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Saaremaa satellite image
Saaremaa satellite image
Waters Baltic Sea
Archipelago Moonsund Islands
Geographical location 58 ° 25 '  N , 22 ° 32'  E Coordinates: 58 ° 25 '  N , 22 ° 32'  E
Saaremaa (Estonia)
length 94 km
width 57 km
surface 2 672  km²
Highest elevation Viidu Raunamägi
54  m
Residents 36,000
13 inhabitants / km²
main place Kuressaare
Map of the island
Map of the island

Saaremaa (German / Swedish Ösel , Danish Øsel , Latin Osilia ) is the largest island in Estonia and the Moonsund Islands with around 2672 km² . It is the fourth largest island in the Baltic Sea after Zealand , Gotland and Funen and borders the Gulf of Riga ( Estonian Liivi Laht ) to the north.


Saaremaa is the main island of the Saare (Saare Maakond) district , to which the surrounding islands of Muhu (poppy) , Abruka (Abro) , Vilsandi (Filsand) , Ruhnu (Runö) and various smaller islands belong.

The second largest Estonian island Hiiumaa (Dagö) is about six kilometers from the northernmost point of the Pammana Peninsula. The north-south extension of the island is about 88 kilometers, the distance between the westernmost and easternmost point 90 kilometers. Saaremaa is connected to the neighboring Muhu by a navigable dam; there are ferry connections from Kuivastu (Kuiwast) on the east coast of Muhu to the mainland port of Virtsu (Werder) . The main town of the island and the district is Kuressaare (Arensburg) with around 16,000 inhabitants in the bay of the same name in the south of Saaremaa. The second largest place is Orissaare (Orrisaar) in the northeast.

About 36,000 inhabitants (13.5 per km²) live on Saaremaa, that is about three percent of the Estonian population. The isolated location west of the mainland left the island relatively unaffected by the Russification policy of the Soviet occupation, 98% are Estonians, around 1.2% are of Russian descent, 0.2% each are Ukrainians and Finns.

The island's transport network is very well developed. The total length of the road is around 3,100 km, with only part of the route being paved. In the sparsely populated areas in the southwest and northeast as well as in the interior of the island, there are predominantly roads with gravel covers. There are several daily bus connections from Kuressaare to the capital Tallinn as well as to Pärnu and Tartu via the main road 10 , which are maintained by the transport of coaches and regular buses on the ferry between Kuivastu and Virtsu. There are shipping connections to the surrounding islands and the mainland via the ports in Roomassaare (to Abruka and Ruhnu) and Triigi (to Sõru on Hiiumaa). The only airport on the island is located at Roomassaare . The ferry service from Mõntu to Ventspils in Latvia was discontinued in 2009.

The 1,300-kilometer coast of Saaremaa is largely characterized by large peninsulas and offshore smaller islands (around 600), the Sõrve peninsula ( Sworbe in German ) extends up to 30 kilometers in the Gulf of Riga and ends in the southernmost point of the archipelago in the village of Sääre , marked by a 52 meter high lighthouse from 1960 (originally from 1646).

Sääre lighthouse, Sõrve
Post mill in Ohessaare, Sõrve

Despite the predominantly stony and shallow coastline, there are cliffs such as the 22 m vertically sloping Panga Pank on Küdema Bay or the Undva Pank cliff on the Tagamõisa peninsula in the northwest of the island. The Harilaid peninsula to the northwest is a former island (Estonian laid = small island ), the lighthouse at Cape Kiipsaare dates from 1933 and threatens to fall into the sea due to its tilt caused by strong wave erosion .

Saaremaa is largely characterized by a strikingly flat topography, the highest elevation, the Viidu Raunamägi, is located near Kihelkonna (Kielkond) in the west of the island in the Viidumäe nature reserve, founded in 1957, and only reaches about 54 m. Like large parts of the mainland, Saaremaa is densely forested, around 40% of the island is covered by forests. Larger lakes are the Suur Laht ( Great Bay ), the Mullutu Laht near Kuressaare, the Karujärv ( Bear Lake ) near Kärla (Kergel) and the Ristissoo . Of geological interest is in quarries near Kaarma (Kermel) mined and processed into crafts dolomite .

The average height of the island is about 15 m above sea ​​level . Since the last Ice Age , Saaremaa has gained around two millimeters in height every year through post-glacial land elevation .


Climate diagram Vilsandi
Gray seal ( Halichoerus grypus )

Due to its location on the eastern edge of the Baltic Sea, Saaremaa is located in a cool, temperate climate zone with mild sea weather. As a result, the island has long, warm summers and mild winters; Strong winds lead to frequent weather changes with precipitation (> 50 mm) mainly in the autumn and winter months.

In July and August, temperatures average around 16–20 ° C, sometimes up to 25 ° C. February is the coldest month on Saaremaa with an average temperature of around -4 ° C.

Flora and fauna

Saaremaa has a rich flora and fauna, due to the mild, maritime climate conditions. Around 80% of the plant species native to Estonia are found on the islands. About 120 of the species found here are considered protected. The sure-known rare plant species on the island is thriving mostly in marshy lowlands Saaremaa yellow rattle ( Rhinanthus Osiliensis , estn .: Saaremaa robirohu). In addition, 35 out of 36 orchid species found in Estonia grow here.

Saaremaa has a species-rich fauna, many of the native seal species live in the coastal waters , such as B. the gray seal . In addition, the islands are in the migration area of ​​numerous bird species that use Saaremaa as a stopover on their journey in spring and autumn, e.g. B. Brent geese and eider ducks . Nevertheless, the fauna of the mainland is far more diverse than that of the islands in the west of the country. Bears , lynx and elk, for example, are rarely found on these.

The Kaali meteorite craters

The almost circular Kaali meteorite crater

The main crater (Kaali Meteoriidikraater), located 18 kilometers from Kuressaare in the grove near Kaali, is a greenish pond about 50 meters in diameter, surrounded by a 16-meter-high embankment with a diameter of 110 meters. Eight secondary craters can be found in the vicinity of the impact crater, which are significantly smaller with diameters between 15 and 40 meters.


Archaeological finds indicate a settlement since at least 3000 BC. Chr. In the Scandinavian sagas Saaremaa is as Eysysla (dt. Island District ) mentioned in earlier German and Swedish records is also Oesel talk.

The Viking ship graves of Salme were discovered in 2008 at the Isthmus of Salme. The clinker- built ships (a rowing boat, presumably a sailing ship) recovered the remains of seven and 33 male people respectively. The first prehistoric ship find in the eastern Baltic Sea is dated to 700–900 AD. Swedish rune stones refer to the activities of the Vikings that lasted until around 1050 AD.

With the beginning of the expansion policy of the Teutonic Order in the 13th century, Saaremaa came under foreign rule, although it was not until 1227 that the island population was subdued. However, the German order soon had to leave parts of the island to the Diocese of Ösel-Wiek , which led to constant armed conflicts. The establishment of large castles in Kuressaare and Maasi in the north-east of the island served to strengthen the power of the order, although only the remains of the wall are evidence of the latter. In 1343, with the destruction of the knight's castle in Pöide (Peude), insurgents succeeded in temporarily driving the order off the island. Despite numerous surveys against the occupying power, the order managed to maintain suzerainty over the island until 1559.

Laurentiuse Kirik, Kuressaare

In the Three Crowns War (1563-1570) between Poland, Sweden and Denmark, Saaremaa fell under Danish rule. Until the beginning of the 18th century, the balance of power on Saaremaa changed constantly between the Danes, Swedes and the Russians who took over the island in the Great Northern War in 1710 . The plague epidemic that the war brought with it, which considerably weakened the Swedish rulers, decimated the island's population enormously. In the city of Kuressaare, only eleven people are reported to have survived the disease. The Russian rule on Saaremaa lasted until the end of the tsarist empire in 1917. Between 1783 and 1797, Balthasar Freiherr von Campenhausen, as Vice-Governor of Livonia, made an outstanding contribution to the infrastructure and social life in the remote province. He ensured regular mail connections, large-scale drainage projects, afforestation against threatening silting and modern roads. In his residence in Arensburg he promoted culture and ordered a thoroughgoing urban renewal.

German troops embark to occupy the island, October 1917.

The economic development and development of Saaremaa was mainly driven in 1858 with the opening of ship connections to Rīga and Saint Petersburg and in 1888 with the start of ferry connections to Muhu and the Estonian mainland. The port of Roomassaare was built in 1894 and, two years later, the connection of Saaremaa to Muhu with the construction of a land bridge over the Väike Väin (Little Sound). In 1912 the independent energy supply was made possible with the construction of an electricity plant.

During the First World War , the island was an important base for the Russian fleet. At the end of 1917 it was captured by the Germans in the Albion company ; after the armistice of 1918 they withdrew. When the newly formed Estonian state gained independence on February 24, 1918, the island became part of Estonia.

The German-Soviet non-aggression pact of 1939 forced the Baltic states to station Soviet military on their territory and led to a renewed occupation of Estonia. Numerous residents of the island were deported. Two Soviet air bases were built on Saaremaa, from which Soviet aviation forces flew several attacks on the suburbs of Berlin between August 7 and September 5, 1941 after the attack on Germany . B. on the night of August 8, 1941 under the orders of Colonel Yevgeny Preobrazhensky.

Soviet memorial in Tehumardi

In the Second World War 1941–1944, the island was occupied by the Germans, and numerous residents of the Sõrve (Sworbe) peninsula were evacuated in 1944. On October 8, 1944, one of the bitterest battles of the war in Estonia took place on Sõrve between the Germans retreating from Saaremaa and the Soviets advancing from the east ( Aster Company ). Today at Tehumardi a 21 m high memorial in the form of a broken sword commemorates this loss-making, nocturnal conflict, to which thousands fell victim. During the defense until the end of November 1944, almost the entire peninsula was razed to the ground, old gun positions and dilapidated fortifications can still be found on the southern tip of Sõrves. The devastation of the war and the deportations and evacuations reduced the island's population by more than 30%.

In the post-war period, Saaremaa was almost isolated from the mainland due to its strategically important location on the western border of the USSR and the massive presence of the Soviet military stationed there (around 4000 hectares of restricted area ) - even Estonians needed a permit to visit the island to enter.

With the renewed Estonian declaration of independence in 1991, Saaremaa gained the right to self-determination and self-development.

Worth seeing

The Arensburg in Kuressaare

The Arensburg in Kuressaare from 1380, built by the Teutonic Order for the bishops of Ösel-Wieck, is of architectural interest . At the end of the 14th century the square fortress was provided with defensive protective walls. The castle is dominated by the 29 m high Pikk Hermann (Langer Hermann) tower. Today the Saaremaa Museum is located in the complex.

To the northeast of Valjala (Wolde) there are imposing remains of a fortress from the time before Christianization by the order. The up to eight meter high stone wall forms a 120 x 110 m wide oval. In 1227 a twenty year long uprising of the Saaremaa residents ended here with the victory of the occupying power of the Teutonic Order. Not far from the fortress is the Valjala Martini Kirik (St. Martin's Church) , it is the oldest church on Saaremaa and dates from the first half of the 13th century.

Karja has the smallest church on Saaremaa (from the 14th century); the richly decorated pulpit from the late renaissance dates from 1638. The rather simple exterior contrasts with the opulent interior of this building.

One of the first stone churches in Estonia and the largest on the island can be found in Pöide. Its defensive appearance is due to the fact that the time when the church was built is closely related to the fortification of Saaremaa. The eastern part of the island was under the occupation of the Livonian Order , which had a fortress built in Pöide in the 13th century to strengthen its claim to rule.

Saaremaa is characterized above all by the numerous post windmills distributed over the island , because in the past almost every larger farmstead owned such a mill. Today only a few are preserved, some of them are in a dilapidated condition. Nevertheless, some well-preserved specimens can still be found on the island today, for example near Angla in the north of Saaremaa (here five windmills are located directly next to each other), in Metsküla, Kuusnõmme, Ohessaare and on the islands of Muhu and Abruka.


View of Tagalaht Bay in the northwest of the island

As in the rest of Estonia, side roads on the island are often still unpaved.

Local and long-distance public transport is carried out exclusively by buses. Taking bicycles with you is only possible in exceptional cases.

Ferries connect the island with the Estonian mainland (Virtsu-Kuivastu ferry connection), the Hiiumaa island and Ventspils (Latvia), but the latter was discontinued in 2009. For some years now, the Estonian Road Administration has been considering building a bridge to the Estonian mainland, the so-called "Saaremaa fixed link".

In winter, when the sound between Virtsu and Kuivastu is frozen deep enough, the island can be reached by land vehicle via a route marked on the ice .

Flights to the capital Tallinn are possible from the airport.

Personalities (chronological)


  • On the history of the knights of Livonia and Oesel. published by the Livonian Knighthood and the Oesel Knighthood. Ilmgau Verlag, Pfaffenhofen Ilm 1974, ISBN 3-7787-2011-2 .
  • Peter W. von Buxhöwden: Contributions to the history of the province of Ösel. Götschel, Riga / Leipzig 1838. (Reprint: Hirschheydt, Hannover 1968, ISBN 3-7777-0935-2 )
  • Claudia Marenbach: Baltic countries. Michael Müller, Erlangen 1997, ISBN 3-89953-213-9 .
  • N. Williams, D. Herrmann, C. Kemp: Estonia, Latvia & Lithuania. The best of the Baltics. Lonely Planet Publications, Melbourne 2003, ISBN 1-74059-132-1 .
  • I. Aleksejev: Eesti tuletornid - Estonian Lighthouses. GT project, Tallinn 2003.
  • Martin Körber: Oesel then and now. Hirschheydt, 3 volumes. 1887, 1899 and 1915. (Reprints 1974-75)
  • Martin Körber: Building blocks for a story of Oesel. Hirschheydt, 1885. (Reprint: 1977, ISBN 3-7777-0825-9 )

Web links

Commons : Saaremaa  - collection of images
Wiktionary: Ösel  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Soviet memorial on Saaremaa.
This version was added to the list of articles worth reading on January 23, 2006 .