As Seen in…
Places to visit in Estonia and on our tours of the Baltics
Why visit Estonia?
Estonia is a land where the two great impacts have been at the hands of nature and the invader. Its landscape is essentially a rural one: over 50% of the nation is covered in coniferous forest, countless rivers, fens and bogs lend wildlife stunningly untainted habitats in a low-lying topography which rarely rises above 300m.
The coast too forms an intrinsic part of the identity of the country, at around 3,800 km in length and an astonishing 2,355 islands can be found, two of tem forming their own counties. Indeed, in winter months, when seas freeze, ice roads can be driven in a thrilling route to some offshore towns and villages. The result is a land with few physical land defences, opening it to attack from the east and south, whilst the maritime features of the Baltic and Gulf of Finland offer both trading and invasion opportunities from the Scandinavia and beyond.
Whilst prehistory indicates a small scale, but sophisticated culture in the region, with significant forts and technically advanced weaponry evident, into the Iron Age, the land of the ‘Aesti’ tribes, mentioned by Tacitus, remained well beyond Rome’s grasp and so the Baltic family of tribes here retained their religious and ethnic identities for many centuries beyond other European countries: their ‘wind-magic’ cults, similar to the Lapps in Finland survived until the papal crusades of the 11th and 12th centuries. The blueprint for the scattered towns of today’s landscape was formed in the development of ‘kihelkonds’, parish governments with fortified bases, one of which grew into Tallinn, helping to defend against the Viking attacks and coastal settlements in the later first millennium A.D..
The last country in Europe to Christianise, the religion came on the back of Catholic-legitimised invasion and led to a division of the Estonian lands between the Swedish-Danish controlled northern Estonian dukedom and the southern region that became known as Livonia. This began a period of building which gave many of modern day Estonia’s great castles and churches; Tallinn joined the Hanseatic League and prospered in the 14th-16th centuries, whilst the Reformation swept across the country, on a tide of nationalist rebellion against over-lordship from Germany and Sweden. This pattern remained the Estonian lot for centuries: Russian annexation of Livonia in 1561; Polish and Swedish invasion; unification after the 1917 Russian Revolution, leading to a brief independence as the Republic of Estonia; Soviet and German invasions and counter-invasions, leading to savage atrocities and repression of minorities and opposition; finally Soviet annexation for decades.
Beneath this torrid scene, though, Estonian national identity clung on and by the 1989 restoration of Estonian as the national language seemed an inevitable first step toward re-establishing the Republic in 1991. EU and Eurozone membership has followed and today’s country proclaims its pride with passion.