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The Estonian Open Air Museum, established on May 22, 1957 on the territory of the former Rocca al Mare summer estate, reminds of a village which lies in the boundaries of Tallinn. The valuable collection of Estonian vernacular architecture consists of nearly 80 buildings from the past two hundred years.

As located on Estonian landscape, the farms of the museum are arranged according to old village types: farms from Western and Northern Estonia are sited in a row like in a chain village; farms from the islands stand close together around the village green of a cluster village; farms from Southern Estonia spread out here and there in a dispersed type of village. The Setu farm and Russian Old Believer’s house from the Lake Peipus stand side by side by the village lane as typical to the Russian-style street-type villages.

The central position on each of the museum’s twelve farmyards is taken by the barn-dwelling, our traditional farmhouse and onetime home. This unique farmhouse has provided the Estonians with shelter for many centuries. Among the majority of barn-dwellings in the museum one can also see the modest abodes of fishermen and cotters as well as a modern dwelling from the 1930s.

Public buildings like the school, the chapel, the inn, the village shop and the fire station constitute a small village centre. The landscape is made more impressive by several mills and net sheds by the sea.

Our traditional living house – the barn-dwelling – deserves to be highlighted. It was first mentioned in writing in the 14th century. Being the northernmost tillers, the Estonian farmers needed a heated room for drying grain. When high-yield winter rye became the main bread grain 1000 years ago, the former sauna-like smoke room became too confined for drying the crops. This made the starting point for the evolution of the barn-dwelling, a unique capacious house type which is characteristic only for Estonia.

This farmhouse combines under one roof the kiln room which had a big stove and was used as the central living and grain-drying room; the spacious threshing floor used for threshing grain and housing the cattle in winter and, starting from the 17th century, additional chambers.

Barn-dwellings have local varieties. The most widespread variety is the so-called North-Estonian barn-dwelling with a kiln room higher and narrower than the threshing floor. At the Estonian Open Air Museum this type of barn-dwelling is represented by the Sassi-Jaani, Köstriaseme and Pulga farmhouses.

In the South-Estonian variety the kiln room and the threshing floor are of equal height and width; the entrance to the kiln room was usually through the threshing floor. This type of barn-dwelling is common in Southern-Estonia, Hiiumaa Island, Western-Saaremaa as well as Northern Latvia. The best example of this type is the older part of Kolga barn-dwelling, which is also the oldest farmhouse displayed at the museum (1723).

Did you know?

  • There are almost 80 houses exhibited at the museum.
  • The oldest exhibit building is the Sutlepa chapel from Noarootsi parish (1699).
  • The first object transferred to the museum in 1958 was a cattle-shed from Määra village, Risti parish, Western Estonia. Today it is used as a summer kitchen at Sassi-Jaani farm.
  • The newest building is the Kolkhoz apartment building, which opened its doors in 2021
Northern Estonia
Western Estonia
Southern Estonia