Saaremaa ( Estonian pronunciation: [sɑːremɑː] ; Danish: Øsel ; English (esp. Traditionally): Osel ; [1] Finnish: Saarenmaa ; Swedish & German: Ösel ) is the largest island in Estonia , measuring 2,673 km 2 (1,032 sq mi ). [2] 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 Kuressaarewhich has about 15,000 inhabitants; the whole island has over 30,966 inhabitants.


The island is called Saaremaa in Estonian , and in Finnish Saarenmaa – literally “isle land” or “island land”. [3] 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 the 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 Eysyslaappears 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 “.


According to archaeological finds, the territory of Saaremaa has been inhabited at least 5,000 years BCE . Pre-Viking age Salmon 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 is now Sweden , then belonging to Denmark . In 1206 King Valdemar II of Denmarkbuilt a fortress on the island but no volunteers to man it. The Danes burned themselves and left.

Probably around 1000, Gunnar Hámundarson from Iceland took part in a Viking raid at Eysýsla (Saaremaa). He got his famous atgeir , by taking it from a man named Hallgrímur. Njáls sagasays the following:

Thence they held on south to Denmark and thence east to Smálönd and had victory where they went. They did not come back in autumn. The next summer they held on to Rafala (Tallinn) and fell in with sea-rovers, and fought at once, and won the fight. After that they are going to Eysýsla (Saaremaa) and there is some time under a ness. There they are coming 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 of the world, and I will tell thee who command them: two brothers are the captains – one’s name is Hallgrímur, and the other is Kolskeggur. That they have such things that they do not know what they are doing. That thing is so much about it that it is well known that it is so much that it is so much that it can be heard in such a way.

Kuressaare Castle (Arensburg)

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 Germany 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 the Baltic Sea to Livonic 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 whole 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 (known by its Swedish name of Ösel) was ceded to the Russian Empire by the Treaty of Nystad , becoming part of the Governorate of Livonia .

In 1840 the first spa opened in Kuressaare (then known as Arensburg), and the renaissance experienced town became a resort for Russians and Baltic Germans.

In World War I , the German Empire was 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 there Remained up to the Expelled by Red Army in the Moonzund Landing Operation in October and November 1944. In 1946 Saaremaa Was Declared a restricted area, closed to foreigners and mainland Estonians to MOST. It remained a restricted area until 1989.

Estonian independence was regained on August 20, 1991, in 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 the world, 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 near Kolka , Saunags or Mazirbe , than inland. The highest point on the island is 54 m above sea level. The Kaali crater is a particularly interesting feature. The island has lots of forested land. One of the symbols of the island is the juniper .

Panga Cliff .


Shore of Saaremaa , by Estonian artist Konrad Mägi (1913-1914).

More than 10,000 years ago Saaremaa arose from the Baltic Ice Lake . The uplift of the Earth’s crust is continuing today, at 2 millimeters (0.079 in) per year. The West Estonian islands are low flying plains resting on limestone, their average elevation being about 15 meters (49 ft) above sea level. Limestone has become denuded, resulting in cliffs, limestone pits and quarries at Mustjala , Ninase , Pulli , Ugu and Kaugatuma .

Because of its mild 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 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 neighboring islands.

Over 40% of Saaremaa is covered with forests. They are mostly mixed forests in some areas and can be found in broad-leaved (deciduous) trees, which are relict plant communities forming milder climatic periods. Wooded meadows were common in Saaremaa before World War II , but many of these unique natural complexes have become overgrown and have become commonplace. The same is true for alvars (limestone areas covered with thin soil and stunted vegetation). Saaremaa alvars are a typical and exclusive landscape element. 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 Cloze Apolle butterflies and Roman snails .

The coastal areas of Saaremaa are famous seal habitats. The gray seal is common in the Saaremaa region. The local population of gray seals is slightly increasing. Ringed seals can be observed everywhere in the coastal waters of Saaremaa but, because of their timidity, it has not been possible to make an estimate 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. 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 than the mainland. Neither mole , mink , nor otter can be found here, the lynxand the brown bearare infrequent guests. [4]

Kaali Meteorite

The nearly circular hand Kaali meteorite crater
Main article: Kaali crater

Kaali is a small group of nine unique meteorite craters on Saaremaa. The largest of the craters measures 110 meters (360 ft) in diameter and contains a small lake, known as Kaali järv(“Lake Kaali”). The meteor cluster had a velocity impact of 10-20 kilometers per second (6-12 miles) and a mass of 20-80 tons. At the altitude of 5-10 kilometers (3-6 mi) the meteor broke into pieces. The largest fragment produced with a depth of 22 meters (72 ft). Eight smaller ones with diameters ranging from 12 to 40 meters (39 to 131 feet) and depths varying from 1 to 4 meters (3 to 13 feet) are all within 1 kilometer (0.62 mi) of the hand crater. The age estimates of the crater vary, with 4000 ± 1000 BCEbeing a reckoned acceptance estimate, [5] but other estimates suggest the explosion was as recent as 660 ± 85 ECB . [6] The energy of the impact – about 80 TJ (20 kilotons of TNT), comparable with theHiroshima 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.[6]


Dolomite , limestone , curative mud , mineral water , sand and gravel , ceramic clay are the major local minerals. Of these local resources the dolomite is perhaps the most famous above all. [7]

Mihkli Farm Museum in Viki village .


The majority of the population is Estonian (97%). The biggest nationality is Russian , comprising 2% of the inhabitants. Compared to the Republic of Estonia, the population of Saare Countyand particularly of Kuressaare town is younger. Saaremaa is located in the center of the Baltic region with 70 million customers. Gates to the West include the newly reconstructed Kuressaare Airport and Roomassaare PortThe operation of modern ferries between Saaremaa and the mainland but also the rapid development of telecommunications, highly important for the island. Saaremaa is a tourist destination, visited by 35% of foreigners and 95% of domestic tourists. Saaremaa has an entrepreneur-friendly, safe, and strain-free economic environment. [8]


Typical road on Western Saaremaa

Saaremaa is atteint by ferry from Virtsu on the Estonian mainland to Kuivastu we Muhu island, qui est 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. Both these roads are operated by TS Laevad . There are also passenger services from Roomassaare to the smaller island of Abruka . 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 services to Ruhnu and Pärnu operated by Luftverkehr Friesland Harle , and has twice weekly services 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 by Saaremaa Bridge or Saaremaa Tunnel are being studied.


FC Kuressaare ounce competed in the first tier of Estonian football, the Meistriliiga , it now Competes in the third Esiliiga B . Saaremaa competes in the biannual Island Games .

There are three main international sports events in Saaremaa:

  1. Saaremaa Rally takes place every year and attracts thousands of rally fans. The first rally was an amateur competition and it took place in 1974. The first professional competition took place in 1975 and from 1993 the rally has been international. [9]
  2. Saaremaa Velotuur is a group of cyclists that is oldest in the Nordic countries (held since 1957) and the only international one in the Baltic states. [10]
  3. Saaremaa 3-day running marathon takes place on the roads around Kuressaare town and Sõrve peninsula. Main race consist of three different runs, which are held on three sequential days (10 + 16.195 + 16 = 42.195 km). The first marathon was held in 1974. [11]


Louis Kahn , one of the most influential architects of the mid-20th century, spent his childhood in Saaremaa
  • Hannibal Sehested (1609-1666), Danish diplomat.
  • Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen (1778-1852) lead of the second expedition to successfully cross the Antarctic Circle and likely first to see the continent of Antarctica.
  • Louis Isadore Kahn (1901-1974) was born on Saaremaa to Leopold and Bertha Kahn. One of the most influential architects of the mid-20th century.
  • Paul Friidrih Saagpakk (1910-1996) was born in Mustjala. He wrote the largest Estonian-English dictionary published in 1982.


Saaremaa has more spas than anywhere else in Estonia. [3]


  1. Jump up^ Rand McNally and Company’s Enlarged Business and Atlas Shippers Guide . Rand McNally and Company. 1893.
  2. Jump up^ Official Web page of Saaremaa
  3. ^ Jump up to:b Toomse, Liine. “10 Estonian Islands You Should Visit.” . Retrieved 8 March 2016.
  4. Jump up^
    Saaremaa County – nature
  5. Jump up^ “Kaalijärv” . Earth Impact Database . University of New Brunswick . Retrieved 2008-12-30 .
  6. ^ Jump up to:b Veski Siim; Heinsalu, Atko; Kirsimäe, Kalle; Poska, Anneli; Saarse, Leili (2001). “Ecological disaster in connection with the impact of the Kaali meteorite about 800-400 BC on the island of Saaremaa, Estonia” (PDF). Meteoritics & Planetary Science . 36 (3): 1367-1375. doi : 10.1111 / j.1945-5100.2001.tb01830.x .
  7. Jump up^
    Saaremaa County – resources
  8. Jump up^
    Saaremaa County – population
  9. Jump up^ Saaremaa Rally homepage
  10. Jump up^ Saaremaa Velotuur homepage
  11. Jump up^ Saaremaa 3-day running marathon homepage

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