Day 4 Museums, Meteorites & Muhu
This is fourth in a series of travelogue posts about an Erasmus+ cultural heritage, study trip undertaken by Jackie Sangster from the Learning & Inclusion Team at Historic Environment Scotland.
Moving on from our base today, we packed-up and left for our engagement with the director of Saaremaa Muuseum, housed at Kuressaare Castle. At first glance this citadel, complete with moat, looks like the stuff of fairy tales and unsurprisingly it is a Kultuurimälestis National Monument. Viewed from above, the aerial plan is reminiscent of our own 1769, HES property in care, Fort George.
Rita Valge, the director greeted us and we enjoyed a whirlwind Castle tour and explored the collections held within. Rita who is relatively recent in post expressed the challenges she faces in her quest to update some exhibition interpretation. Yes, it was apparent that certain collections would benefit from a more contemporary curation and display solutions. Yes, there were some dated mannequins and cabinets not fit for purpose, however the exhibits had charm and offered intriguing insights into Saaremaa’s history.
There was general discussion within our group about bespoke souvenirs, visitor flow, access issues, promotion … as I have worked closely with digitised archives & collections on scran.ac.uk for ten years, my query was about accessing to the museum collections online. I was also curious to know if Rita was aware of any Scottish objects held within the museum, she was unsure. Later, amongst the collections on exhibition, I was delighted to discover that Scottish connection I was seeking and it came in the form of an enamelled – “Singer Õmblus Masinad” a Singer sewing machine sign!
The household name & sewing machine manufacturers, Singer transferred their factory works from Bridgeton to Clydebank during the 1880s to become the largest sewing-machine factory in the world! To Scots, Singer is synonymous with this Glasgow works.
My favourite part of the morning was the permanent exhibition of contemporary history from 1950-1994 designed by artist Vello Laanemaa. This led the viewer chronologically, up through seven spaces and the various decades of Soviet occupation & Estonian social history. Each flight of stairs connecting the floors contained amusing jokes within the steps, a nice touch. The carefully selected objects succinctly told the stories and struggles of daily life. Time was up at the castle & so to Kaali for lunch.
Our reason for going to Kaali was to see the noteworthy punch-bowl crater formed there by a meteorite 4,000 years ago and of course to find out about how the heritage is handled – how the community has turned potential interest into practical solutions. There were tales of associated folklore surrounding the site, scientific & archaeological aspects to the crater field and so on. As we made our way back from the site to the purpose-built tourist centre, we were lured by signs of local lace on sale in the school building. There was a wealth of crafts on offer to the international visitors here.
Crossing the Väinatamm causeway, we left Saaremaa behind and proceeded to its smaller sister, island of Muhu to see some stunning horses at Tihuse Horseriding Farm. The heritage trails at this horse breeding farm were based on various Forest Father stories & memories of the owner’s grandparents. We had the absolute pleasure of jaunting around the forest in two wagons, however for me the well-meaning delivery of the heritage aspect was a little thin & unconvincing. The owner, Ahto Kaasik was supposed to meet us, however he was unable to. The staff were excellent equestrians, committed to their animals but it was unfair to have them deliver some of the folklore based activities – perhaps the intended Pagan spirituality was wasted on me. The environmental interpretation back at the café didn’t quite convince me either sadly. More positively though, we all fell in love with the five-month old foal.
Our day was still young and we were expected at another Kultuurimälestis National Monument, i.e. Muhu Pastoraadi, now Muhu Heritage School stands beside Muhu Katariina Kogudus (or St. Catherine’s Church), in Liiva. We were met by former pupil Kadri Tüür (with babe in arms), she is the powerhouse behind this conservation project. Funding has been secured from the EU LEADER programme for rural development, to partially restore this 1832 building and we were privileged to have a behind the scenes tour of this historic parsonage. Kadri sought out our ideas how to interpret and revive the building, to usher in its next chapter. Given the traditional methods required and materials such as lime being employed in the fabric of the building, I saw potential links with the work of Scotland’s built heritage conservation centre, The Engine Shed. Interestingly, when asked if the lime being applied was Lubi Ò , it transpired it was not but another brand from another part of Estonia, Savikumaja.
Leaving, we stopped to admire the unmissable Muhu Ingel sculpture, another project by Kadri Tüür – another inspirational Estonian woman who has written a book “The Muhu Angels” stories about Muhu women, heard in the family home.
There was now a little time to stop for supplies, namely the much loved Muhu Leib – a locally produced black bread, before our adventures on the high seas. We set off from Kuivastu harbour on a historic uisk sailing ship called ‘Moonland’.
In 2009 Väinamere Uisk was founded to re-build this traditional wooden vessel. The captain of our ship told us about the origins of uisk which were still in use until the early 20th century. During the Middle Ages people from the Saaremaa & Muhu islands were called vikings and their vessels were named huisk or snake. So, these narrow and relatively light weight vessels became known as serpent ships. It was a breath-taking voyage as the sun set we admired the cliffs on the island of Kesse in the Väinameri Strait.
Back at the office, I was taken by the similarities of the ships in this photograph, taken of the harbour at Anstruther, Fife in the early 20th century. Apparently sailing ships used Anstruther as a port for sailing to the Baltic – could that be a serpent ship?
When we returned to land our home for the night was at the nearby Kuivastujaani, our second tourist farm stay. Before leaving the next morning to catch the ferry, we were invited to look around at the owner’s beautiful striped doors. The ancient tradition of painting doors and decorating them has been revived in Muhu. We would start to see them everywhere.
Archive Images © National Museums of Scotland, Scotsman & Historic Environment Scotland | Licensor Scran