Kuressaare town general information
History and development
Kuressaare developed on the shore of the Livonia Bay where ancient islanders had their stronghold and trading place. After the German-Danish conquests in the 1230’s the control of Riga’s bishop over the island began to strengthen. Near the bishopric castle, erected in the 14th cent. and still there today, the town developed. From 1559-1645, Saaremaa belonged to Denmark and Kuressaare obtained the freedom of a town on 8 May 1563. Many wealthy tradesmen and craftsmen came here during the Livonia War and Kuressaare obtained several trading advantages and privileges. From 1645-1710, Saaremaa was under the Swedish crown and these years marked a rapid economic and social development of the town.
From 1646-1650 more than 30 ships from abroad and 60-70 boats from Saaremaa and Kurland entered Kuressaare harbour. Although a small town, Kuressaare had a big merchant marine – 3 large ships and several capacious vessels. From 1710-1918, Kuressaare and Saaremaa were a part of the Russian Empire. In 1710 Russian troops set the town on fire, leaving only 5 buildings in Kuressaare. The outburst of plague the same year left only 11 town citizens living in Kuressaare.
Kuressaare started developing once again in the 18th cent. During the independence period of 1918-1940 Kuressaare was an internationally recognised health and summer resort. During the Soviet period in 1940-1990 the traditional development of Kuressaare was blocked as Saaremaa became one of the closed areas in Estonia. On 1 October 1990, Kuressaare was the first town in Estonia to re-gain the status of a local authority and since then Kuressaare has again witnessed a rapid development.
Kuressaare today, is a place where you can meet open minded islanders with a friendly sense of humour in the middle of urban culture. In spite of its island location, it is possible to see many features characteristic of mainland cities here. Kuressaare has digital communication lines, a hospital with modern equipment, a new theatre, culture events that attract crowds of people, a good level of services and a beautiful seaside area with a yacht harbour. In contrast to big cities, Kuressaare is a quiet and cosy town with an unpolluted environment and clean drinking water. There is no black smoke from industries and the streets are not overcrowded with traffic.
A tourist destination and a resort
Curative sea mud has played an important role in the development of Kuressaare for 160 years. The first mud treatment establishment was opened here yet in 1840. The first known tourist group arrived in Kuressaare 165 years ago. The town had regular boat connections to Riga, Helsinki, Stockholm, Pärnu and Tallinn and there were the consulates of Germany, Holland, Sweden and Finland down here. The Soviet period stopped all connections to other countries.
During recent years interest in Kuressaare has increased steadily and the number of visitors here has reached over 200,000 a year. There are a number of hotels, cafés and small bars in the town. Kuressaare Sanatorium, providing professional mud treatment, has become highly popular with Finns. Now, people from other countries are discovering the good rehabilitation opportunities here. The year round occupancy rate of Kuressaare Sanatorium is twice as high as of the hotels of Saaremaa on average.
The main attraction of Kuressaare is the 14th–18th cent. bishopric castle-fortification. The mediaeval stone castle is the only one in the Baltic countries that has survived throughout the centuries in its entirety. The old town with its baroque and classicistic buildings from the 18th-19th cent. is one of the greatest assets of Kuressaare.
The distance from Kuressaare to Tallinn – 216 km, to Tartu – 330 km, to Narva – 429 km, to Pärnu – 152 km and to Viljandi 249 km.
A seaside and harbour town
For several decades waste water from industries and households was discharged into Kuressaare Bay. As a result, the seaside grew over with reeds and swimming was not possible. The Waste Water Treatment Plant, launched in 1989, provided the preconditions for cleaning the bay and restoring the fame of Kuressaare as a summer resort.
In 1999 the beach was re-opened to the public after many years. In 1999, also the construction of Kuressaare Yacht Harbour, meeting international standards, was completed. The seaside area offers opportunities for different sports and leisure activities.
The main sea gate to Kuressaare is Roomassaare Port, 5 km from the town centre. The harbour was constructed in 1894 and reconstructed in 1998/1999 and serves the functions of both passenger and cargo port.
Kuressaare is safe
In Kuressaare, as on Saaremaa on the whole, the crime rate is extremely low, compared to Estonia on average. As the local population is homogeneous, there are no conflicts or integration related problems on a nationality basis.
Above ¼ of the town territory is covered with gardens, parks and forests. In the summertime, the town is green and shady. The central part of the town is an architecturally protected area of national importance. In this part of the town most of the public and administrative buildings of Kuressaare Town and Saaremaa County as well as shops, restaurants, cafes, the culture centre, theatre and cinema are located. Industrial buildings and production spaces are located north-east of the centre mostly.
Kuressaare has every expectation of becoming a connection point for the East-West communication due to the advantageous location of Saaremaa in the Baltic Sea region. English is replacing Russian that used to be the language of international communication here. Still, the experience of Estonian businessmen in establishing business relations with the Russian and East-European markets can be used.
Healthy City Kuressaare
Kuressaare is the only town in the Baltic states that has been designated a member of the World Health Organisation Healthy Cities Project.
Being a member of the project means that the Town Council and Town Government have assumed a commitment to improving the living environment that covers virtually all spheres of life, in Kuressaare.