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Saaremaa vapp.svg
Estonian archipelago (Saaremaa and Hiiumaa).jpg
Location Baltic Sea
Coordinates 58°25′N 22°30′E / 58.417°N 22.5°E / 58.417; 22.5
Archipelago Moonsund archipelago
Area 2,673 square kilometres (1,032 sq mi)
State Saare County
Population 39,231 (as of 2008)
Density 13.5 /km2 (35 /sq mi)
Ethnic groups Estonians (previously also Germans and Swedes)

Saaremaa (German: Ösel, Swedish: Ösel, Danish: Øsel, Finnish: Saarenmaa) is the largest island belonging to Estonia, measuring 2,673 km². The main island of Saare County, it is located in the Baltic Sea, south of Hiiumaa island, and belongs to the West Estonian Archipelago (Moonsund archipelago). The capital of Saaremaa is Kuressaare, which has about 15,000 inhabitants; the whole island has over 39,000 inhabitants.



The island is called Saaremaa in Estonian, and in Finnish Saarenmaa — literally "isle's land". In old Scandinavian sagas, Saaremaa is called Eysysla, which means exactly the same as the name of the island in Estonian: "the district (land) of island". This is the origin of the island's name in German and Swedish, Ösel, Danish, Øsel, Gutnish Oysl, and in Latin, Osilia. The name Eysysla appears 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 for at least 5000 years. 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 five hundred Osilians ravaging the area that is now southern Sweden, then belonging to Denmark. In 1206, the King Valdemar II of Denmark built a fortress on the island but they found no volunteers to man it. They burned it themselves and left.

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.

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 entire island was under Danish possession.

Kuressaare Castle

In 1645, Saaremaa was ceded from Denmark to Sweden by the Treaty of Brömsebro. In 1721, along with the rest of Livonia, Saaremaa (then known by its Swedish name of Ösel) was ceded to the Russian Empire by the Treaty of Nystad, becoming a part of the Governorate of Livonia. In 1840 the first spa opened in Kuressaare (then known as Arensburg), and the town became a resort for Russians and Baltic Germans.

In World War I, the Estonian islands were conquered by Imperial German Army in October 1917 and 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 remained there until expelled by the Red Army in the Moonzund Landing Operation in October and November 1944. In 1946, Saaremaa was declared a restricted zone, closed to foreigners and to most mainland Estonians. It remained a restricted area until 1989.

Estonian independence was regained on August 20, 1991, in the collapse of the Soviet Union.


Near Panga cliffs, Saaremaa

The island forms the main barrier between the Gulf of Riga and the Baltic Sea. To the south of it is the main passage out of the gulf, the Irbe Strait, next to Sõrve Peninsula, the southernmost portion of the island. The highest point on the island is 54 m above sea level. One particularly interesting feature found on the island is the Kaali crater. The island has lots of forested terrain. One of the symbols of the island is the juniper.


More than 10,000 years ago the first parts of Saaremaa arose from the Baltic Ice Lake. The uplift of the Earth's crust is continuing even today - 2mm per year. The West - Estonian islands are lowlying plains resting on limestone, their average elevation being about 15 meters above sea level. Limestone has become denuded in a great number of places, resulting in cliffs, limestone pits and quarries at Mustjala, Ninase, Pulli, Üügu and Kaugatuma. Because of its mild maritime 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 ones which 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 neighbouring islands. Over 40% of Saaremaa is covered with forests. They are mostly mixed forests but in some areas one can also find broad - leaved (deciduous), which are relict plant communities of former milder climatic periods. Wooded meadows were still common in Saaremaa before World War II, but many of these unique natural complexes have gradually become overgrown and thus turned into the ordinary forest. The same is true for alvars (limestone areas covered with thin soil and stunted vegetation). Once a typical and exclusive landscape element in Saaremaa alvars are now in decline. 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 Cloude Apolle butterflies and Roman snails.

The coastal areas of Saaremaa are famous seal habitats. The gray seal which is common here can be found in three large permanent resting areas on the islets off the coast in the western and southern parts of Saaremaa. The local population of grey seal is slightly increasing Ringed seals can also be encountered everywhere in the coastal waters of Saaremaa, but because of their timidity it has not been possible to make an estimation of their number. The islands lie within the East - Atlantic flyway, which is the migration path of waterfowl. This "bird - road" connects northeastern Europe with Arctic regions and each year hundreds of thousands of migratory birds visit 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 species than the mainland. Neither mole, mink, nor otter can be found here, the lynx and the brown bear are but infrequent guests.[1]

Kaali Meteorite

The main crater is nearly circular.

Kaali is a small group of nine unique meteorite craters on Saaremaa. The largest of the craters measures 110 meters in diameter and contains a small lake (known as Kaali järv (Lake Kaali)). The meteor cluster had an impact velocity of 10–20 km/s and a mass of 20-80 tons. At the altitude of 5–10 km the meteor broke into pieces. The largest fragment produced the main crater with a depth of 22 m. Eight smaller craters with diameters ranging from 12 to 40 m and depths varying from 1 to 4 m are all within 1 kilometer of the main crater. The explosion that caused the craters is estimated to have happened 660 ± 85 B.C. (Holocene). The energy of the impact (about 80 TJ (20 kilotons of TNT), comparable with the Hiroshima bomb) burned forests within a radius of 6 km.[2] There are numerous legends related to the crater; these are summarized by Lennart Meri in his book Hõbevalge.


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.[3]


The majority of the population is Estonian (97%). The biggest minority nationality is Russian, equaling 2% of the inhabitants. Compared to the Republic of Estonia on the whole, the population of Saare County and particularly of Kuressaare town is younger, whereas the number of the retired people is considerably smaller. Saaremaa is located in the centre of the Baltic region with the most rapidly growing market in Europe containing 70 million consumers. Gates to the West include not only the newly reconstructed Kuressaare Airport and Roomassaare Port, the operation of modern ferries between Saaremaa and the mainland but also the rapid development of the telecommunications, highly important for the island. Saaremaa is a tourist destination, revisited by 35% of foreign and 95% of domestic tourists. Saaremaa has an entrepreneur-friendly, safe, and strain-free economic environment.[4]


Saaremaa is reached by ferry from Virtsu on the Estonian mainland to Muhu island, which is itself connected to Saaremaa by a causeway, the Väinatamm. Saaremaa can also be reached by ferry from Sõru on the island of Hiiumaa. In summer it is also possible to reach Saaremaa by ferry from Ventspils in Latvia. This service started in 2005 and is run by SSC Ferries.

In winter it is possible to drive to Saaremaa by an ice road between the mainland and Muhu. 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. It is possible to fly from Kuressaare to Tallinn by Estonian Air, and there are also seasonal flights to Pärnu and Stockholm. There was a Soviet air base at Aste during the Cold War.

Plans to connect Saaremaa to the mainland either by the Saaremaa Bridge or Saaremaa Tunnel are being studied. The project will cost at least 175 million euros and will be ready no sooner than 2014.


FC Kuressaare compete in the first tier of Estonian football, the Meistriliiga.

Saaremaa competes in the biannual Island Games.

Famous inhabitants

One of the most influential architects of the mid-20th century, Louis Isadore Kahn (1901-1974) was born on the island of Osel (now Saaremaa) off the coast of Estonia to Leopold and Bertha Kahn.


See also


  1. ^
    Saaremaa County - nature
  2. ^ Siim Veski, Atko Heinsalu, Kalle Kirsimäe, Anneli Poska, Leili Saarse (2001). "Ecological catastrophe in connection with the impact of the Kaali meteorite about 800–400 B.C. on the island of Saaremaa, Estonia". Meteoritics & Planetary Science 36 (3): 1367–1375.  
  3. ^
    Saaremaa County - resources
  4. ^
    Saaremaa County - population

Further reading

  • Taylor, N. with Karin T (2008). Saaremaa: a History and Travel Guide. Tallinn: OÜ Greif. ISBN 978 9985 3 1606 1

External links

Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikitravel

Saaremaa [1] [2] is the largest Estonian island, situated on the west coast of Estonia. It's also relatively inexpensive to visit.

The capital (and only city) in Saaremaa is Kuressaare.

Windmills in Angla, Saaremaa
Windmills in Angla, Saaremaa

The territory of Saaremaa has been inhabited for about eight thousand years. The people of Saaremaa have seen many battles and been ruled over by Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Russia.

Saaremaa has retained its uniqueness due to its location and isolation. In the villages there are still stone fences and houses with thatched roofs. Dolomite, windmills and the famous local home-brewed beer are the symbols of Saaremaa.

The islanders' life has always been bound to the sea and the resilience of their womenfolk, kept busy toiling the land while their men were at sea.

The people of Saaremaa love jokes - especially the ones which are about their neighbours - the people of Hiiumaa. The jokes of Saaremaa and Hiiumaa folk may be lost on other Estonians, just as is British humour is sometimes not appreciated "on the continent".

  • Kaarma commune
  • Kihelkonna commune
  • Kärla commune
  • Laimjala commune
  • Leisi commune
  • Lümanda commune
  • Muhu commune includes Muhu island
  • Mustjala commune
  • Orissaare commune
  • Pihtla commune
  • Pöide commune
  • Salme commune
  • Torgu commune
  • Valjala commune

Get in

By bus

Buses arrive to Kuressaare from Tallinn, Tartu and Pärnu. Bus schedules and journey planner can be found at Bussireisid.

By sea

There is a ferry [3] connection to the mainland from the island of Muhu, which is connected by a bridge to Saaremaa. One can also take a ferry to the nearby island of Hiiumaa and the Latvian city of Ventspils.

By plane

Kuressaare Airport (IATA: URE, ICAO: EEKE) [4] operates regular flights to Ruhnu, Stockholm and Tallinn.

  • Arensburg Boutique Hotel & Spa [5]
  • Georg Ots Spa Hotel [6]
  • Grand Rose Spa Hotel [7]
  • Johan Spa Hotel [8]
  • Accommodation information in Saaremaa [9]

The official Estonian tourism website provides an extensive list of options for accommodation in Saaremaa.

Other Places to see

The beautiful island of Muhu [10] is located east of Saaremaa. There is a bridge between these two islands.


When attempting to talk to the locals, one can try using English. If this fails, Russian is the obvious alternative, followed by German and Finnish.


A lot of the attractions on Saaremaa are located in the city of Kuressaare.

  • Loode Oak Forest, Kaarma vald, Saare maakond. Loode oak forest is one of the few extant naturally growing park-like forests. Rare flora can be found there (including orchids). The forest is equipped with a bird watching platform.  edit
  • Angla Windmills. The only remaining group of windmills on Saaremaa is located in Angla, at the 32 kilometre mark on the Upa-Leisi road.  edit
  • Asva Fortified Settlement, Asva, Saaremaa. The tiny village of Asva is located at the 33 kilometre mark on the Kuivastu - Laimjala - Kuressaare road. There, behind the village on a low-lying hayfield is located one of the most archaeologically important bronze-age sites in Northern Europe. Asva has given its name to an entire culture.  edit
  • Jämaja church. Jämaja church is located on the western shore of Sõrve peninsula, at the 21 kilometre mark on the Kaugatuma - Sääre road. Although the present reconstruction dates to 1864, there has been a church here since the Middle Ages.  edit
  • The Kaali meteorite craters. Located 18km from Kuressaare towards Kuivastu. The most probable age of the Kaali crates is 7500-7600 years. Kaali lake is considered to be the most unique geological object in Estonia. Known as Holy Lake it also has an important place in tradition. There is archaeological evidence that it was a place of offering for many centuries.  edit
  • Kaarma Church of Saints Peter and Paul. I's located on the Laadjala - Kaarma - Karja road at the six kilometer mark. The church was probably built after the 1261 rebellion. There is a medieval; baptismal font (13th century) and a wooden sculpture of St. Simon of Cyrene (mid-15th century) standing under the pulpit. The pulpit, dating from 1645, is also worth noting. The present Neo-Gothic altarpiece depicts a painting by O. von Moeller of Christ on the Cross. The Kaarma ring fort is located about 100m east of Kaarma church.  edit
The portal of Karja Church
The portal of Karja Church
  • Karja Church. It's approximately three kilometers from Angla, towards Koikla. It is Saaremaa's smallest church that dates from the Middle Ages. The church is famous for its decorative elements. Some wall frescoes still remain. On the ceiling there are several mysterious, magical symbols, such as the three - legged triskele, a devil that looks between its legs, and the pentagram, among others.  edit
  • Karujärv (Bear Lake). The lake is located close to the town of Kärla, going towards Pidula. It is the oldest lake on Saaremaa, it appeared here almost 8000 years ago. The shores on the southern side of the lake are low and muddy. The northern shore is higher and there the shores are of gravel or sandy. The bottom of the lake is mostly sand. On the shores of the lake there is Karujärve Camping where cabins can be rented. There are an outdoor café and playing fields plus water bicycles can be rented.  edit
  • Panga cliff. The Panga cliff is located on the northern shore of Saaremaa, at the end of the Kuressaare - Võhma road, close to Panga village. It is the highest of the Saaremaa and Muhu cliffs, reaching to a maximum of 21.3 metres. The entire cliff is approximately 2.5 km long. Folk tradition cites Panga cliff as a place of worship and sacrifice for the ancient Saarlanders. The last animal sacrifice took place during the 1960's.  edit
  • Pidula manor. Approximately 11 kilometres from Kihelkonna towards Muistjala. Because of its well thought out proportions and tasteful details, art historians consider this to be one of Estonia's most attractive baroque manor houses. It is believed that the building dates to the mid-18th century.  edit
  • Pühatu springs. Saaremaa's largest and most well-known sacrificial springs are on the Kuressaare-Võhma road, at the five kilometre mark, behind Pähkla village on a low field, in a little thicket of trees. The spring is deep green in colour.  edit


There are many peninsulas, bluffs, lakes and villages worth visiting both in Saaremaa and the nearby islands and islets. The most notable places are Koguva village, on Muhu Island, which is Estonia's best preserved village, and Sõrve peninsula.

Vilsandi national park is located on the western coast of Saaremaa and counts within its territory nearly a hundred little islets and their surrounding sea. It's a well known place by bird watchers.

  • Saaremaa Opera Days, Saaremaa, [11]. July.  edit
  • Hiiumaa Island, well known for its lighthouses, unspoilt nature, Hill of Crosses and the sense of humour of its inhabitants
  • Muhu Island, sleepy fishing villages, working windmills, thatched cottages, plenty of deer, moose and birds
  • Pärnu, historical resort seaside city with a small harbour, Estonia's summer capital
  • Vilsandi National Park, international bird sanctuary with over 250 recorded bird species
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Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary



Wikipedia has an article on:


Proper noun


  1. The largest island of Estonia.
  2. Saare County in Estonia.
  3. Historical Estonian eldership.



Estonian Wikipedia has an article on:

Wikipedia et

Proper noun


  1. The largest island of Estonia.
  2. Saare County in Estonia.
  3. Historical Estonian eldership.

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