History of Estonia started when the glacial era melted. First traces of human settlement (Pulli Settlement) in Estonia go back to 11,000 to 13,000 years ago. The hunting and fishing communities are believed to be existing from around 6500 B.C.
One of the early Estonian groups were the Oeselians, who were known as the Estonian Vikings, and existed as far back as the 2nd century, rising in power by the 12th century. The Oeselians were pirates who raided Swedish towns and ships and dominated the seas. During the Northern Crusades, the movement was spread to Estonia by the northern Germans who established colonies in the region, in what was known as the Livonian Crusade. The Kingdom of Denmark sought to stop the Oeselian attacks, and invaded Estonia in 1206, while the Swedes occupied the coastal regions. The Estonians fought against the invasions.
In 1418, Estonia became part of the Livonian Confederation as the Livonian Order. This rule lasted until the Livonian War, which started in 1558 and ended in 1562. After the war, the southern part of Sweden became part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Northern Estonia was part of Sweden, until the early 1700s when the Great Northern War led to the cession of the territory to the Russian Empire.
Timeline of Estonia's Modern History
– On November 28, 1917 the Estonian Provincial Assembly proclaimed itself "Estonia's sole bearer of a higher power." The Assembly urged Estonian soldiers to gather from all over Estonia. This date is often referred as "The Real Estonian Independence Day."
– The Estonian National Awakening in 1918 led to the declaration of country's independence.
– Independence Day, observed on February 24, is a national holiday in Estonia marking the anniversary of the Estonian Declaration of Independence.
– The declaration was followed by the War of Estonian Independence on June 23, 1919. The troops defeated a German division during the Battle of Võnnu and the war ended with the Tartu Peace Treaty that allowed Estonia to become independent. This event is celebrated in Estonia as the Victory Day. Since 1934, Victory Day has been celebrated on June 23 every year.
– On February 2, 1920, Estonia and Soviet Russia signed the Tartu Peace Treaty making Estonia a de jure independent state.
– On August 6, 1940, Estonia was annexed by the Soviet Union as the Estonian SSR.
– The country was annexed by Germany in 1941, and again by the Soviet Union in 1944.
– On September 6, 1991, the Soviet Union recognized the independence of Estonia.
Estonia is perhaps the only country in the world that used song as a 'weapon of choice' for the countrywide revolution (from 1987 to 1991) against decades of Soviet occupation. The Singing Revolution was named so to acknowledge the role singing played in building up protests in the mid-80s. In fact, songs have always been the glue keeping the Estonians united.
From singing national songs and hymns forbidden in those days to staging demonstrations, various acts of defiance planted the seeds of revolution. It is one of the most non-violent revolutions that overthrew Soviets and re-established Estonian independence in 1991. It was during the festival called "Song of Estonia" in September 1988 that the political leaders took a proactive part, and for the first time insisted on restoring independence.
Estonia is located along the Baltic Sea, with a coastline along the Gulf of Finland and the Gulf of Riga. Also included in Estonia's territory are 1,520 islands off the coast. The largest of the islands are Saaremaa and Hiiumaa. Saaremaa is home to a cluster of nine meteorite craters, known as Kaali, the largest of which has formed Kaali Lake.
Estonia's terrain features mostly lowlands, with a low average elevation of about 50 meters (164 feet), while in the southern hilly region, its highest point is at Suur Munamagi, or Egg Mountain, at 318 meters (1,043 feet) above sea level. The main rivers in Estonia are the Narva and the Emajogi. Estonia is home to about 1,500 lakes, while its most important lakes are Lake Peipus along the Russian border and Vortsjarv.
Estonia is bordered by Latvia and Russia, and lies across the Baltic Sea from Finland and Sweden.
Tallinn (capital): One of the best preserved medieval towns in Europe, Tallinn is known for its magnificent city walls and towers.
Tartu: The second largest city in Estonia is also home to one of the oldest universities in Europe. The origin of this 'student town' dates back to 1030.
Pärnu: The seaside town (also considered as Estonia's summer capital) is famous for its white sandy beach and beautiful parks.
Points of Interest
The capital of Estonia, Tallinn, is one of the must-visit places for the medieval charm it exudes. Tallinn's Old Town, the historic center on the hill of Toompea, features architecture constructed mainly from the 15th to 17th century. Notable sites are the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, a grand Russian Orthodox church, and St. Mary's Cathedral, which is the city's oldest (1229 A.D.). The city is home to markets, museums, and palaces.
Estonia has several popular resort destinations including the towns of Haapsalu and Parnu. The adventure lovers can head to the national parks like Soomaa National Park, Vilsandi National Park, and Matsalu National Park. The country's two main islands have plenty to offer with Saaremaa being home to the Kuressaare Castle, the Kaali meteorite craters, and lakes and forests. Hiiumaa, which is the second largest island in Estonia, has historic sites, a lighthouse, and the Suuremõisa castle.
The main international airport in Estonia is the Lennart Meri Tallinn Airport. It is a major transport hub of the Baltic region. Other important airports, Tartu Airport and Kuressaare Airport, are great for domestic flights with some regional service. Trains are available from Moscow as well as some domestic destinations between Tallinn and Tartu. The bus system is more extensive, offering connectivity to most cities in the country, as well as connections to Saint Petersburg, Warsaw, and several other cities in the neighboring countries. The roads in Estonia are well networked and of varying quality and upkeep, but the major routes are fine. Ferries are available from Sweden, Finland, and Germany, and smaller boats can be chartered between mainland Estonia and its islands.
Lake Peipsi (3555 sq km) on the Estonian-Russian border is the biggest transboundary lake in Europe.
Estonia was the first nation to use online voting in politics.
It is considered the least religious country in the world.
Estonians have one of the biggest collections of folk songs.
Last Updated : June 24, 2015