Saaremaa - literally Land of Islands - is the second biggest island in the Baltic Sea with an area of 2 668 square km. At the same time Saaremaa is the biggest island of the Republic of Estonia and situated close to the western coast of the mainland of Estonia. The nearest point on the mainland is the harbour of Virtsu, 8 km away.
Saaremaa consists of low-lying plains resting on limestone, the average elevation being about 15 meters above sea level. Limestone bedrock is bared in a great number of places, resulting in cliffs, limestone pits and quarries.
The woods of Saaremaa are rich in game, there are great number of wild boars, elks, deer and roe deer. The Western Estonian islands lie within East-Atlantic flyway, the waterfowl migratory path. This bird route connects Northeastern Europe with Arctic regions and each year hundreds of thousands of migratory birds visit Saaremaa in spring and autumn. Vilsandi National Park, founded in 1910 as Vaika Bird Sanctuary, including Vilsandi island and about 100 islets, was designed to protect an important waterfowl nesting area. Today it is a reserve for 250 bird species.
The terrritory of Saaremaa has been inhabited at least 5 000 years. Due to its geographic location between the East and the West, the territory of Saaremaa has been ruled by different countries. For 700 years Germans, Danes, Swedes and Russians have taken turns possessing the island. Old fortifications and castles, churches and manors were constructed, the town of Kuressaare, houses and lighthouses, harbours and bridges, wells and chapels were built during this period.
There are approximately 40 000 inhabitants in Saaremaa. Urbanization has been the main trend, presently 41% of the population i.e. 16 500 are residents of the town Kuressaare.
A great majority of country people work in agriculture, the main branches of which are dairy farming and meat production, as well as crops and grain growing. Fishing and fish processing are coming more important branches of economy. Saaremaa has an old tradition of boat-building, today both wooden and plastic boats are manufactured. Tourism will have a more important role in economy in the near future.
Living under different political influence added to the beliefs, education and broader world outlook have created the special culture of Saaremaa. The living bearers of the culture are the islanders themselves: modest, hard-working, tough, hospitable and with a sense of humour.
The folk costumes of Saaremaa are very rich and diverse, even nowadays they are often worn at public festivals. The local song and folk dance festivals have always been popular.