In Estonia, there are 26,492 cultural monuments under state protection, which can be categorised as follows:
- more than 13,000 art monuments (most are church properties, but there are also physical monuments, works of art, etc.);
- almost 7,000 archaeological sites (settlements, graves, cult stones, giants, shipwrecks, etc.);
- more than 5,000 physical monuments (buildings, bridges, manor parks, etc.);
- more than 1000 historical monuments (places related to important people or historical events, War of Independence monuments, cemeteries, etc.).
Heritage protection areas have been established to protect entire built-up environments. Most of these are medieval or modern old towns: Tallinn, Tartu, Narva, Kuressaare, Pärnu, Valga, Võru, Viljandi, Paide, Rakvere and Lihula. The Rebala heritage conservation area is focused on the preservation of a valuable cultural landscape.
There are two UNESCO World Heritage sites in Estonia:
- Tallinn Old Town (1997)
- The Struve Arc (2005), a chain of survey triangulations stretching through 10 countries. Three of the original station points in Estonia at the Tartu Observatory and points in Võivere and Simuna are included on the list.
The European Heritage Label designates place that are of great symbolic value for Europe and have played an important role in European history and culture, or the integration of Europe. Two labels have been assigned to Estonia:
- Great Guild Hall in Tallinn (2013)
- Historic Ensemble of the University of Tartu, (2015)
European Cultural Routes is an initiative of the Council of Europe, which has created cultural pathways that transcend state borders. Although Estonia is not officially a party to the agreement, at a local level, Estonia is represented by two cultural routes: the Hansa (Tallinn, Tartu, Narva and Pärnu participate) and the European Cemeteries Route (Estonia is represented by the Tallinn Forest Cemetery and Siselinna Cemetery).
More information on all monuments can be found in the Register of Cultural Monuments. It also includes interesting information about objects that have been studied but are not protected, i.e. barns, shipwrecks, 20th century architecture, military heritage, etc.
The basis for the protection of monuments is the Heritage Conservation Act. The purpose of the law is to ensure the preservation of monuments and the specific environment of the heritage protection areas, so that people can enjoy cultural heritage in all its richness and originality, now and in the future. The export of cultural objects is regulated by the Intra-Community Transport, Export and Import of Cultural Objects Act.
In addition, Estonia has acceded to several international charters and conventions, the principles of which are included in the heritage protection work. These include:
- Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict (14.05.1954, Hague; Republic of Estonia joined 22.02.1995)
- Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property (14.11.1970, Paris; ratified 05.04.1995)
- Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage (16.11.1972, Paris; ratified 05.04.1995)
- European Convention on the Protection of the Archaeological Heritage (16.01.1992, Valletta; ratified 23.10.1996)
- Convention for the Protection of the Architectural Heritage of Europe (03.10.1985, Granada; ratified 23.10.1996)
- Statutes of the International Research Centre for the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM) (21.10.1993; Republic of Estonia joined 27.09.2000)
- Protocol to the Agreement on the Importation of Educational, Scientific or Cultural Materials (17.06.1950, Florence; Republic of Estonia joined 13.06.2001)
- Agreement on the Importation of Educational, Scientific or Cultural Materials (26.11.1976, Nairobi; Republic of Estonia joined 13.06.2001)
- Second Protocol (1999) to the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict (26.03.1999, Hague; Republic of Estonia joined 24.12.2004)
- Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage (17.10.2003, Paris; entered into force 27.04.2006)
- Convention for the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage (6.01.2001, Paris; entered into force 2.02.2021)
Soon Estonia will join the Council of Europe Framework Convention on the Value of Cultural Heritage in Society (Faro Convention).
The National Heritage Board is the principal government body in Estonia, which is charged with the direction of conservation activity.
The objective of the National Heritage Board is to value the cultural heritage and the culturally valuable environment and to ensure their preservation. To this end, monitoring is provided, advice is given to the owners of monuments, restoration is supported and a national register of cultural monuments is maintained.
The National Heritage Board has employees in all 15 counties. The larger cities, such as Tallinn, Tartu and Narva, have concluded administrative agreements with the National Heritage Board and, in their administrative territory, perform the obligations related to the national heritage protection obligations themselves. To this end, city governments employ heritage protection workers.
At the Ministry of Culture, the Heritage Conservation Council acts as an advisory body to the Minister. It presents proposals on the issues arising from the Heritage Conservation Act and is comprised of experts in heritage protection and related fields. The Council’s membership and rules of procedure are approved by the Minister of Culture.
The Estonian Heritage Society is a voluntary association whose aim is to preserve the cultural heritage and the historical memory of the people.
The monuments owners are represented by several organizations: Association of Estonian Manor Schools, Estonian Association of Manors, Estonian Homeowners' Association, Estonian Council of Churches, and many settlement and village societies, etc.
Valuable work is being done by the sustainable renovation information centres in Tallinn, Tartu and Paide, which share know-how on historic buildings.
Last updated: 25.02.2021