The Republic of Estonia is in Eastern Europe and is bordered by the Gulf of Finland and Gulf of Livonia (parts of the Baltic Sea), Latvia and Russia. Over one and a half thousand islands belong to Estonia including Saaremaa, Hiiumaa, Muhu and Vormsi.
Tallinn is the capital city and Estonia's main port. Other cities include Tartu, Narva, Parnu, Haapsalu, Viljandi, Johvi, Rakvere, Sillamae, Kuressaare, Voru, Paide and Valga.
Estonia has a number of rivers, the longest are Vohandu (162 km), Parnu (144 km) and Poltsamaa (135 km). However, the average discharge of the Narva River on the northeastern border with Russia exceeds that of all other streams combined. Other rivers most abounding in water are Emajogi, Parnu and Kasari.
Estonia's terrain is mostly low-lying, with undulating hills in the South-East. Suur Munamagi, in Haanja Upland, is the country's highest point (318 m above sea level).
The weather in Estonia is determined by the country's location at the northwestern reaches of the Eurasian continent and the proximity of the North Atlantic. Summer temperatures are somewhat lower than the average for the latitude, but winter temperatures are considerably warmer. The average annual temperature is +5.4șC, the average of the coldest month, February, is -5.2șC and of the warmest month, July, +16.5șC.
Much of Estonia consists of meadows, forests and woodlands. There are many rivers and over a thousand lakes. Estonia is marshy: some of its wetlands (Matsalu Natural Reserve) and bogs (Nigula, Alam-Pedja, Endla, Sookuninga) are protected areas.
There are over three hundred species of birds in
Estonia, for example, capercaillie, common crane, golden and spotted eagle, great snipe, eagle owl, white stork, whooper swan and black woodpecker. Western Estonian archipelago is a popular resting-place for millions of water birds migrating to breeding grounds in Finland and Northern Russia.
Nature Parks (Haanja, Otepaa, Naissaare, Paganamaa), Reserves (Alam-Pedja, Endla, Matsalu, Nigula, Viidumae) and National Parks (Karula Park, Lahemaa National Park, Soomaa National Park and Vilsandi) have been established covering around ten percent of Estonian territory. Wildlife in the parks includes brown bears, beavers, elk, roe deer, lynx, wild boar and wolves.
Tallinn's medieval old town is a World Heritage site. The settlement was first documented in 1154 by an Arab geographer, al-Idrisi, but the site was settled centuries before.
Tallinn went on to become an important centre of the mercantile Hanseatic League, the wealth of the League reflected in the city's architecture, especially its churches and merchants' houses.
Estonian architecture of note includes wooden barn dwellings, medieval churches and strongholds, as well as manor houses built in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Prominent buildings in Estonia are Tallinn's Toompea Castle (built by the Danes), Karja Church in Saaremaa, Palmse Manor house in Laane-Viru County, Kadriorg Palace (built by the Russian Czar, Peter the Great) and Tartu University.
Of the many modern office blocks that have changed the skyline of Tallinn in the 1990s, the Union Bank Headquarters, designed with a concrete frame covered with mirrored windows, is the most eye-catching.
The population of Estonia was only 1,307,605 in 2008.
Estonian is the official language. The Estonian language belongs to the Finno-Ugric group of languages. It is not therefore related to the neighbouring Indo-European languages such as Russian, Latvian and Swedish. Finnish, Hungarian and Estonian are the best known of the Finno-Ugric languages.
Estonia does not have a state church. The majority of Estonians are Lutheran since the Reformation in the early sixteenth century.
Christian denominations include the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church, the Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church (under canonical subordination to Constantinople Patriarchate), the Estonian Orthodox Church under canonical subordination to Moscow Patriarchate, the Union of Estonian Old Believer Congregations, the Alliance of Estonian Evangelical Baptist Congregations and the Roman Catholic Church. Of other religions, the Muslims are united in the Estonian Islam Congregation. There is a small Jewish community, as well as communities of Buddhists and many other denominations and faiths.
Traditional Estonian cuisine includes porridge, soups, stews, casseroles, black pudding, sauerkraut (mulgikapsad), dark rye bread, preserves and pickles.
Main meals consist of meat (chicken, pork, lamb, veal or beef) or fish (eel, cod, herring, plaice and salmon) with vegetables such as potatoes, cabbage, beans, beets, carrots, peas and mushrooms.
Dairy products, cheese, eggs, milk, cream and yoghurt, are part of the Estonian diet.
Favourite desserts are cakes, pastries, ice cream and fruit: apples, cherries, pears, cranberries, raspberries and strawberries. Honey is used as a sweetener.
Beer and kvass are the traditional drinks and tea and coffee are popular.
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