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Top Literary Destinations in Estonia – Unique in Europe and the World

The tiny Baltic nation, Estonia, boasts of one of the highest literary rates in the world. Its literature evolved through decades, especially during the Soviet occupation in the 40s.

Once it got out of the Russian shadow, the country transformed itself from a pariah to a digitally-transformed society. Today, its capital Tallinn serves as the cultural bastion with a modern buzz.

The bookstores and libraries may not be many, but they stand out for their elegance and historical significance. In this post, I will share the top literary destinations in Estonia.

Today, the Estonian language or the so-called elven language is spoken by 1.1 million people worldwide. 99% of these people are residents of Estonia.

The language is highly valued. All the literature, in Estonian, is highly protected and preserved in libraries and language institutions across the country.

Without further ado, here are the top 5 literary destinations in Estonia. Make sure you drop in, while you discover the medieval country on your vacation.

1. The oldest library – the Library of Tartu University

Where do they hold the death mask of Aleksander Puškin? Where are William Henry Fox Talbot’s first photographs on paper material? How about Immanuel Kant’s heritage manuscripts and Rembrandt’s graphical drawings? Well, they all lie safe and secure in the world’s oldest library.

The nation’s library of Tartu University holds 2.9 million other exhibition items along with the aforesaid mask, and the drawings and manuscripts.

The library houses the most unique books, manuscripts by famous Estonian authors, poets, and politicians. Many first drafts and historical drawings stay protected in secure steel vaults for posterity.

The Swedish king Gustav II Adolf established the library in the early 17th century. The library celebrates its official birthday on 23rd June 1802, making it the oldest library in Estonia.

2. The oldest bookstore in Estonia – Vanalinna Rahva Raamat

The oldest bookstore in Estonia is located in Tallinn, Pärnu mnt 10. The store deserves its place in this list of top literary destinations in Estonia.

It retains its century-old location even today. In 2020, the London Book Fair (LBF) felicitated and recognized Vanalinna Rahva Raamat as one of the top three bookstores in the world.  

In 2019, the store went through a complete renovation and updated its interior and exterior design.

The rooms now have soft white ambient lighting. The furniture matches the old style, making it look both quaint and sophisticated. It carries that 1920’s Irish vibe that we don’t often see in modern bookstores anymore.

In 2003, the store came close to going bankrupt, about to close its doors forever. But people gathered on the streets and protested against its closure.

A petition was launched. Over 12,000 signatures later, the goal was achieved and the oldest bookstore in Estonia stayed open for the public.

3. Vargamäe – A movie set in Võrumaa

One of the most famous Estonian authors A.H. Tammsaare wrote Truth and Justice – a 5-part book series. All five books released between 1926 and 1933.

In 2019, the Estonian film industry decided to shoot and release a movie based on the first installment of Tammsaare’s work. It also marked the 100th anniversary of the country.

The movie takes place in a place called Vargamäe (Thief’s hill) and a complete set of country houses were built from scratch on a field in Võrumaa, Vastse-Roosa. To this day, it is a popular literature-based destination for foreign tourists and residents.

4. National Library of Estonia

The National Library of Estonia is located in Tõnismägi, Tallinn. It owns one of the best collections of rare and unique publications starting from as early as the 14th century.

The library is open for everyone to visit and old documentations are available for everyone to check out. Very old and fragile manuscripts and books have been digitalized and accessible for reading and discovering online. 

Every year, the National Library of Estonia holds exhibitions about different topics and genres. The rare books in the library’s collection can be viewed in the Rare Books and Archival Collection Reading Room.

5. Mattiesen printing house – historical location

In 1852, Carl Mattiesen opened the first printing house in Tartu and three years later in Tallinn. The building is still there after two centuries and available for exploration.

The business doesn’t work as a printing house anymore but is open for visitors and tourists to visit.

Since 1997, it has been working as a pub, a bookstore, and exhibition holder for the old. Even though the oldest printing house in Tartu was opened in 1631, the Mattiesen building still exists and is open to the public.

I hope you would include these top literary destinations in Estonia in your itinerary, they are worth a visit after all. If Baltics are your kind of place, do also check out the top literary destinations in Latvia.

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Literary Destinations in Estonia

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