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Estonia Travel Guide

Estonia — History and Culture

Estonia is a mix of indigenous heritage and a wide range of Nordic culture. Because of its geography and long-time Soviet rule, the Russian and Swedish influence is obvious in all phases of life. Various Baltic, Finnic, Germanic, and Slavic elements are also evident in the country’s religion, arts, local music, festivals, and film.

History

Considered a European Capital of Culture, Tallin has not lost its traditional charm despite modernization. Estonia’s main city has been an important trading hub since its early years, serving as a major channel for the passage of goods and services. The old town is a recognized World Heritage site, teeming with remnants from its early sea trade down to the Soviet rule.

Ancient historical accounts affirm that Vikings passed through this Baltic region in the 9th century, followed by the Swedes and the Danes who tried but failed to impose Christianity upon the people, who were predominantly members of the Livs tribe. It was not until the 13th century that the inhabitants of the Baltic territory yielded to Bishop Albert of Buxhoevden. Danish influence was strongest in the Middle Ages, but dwindled after the region was overtaken by King Gustavus of Sweden as the result of the Livonian War in the mid 1500’s.

The Swedish Empire peaked during the 16th and 17th centuries, but it gradually lost power as Russians took over Estonia under the Treaty of Nystadt, signed in 1721. After the Bolshevik revolution in 1917, the entire territory became part of the Soviet Socialist Republic in the mid 1940’s.

Four decades later, Communist Party General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev proposed a new prospect for the Baltic States, which led to their independence from the Soviet Union in 1990. Estonia only needed a short transition before it became the fully developed nation it is today.

Stunning remnants of the past can be found everywhere in the country, including the numerous heritage sites in the old town of Tallinn, the intriguing relics scattered around the oldest city of Tartu and the war-wrecked state of Narva. Elsewhere in the region are imposing castles and watchtowers, religious structures that range from large Orthodox churches to stunning monasteries, convents and magnificent domed cathedrals.

Culture

Estonian culture is evident in various aspects of everyday life, not only in the way the people are devoted to their faith, but in the way they express themselves through art and other traditions. Their festivities are artistic, as well as expressive of Christian and Protestant beliefs.

The country’s literary tradition is known for folk poetry, epic tales and detective stories. Many visual artists also have their place in the country, evident in the numerous collections of masterpieces in various museums throughout Estonia. The Kadriorg Palace hosts one of the most prominent branches of the Art Museum of Estonia.

Theater and music are also important elements of Estonian culture, with numerous festivals dedicated to different theatrical genres. Other events revolve around religious rituals and secular traditions marked by merriment, colorful celebrations and drunken revelries. No Estonian celebration is complete without a feast of classic cuisine. Homemade delicacies may be gut-wrenching for outsiders, but locals delight in their jellied meat, marinated eel and blood sausage. Bizarre culinary traditions aside, Estonian cuisine is largely influenced by Russian, Swedish, German, Danish, Polish, and other European delicacies, all of which create a unique fusion of flavors you will only taste here.

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