3. SOERA FARM MUSEUM


The best way to get an idea of how islanders lived in the past is to take a look at some of the old farmsteads. One of these farmsteads is preserved in excellent condition at the Soera Farm Museum.

The farmhouse consists of three parts: living quarters, threshing room and threshing floor. The living room was called simply "room" in Estonian and it served many purposes. It was the most important place in the house and was used for eating, working and socializing. The walls were made from thick, unhewn logs and the house was constructed with small windows. You will also notice that all the interior doors have very high thresholds to keep the drafts out.

This particular house was built in 1848 and has a wood floor but the threshing and drying room have floors paved with limestone or simply made of clay. A large limestone fireplace stands in the corner of the living room. All of the furniture, tools and utensils on display are typical of the period and give an idea of what daily life was like. The loom and spinning wheel were present in almost every house because the various types of cloth used by the family were all woven at home.

Among the small buildings on the farmstead are a granary, blacksmith shop, barn, potato cellar and smoke sauna. The sauna was constructed in the old style and does not have a chimney. The smoke was let out the doors and the inside was covered with a glistening black layer of soot. The sauna was a very important place in the life of the family and still is today. The whole family washed here every week, or more often if heavy work was being done. Also, this was the place where women usually bore their children.

The museum was established in 1979. Some of the small outbuildings were brought here from other Hiiumaa farmsteads to help give a complete picture of what life was like for the island farmers. Not every farmstead had so many buildings. In summer, guides are present who can provide more information about the daily lives of people during this period.

Large forested areas with pine, birch and spruce are typical of Hiiumaa's landscape. However, there is a lot of variety to be found as you travel around the island. Nearly 1000 species of plants can be found on the island nowadays and 52 of these species are so rare in Estonia that they are protected by law. The plant community has not always been so diverse but new species of plants have arrived on Hiiumaa in a variety of ways. Sometimes, the seeds are carried by the wind. Sometimes, migrating birds bring seeds from faraway places and the sea also brings new plants to the shores of Hiiumaa. The island lies on the border between two climatic zones so some of the plants that exist here are at the extreme edges of their natural range. Because of this, there are species here that coexist nowhere else in the world.

The soil in Hiiumaa is very rocky, sandy and shallow but this does not prevent a very diverse and picturesque plant community from thriving here. Among the most unique and most beautiful are the several species of orchids that can be found here. Another unique feature is the area in the center of the island that contains many swamps and bogs. The areas called heath-moorland with their unique ecosystem exist only on Hiiumaa and in places in the British Isles.

A description of Hiiumaa's vegetation would not be complete without mentioning the coastal areas. Hiiumaa has about 326 kilometers of coastline and this coastline is not indented by many small bays or inlets. Near the sea, coastal meadows and marshes can be found with their species of reeds and grasses. Gravelly and rocky coastlines are the most common but there are many kilometers of beautiful sandy beaches backed by grass-covered dunes. One of the first things that you will notice as you travel along the coastline is that there is hardly a place without at least some junipers. The junipers, like the islanders, are tenacious and can survive under even the most adverse conditions. Nature has always been important to the people of Estonia. The ancient Estonian pagan religion was based on nature and is remarkably similar to the religion practiced by the Native Americans. People worshipped at places where there were trees and rocks they felt were sacred. The oak in particular was considered sacred. Some of these places can still be seen today and present-day Estonians still hold nature in high regard, especially those who live on the islands. The Estonian people often have last names taken from things in nature (pine tree, shallow water, bear, fox, island, birch, etc.) whereas Western names are more often based on professions (baker, smith, carpenter, hunter, mason, etc.).

This church is called Paluküla church and was built by members of the Ungern-Sterberg family in 1820. Besides being a place of worship, it also served as a landmark for sailors at sea who used it as a navigation aid. It is built on high ground and the tower could be seen several kilometers out to sea. Unfortunately, the church was damaged during World War II and was later used for target practice by some of the less-disciplined Soviet troops who occupied the island for the next 50 years. It is unfortunate that only a short period of violence can destroy hundreds of years of peaceful history. The frontline of World War II swept over this island twice. Once in 1941 when the Germans took the island from the Soviets, and again in 1944 when the Soviet army took it back. Though Hiiumaa did not suffer as much as some other parts of Europe, a lot of damage was done and you can still see the scars today. Even now, unexploded ammunition, helmets and other artifacts of war can still be found in the forest.