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Estonia: Viljandi
Estonia: Viljandi

Viljandi (German: Fellin, Polish: Felin) is a town and municipality in southern Estonia. Population 19,870 (2007). It is the capital of Viljandi County. The town was first mentioned in 1283, upon being granted its town charter by Villekinus de Endorpe.

In 1211 the hill-fort of the Estonians in Viljandi was besieged by a joint army of Germans, Latvians, and Livs. The Livonian Sword Brethren captured the hill-fort in August 1223 from a contingent of the people of Rus, who joined forces with the insurgent Estonians. The following year the Grand Master Volquin led the construction of the castle at the site of the former hill-fort. The Viljandi (Fellin) castle was one of the largest in the Baltic region. It was a major fortification of the Livonian Order and was appointed a commander from 1248. The fortress was continually rebuilt and modernized over the next two-hundred years.

In 1283, the town received a charter from Villekinus de Endorpe, the master of the Order. The town became a member of the Hanseatic League at the beginning of the 14th century, and today is one of five Estonian towns and cities in the league.

In 1470, Johann Wolthus von Herse, then master of the order, took up residence in the castle. In 1481, Ivan III of Russia laid siege to the castle but could not take it. However, during the Livonian War Muscovite Russia succeeded in seizing it in 1560. During the Polish-Swedish War at the beginning of the 17th century the castle changed hands several times and fell into ruins. The same goes for the town, which was deprived of its privileges.

After the Great Northern War the Russians revoked local autonomy until 1783, when in the course of the regency reforms of the Empress Catherine the Great Viljandi became a district town. This involved the re-establishment of town bylaws. The economic and political importance of Viljandi started to increase. The population, after decreasing in population and wealth, started to rise again, as handicraft, trading, and cultural life were revived.

The flag of Viljandi is bi-coloured, its upper part light blue and lower part white. The city’s shield-shaped coat of arms is light blue, with a white rose in the middle. Viljandi is the white rose city – in midsummer there are 720 white roses flowering in front of the city hall, planted for the town’s anniversary in 2003. In summer the White Rose Day is celebrated in Viljandi.

In the Middle Ages Viljandi was a typical small commercial town, which got its main income from transit trade. The local trade and handicraft played an equally important role. The decline of Viljandi started during the Livonian War. In 1560 the forces of Prince Kurbski demolished the town and the stronghold. During the Polish-Russian wars in the first quarter of the 17th century the town and the stronghold were completely destroyed. Under the Swedish rule in the 17th century the town bylaws of Viljandi were cancelled. After the Great Northern War the Russians seized the power and Viljandi was without laws until the year 1783, when in the course of the regency reforms of Catherine II Viljandi became a district town. This involved the re-establishment of town bylaws. The economic and political importance of Viljandi started to increase. The population, meanwhile having decreased to the minimum, started to rise again, handicraft, trading and cultural life were enlivened.

Often the popular song is sung about the Boatman of Viljandi or the legend of him is told. Long-long ago, as a young man he had once taken a young girl across the lake on a summer evening and fallen hopelessly in love with the girl’s blue eyes. Nobody knows what happened on the lake, but on the other side, the girl just waved him good-bye and left... However, the Boatman, a grey old man now, is said to row on the lake to this day, longing to see those wonderful blue eyes again.

Viljandi is sometimes called the cultural capital of Estonia, partly due to the Culture Academy, which is located there. In Viljandi several international festivals and other cultural events take place. The Early Music Festival, Hansa Days, Young Dance Festival, Winter Folk Dance Festival, the “Theatre in Suitcase” puppet theatre festival etc. Since 1920 Viljandi has had the Ugala drama theatre. The tradition of open-air performances dates to the same year. Also the Viljandi Puppet Theatre works there. In 2002 a new library was built, which is also a venue for exhibitions, meetings with famous people, culture seminars etc. There are several exhibition halls and galleries in Viljandi. Meeting place for artistic people is the Kondas Centre, dedicated to Estonian naïve artist Paul Kondas. Viljandi is famous for Viljandi Folk Music Festival. The Viljandi Folk Music Festival is a music festival in Estonia with a central focus on European folk music. It is traditionally held in late July. In the year 2006, over 24,000 people attended the concerts. As such, it is the largest annual music festival in Estonia. Viljandi is Estonian capital of Folkmusic. Viljandi manor house on Kirsimägi in the Castle ruins was restored into the Estonian Traditional Music Center or Traditional Music Storehouse. The mission of the Center is to promote and teach traditional music.

Estonia officially the Republic of Estonia (Estonian: Eesti or Eesti Vabariik) is a country in the Baltic region of Northern Europe. It is bordered to the north by Finland across the Gulf of Finland, to the west by Sweden across the Baltic Sea, to the south by Latvia (343 km), and to the east by the Russian Federation (338,6 km). The territory of Estonia covers 45,227 km² and is influenced by a temperate seasonal climate.

The Estonians are a Finnic people closely related to the Finns, with the Estonian language sharing many similarities to Finnish. The modern name of Estonia is thought to originate from the Roman historian Tacitus, who in his book Germania (ca. AD 98) described a people called the Aestii. Similarly, ancient Scandinavian sagas refer to a land called Eistland, close to the German term Estland for the country. Early Latin and other ancient versions of the name are Estia and Hestia. Until the late 1930s, the name was often written as Esthonia in most English speaking countries.

The settlement of modern day Estonia began around 8500 BC, immediately after the Ice Age. Over the centuries, the Estonians were subjected to Danish, Teutonic, Swedish and Russian rule. Foreign rule in Estonia began in 1227, when as a consequence of the Northern Crusades the area was conquered by Danes and Germans. From 1228–1562, parts or most of Estonia were incorporated into the loosely organized Livonian Confederation of Teutonic Knights, during which time economic activity centered around the Hanseatic League. In the 1500s Estonia passed to Swedish rule, under which it remained until 1721, when it was ceded to the Russian Empire. The Estophile Enlightenment Period (1750-1840) led to a national awakening in the mid-19th century. In 1918 the Estonian Declaration of Independence was issued, to be followed by the Estonian War of Independence (1918-1920), which resulted in the Tartu Peace Treaty recognizing Estonian independence in perpetuity. During World War II, Estonia was occupied and annexed first by the Soviet Union and subsequently by the Third Reich, only to be re-occupied by the Soviet Union in 1944.

In 1989, during the 'Singing Revolution', in a landmark demonstration for more independence, called The Baltic Way, a human chain of more than two million people was formed, stretching through Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. All three nations had similar experiences of occupation and similar aspirations for regaining independence. The Estonian Sovereignty Declaration was issued on November 16, 1989 and formal independence declared on 20 August 1991, reconstituting the pre-1940 state, during the Soviet military coup attempt in Moscow. The first country to diplomatically recognize Estonia's reclaimed independence was Iceland. The last Russian troops left on 31 August 1994.

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