Saaremaa Island

Saaremaa Island



Location: Saare county     Map

Area: 2,673 km2 (1,032 sq mi)

Ferry: from Virtsu to Kuicastu (Muhu Island)

Info: Tallinna 2, Kuressaare 453 3120

Open: mid- May- mid- Sep: 9am- 7pm daily

mid- Sep- mid- May: 9am- 5pm daily

Official site

Vilsandi National Park


History of Saaremaa Island

Saaremaa Island is situated in the Baltic Sea as part of Saare county of Estonia. Saaremaa Island covers an area of total of 2,673 km2 (1,032 sq mi). The easiest way to get to the island is to take a ferry from from Virtsu to Kuicastu on a Muhu Island that is connected to the Saaremaa Island via a road. The name of Saaremaa Island translated as "the land of an island". First human settlement on Saaremaa Island date back to 5000 years BC. During early medieval period Scandinavian sagas claim that Vikings waged several battles with the residents of Saaremaa island. In 1206 Danish king Valdemar II constructed a fortress here, but it didn't last long. The garrison itself burned down their stronghold and left these lands.


These lands were some of the last in Europe to accept Christianity as their official religion. During the Northern Crusades Livonian Brothers of the Sword captured Saaremaa along with surrounding lands in 1227. However at the Battle of Saule in 1236 Lithuanian army defeated this Catholic Order and the residents of the island rebelled against the invaders. After the war ended with a treaty Saaremaa Island became part of Bishopric of Ösel-Wiek. In 1559 the Danish took control over the island until they ceded these lands to the growing Swedish Empire by the Treaty of Bromsebro.


Saaremaa Island along with surrounding lands was transferred again in 1721 at the completion of the Great Northern War. Russian Empire defeated the Swedes and captured lands along a Baltic Sea. The island was occupied by the German forces during World War II in 1941. Three years later it was liberated by the Soviet Army during counterattack. Although remains of the war are still visible in some part of the islands. Bullets, human remains as well as other artifacts have been discovered here.


Traditional Religion on Saaremaa Island

Baltic states were some of the last places in Europe to accept Christianity. It happened only in the late Medieval history. The tradition beliefs were polytheistic. A common modern misunderstanding about pagan beliefs is that it was in harmony in nature. In reality it was less attractive. Panga Cliff that is pictured on the right was an important religious site for the native population of the Saaremaa Island. It reaches a height of 21.3 meters with a total length of 2.5 km. Ritual site here was a site for animal sacrifices. Some historians claimed that the site was occasionally used for human sacrifices as well as it was common in the basin of the Baltic Sea. This barbaric rituals were largely driven out by arrival of Christianity, but some peasants kept their traditional pagan beliefs. Some of them secretly met on the cliffs during difficult times to perform ancient rituals. The last pagan sacrifice was recorded in 1960's.


Kaali Meteor Craters (Saaremaa Island)

Location: Kaali küla, Pihtla vald, Saare maakond

Tel. (+372) 459 1184


Kaali Meteor Craters is a cluster of perfect round holes found on the island located 18 km from Kuressaare towards Kuivastu. There time of the meteor impact is somewhat a subject of debate. Some date it back to the 4000 years BC, while other date it in 600 BC. Scientists believe that the energy of impact measured at 80 TJ or 20 kilotons of TNT, which comparable with the Hiroshima bomb. The explosion also burned forest in the radius of 6 km. Pieces of rock howled down to the ground and hit the earth with the velocity of 10- 20 km/s. These parts measured from 20 tons to 80 tons. The largest crater left by the impact measured 110 meters in diameter. Other smaller impact impressions measure from 1 meter to 40 meters at the radius of 1 kilometer within the main central crater.

Farm Museum (Saaremaa Island)


Mihkli Farm Museum is a small ethnographic museum situated in the Viki village. Traditional houses have been preserved as a museum of a traditional way of life on the island.

Kuressaare Castle (Bishop Castle) (Saaremaa Island)


Bishop's Castle is located in the town of Kuressaare. It measures 42 by 42 meters with guard towers that reach height of 40 meters. The first castle was constructed on this site in 1222 by the invading Danes. They constructed a watchtower that is known today as the Long Hermann Tower. In case the citadel fell this was the last resort for its defenders. Bishops castle gets its name due to a fact that it was used by the bishops of the Bishopric of Ösel-Wiek. The central castle dates back to 1345- 65. Further military fortifications were strengthened by a new wall that was added in the 1430's. In 1559 the castle was sold by Kuressaare Bishop Johann von Munchausen to Danish king Frederik II. During the Northern War in the 18th century the castle along with surroundings lands were captured by the Russian troops.


Bishop Castle is surrounded by many legends. The most famous legend states that in 1785 Russian engineers were reconstructing the bastions and defenses of the Kuressaare Castle. In the eastern corner of the courtyard they discovered an immured basement. Remains of the old table and a chair stood in the center. Male skeleton was scattered at the old table and a chair. Locals claimed that these were remains that belonged to a medieval knight who was immured in the basement on the orders of the bishop in the early 16th century. Reformation shook the Catholic Church and some actions had to be taken. Baltic bishops asked for an Inquisitor. Young Spaniard came to Kuressaare Castle with intent to catch anyone who sympathized the new religious movement. The bishop decided to test the new Inquisitor with a beautiful girl who was supposedly in a threat from a Church. He fell for it and tried to save her. He wrote a letter and hid it in the bread crust, warning his love of his plan. The letter quickly made it to the table of the bishop and the young knight paid with his life. He was imprisoned in the castle basement and then it was walled it.


Another legend claims that Long Hermann Tower once served as a courtroom for the bishop's trials. Anyone who was accused was thrown down the shaft in the floor of the room. It was known as a Lions' Shaft since hungry lions were kept on its bottom. They carried out death sentence for the bishop. Some believe that bishop Henrik III became a victim of this execution during the argument with the members of the chapter of the castle in 1381.


Today Kuressaare Castle is open to the public and serves as a museum. Additionally several shops show local artisans at work. You can join and create glass, pottery, weapons and other artifacts that were useful in the medieval times.




Pöide Church (Pöide kirik) (Saaremaa Island)


Location: Map

Constructed: 13th century


Poide Church situated on Saaremaa Island is a medieval Catholic church that was constructed in the 13th century. It was one of the earliest churches in the region after Livonian Order captured the island in 1227. Catholic warrior monks constructed a fortress on this site. However in 1343 Saint George's Night Uprising was started by the native population of the Saaremaa Island. They destroyed the stronghold of the Order, but they kept the chapel that once stood in the Southern part of the castle. Miraculously the structure survived despite centuries of neglect. In 1940 a lighting struck the bell tower of the church. A large crevice is still visible on side of the tower. During World War II the interior of the church was looted. We only have few pictures of its original interior.