Estonia is rich in cultural heritage from different eras. Cultural heritage is a sign of the history of a state and its people as well as a part of our identity. History is not only recorded in historical writings, but also in the cultural environment, buildings, objects and landscapes.
The protection of cultural heritage has moved from single objects to whole areas – building complexes, town quarters and settlements. To protect the environment the state has established 12 heritage conservation areas. These mostly include the historic centres of Tallinn, Tartu, Narva, Kuressaare, Pärnu, Valga, Võru, Viljandi, Paide, Rakvere and Lihula. Rebala heritage conservation area is protected because of its valuable cultural landscape.
Some of our cultural heritage is internationally renowned. The historic centre of Tallinn and Tartu Observatory (part of the Struve Geodetic Arc) are included on the UNESCO World Heritage List, which is the highest international recognition to tangible cultural heritage.
The year 2013 was declared Cultural Heritage Year.
A number of cultural goods have been declared monuments, which means that they are under state protection. As of the beginning of 2014, Estonia had 26,578 monuments.
These include 6,622 archaeological monuments (old settlement sites, burial sites, offering stones, sacred groves, wrecked ships, etc.), 5,253 built monuments (buildings, bridges, manor parks), 1,264 historical monuments (places linked to significant people or historical events, War of Independence memorials, cemeteries, etc.), and a large number of artistic monuments – 13,516 in total.
The lion’s share of artistic monuments are religious objects that belong to churches, but there are also other monuments, works of art, etc.
Monuments are protected under the Heritage Conservation Act. The objective of the act is to ensure that monuments and heritage conservation areas are preserved in their traditional environment in order for the people to enjoy our cultural heritage in all its richness and uniqueness today and in the future. To preserve cultural heritage, monuments and conservation areas are promoted, protected, and governed by various legal acts; education and research on cultural heritage is enhanced as well.
Estonia has joined a number of international conventions, the principles of which form the foundation of heritage conservation work. These conventions are the following:
UNESCO 1972, 1970;
First and Second Protocol to the Hague Convention;
European Council conventions.
Currently, preparations are ongoing to join the UNESCO Convention for the Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage.
Cooperation with NGO
Heritage conservation concerns a lot of people and therefore NGOs are also very actively involved in the field in addition to the National Heritage Board. Many non-profit associations and organisations have contributed to the preservation and protection of our heritage. The oldest and best known is the Estonian Heritage Conservation Society with an active membership of nearly one thousand and many local branches.
Sustainable renovation information centres in Tallinn, Tartu, Paide and Lääne County do a lot of important work by sharing knowhow about historical buildings. Heritage conservation is also important for many active associations (Estonian Manor Association, Society of Schools in Manors) and community societies.
The objective of the National Heritage Board is to protect and preserve cultural heritage and culturally valuable environments. Their tasks include supervision, advice for the owners of monuments, support for renovation, and maintenance of a national cultural heritage registry.
The National Heritage Board has employees in all 15 counties. Major towns, such as Tallinn, Tartu, Pärnu, Haapsalu and Narva, have concluded contracts under public law with the National Heritage Board and fulfil heritage conservation obligations in their territories themselves. For this, city governments employ heritage conservation specialists.
Information on monuments is available on the web registry register.muinas.ee or from a local conservation specialist.
Heritage Conservation Council
The Heritage Conservation Council operates under the Ministry of Culture; it makes proposals on the matters related to the Heritage Conservation Act and helps form heritage conservation policies.