RISTIMÄGI (HILL OF CROSSES)
From Kärdla drive towards Kõrgessaare. The drive out of
the city via Aia Street is recommended, nice examples of
artesian wells decorate almost every garden. It is about 4
km from the city limits sign to Ristimägi.
Photo: Hanno Luukas
First piece of advice: don't look for
the hill, but follow the signs. You will
notice a little parking lot at the left side
of the road - leave your car, bicycle or
bus there. The real Ristimägi is only a
few steps away.
The Ristimägi that we know today
is an area with sandy hillocks covered
with crosses on both sides of the old
main road, but especially on the left
side. There are many different versions
of the story of how the hill of crosses came to be, but its connection
to the deportation of the Swedes of Reigi in August 1781 is the one most often cited. Despite everything that this small national community
of about 1,000 did to protect their rights, they ended up stripped of
their land by Stenbock. Catherine the Great of Russia signed a decree
allowing the Swedes to resettle in a new area in southern Ukraine. Quite
a few high officials were connected with this unconventional story, like
Catherine’s protégé, duke Potemkin. The Swedes had no other choice
but to follow the orders and bid farewell to the place they had called
home for four or five centuries. Deportees from nearby villages gathered
together for a final church service at what is now Ristimägi on August
20, 1781. They made a cross, under which Reigi’s pastor Forsmann
spoke. People made many smaller crosses as well. In May 1782, only
a little bit more than half of the travellers reached the “promised land”.
At first, the hill of crosses was a place where anyone leaving the island
went to make and place their cross. Nowadays things have changed: it
is newcomers and first-time visitors to the island who make and leave
Legends and stories
For years quite a different story was told in connection with the hill
of crosses, about two wedding parties. This story originates from
the times when brides were "stolen" from the neighbouring parish
and swordfights were quite common at weddings. Once two wedding
parties, one Swedish and the other Estonian, met on the way back from
church. The road was narrow and so a fight broke out. During the fight,
the groom from one wedding party and the bride from the other were
killed. The surviving groom and bride then married each other and
lived happily ever after. It is considered appropriate to make a cross
out of local material - use only down wood, please - at this place to
remember people, or just for good luck.
Tip: An interesting memorial has been erected at Ristimägi, made of
two millstones by the people of Hiiumaa and the descendants of Hiiumaa
Swedes on the 210th anniversary of the deportation of the Swedes -
August 20, 1991. The date has added significance, Estonia declared
independence on that day after 50 years of Soviet occupation.
Surroundings or on the way to the lighthouse
One km from the crossroads you will notice the sign for "Mihkli
muuseum" (Mihkli Museum). In about 200 m, you will see an old house
in the woods that is quite different from the one in Soera. This one here
is part of an intact farm complex with 8 houses. Although most of them
originate from the same era as Soera, from the mid-19th century, the
architecture is quite typical of northern Hiiumaa.
This is an old Swedish farm where Estonians moved in after the
Swedes were deported in 1781. The farm is stylistically consistent; the
old chimneyless sauna or the smoke sauna looks especially old. In 2001
a popular TV reality show, "Farm", was filmed in this farm house. More
detailed information is available on site.
Continue your journey towards Tahkuna. In several kilometres you
will notice several buildings from different eras by the side of the road,
the central one being Malvaste Schoolhouse, completed in 1930, and
today converted into a lodge for tourists.
Very soon afterwards, the road turns to gravel. Relax and enjoy the
beautiful natural surroundings.
A few kilometres before the lighthouse, you will see different
wartime structures in the woods, which increase in number as you near
the tip of the peninsula. An additional day would be useful to tour the
fortifications, especially with a professional guide (inquire at the tourist
If you are pressed for time, then just read the information boards and
signs and look around by yourself. The lighthouse is also only a few
steps away. Driving towards the tower, you’ll see a big wind turbine
on the left side of the road. This windmill was built in cooperation with
Estonia and Denmark in 1995, and its task is to help research ways of
harnessing wind energy in Hiiumaa.