,, is a castle in Kuressaare on Saaremaa island, in western Estonia.
Terra Mariana was the official name for Medieval Livonia or Old Livonia, which was formed in the aftermath of the Livonian Crusade in the territories comprising present day Estonia and Latvia. It was established on 2 February 1207, as a principality of the Holy Roman Empire but lost this status in 1215 when proclaimed by Pope Innocent III as directly subject to the Holy See.
Estonia under Swedish rule signifies the time between 1558 and 1710, when parts of present-day Estonia were under Swedish rule. In the wake of the breakup of the State of the Teutonic Order, the Baltic German local aristocracy in the areas of Harrien (Harjumaa) and Wierland (Virumaa), as well as the city of Reval (Tallinn) in June 1561 asked for and were granted protection by the Swedish king Eric XIV, leading to Swedish involvement in the Livonian War. At the conclusion of hostilities in 1583, Sweden was in control of the northern parts of modern Estonia and Hiiumaa island; this territory was created the Duchy of Estonia. Following renewed wars between Poland and Sweden, the southern parts of present-day Estonia were incorporated into Sweden by the Treaty of Altmark in 1629. In 1645, Sweden also conquered the island of Ösel (Saaremaa) from Denmark, and were thus in control of all of present-day Estonia.
The Valjala Stronghold was a major ringfort on the island of Saaremaa in Estonia. Established in the 12th century, at the time it was the most important Oeselian stronghold. Its surrender in 1227 finalized the crusader conquest of Estonia.