Peipsimaa tourist information
The Lake Peipsi Land – Is an extraordinary place especially because of its distinct cultural and historical background. This area has special inhabitants and special traditions, numerous cultural and historical objects and untouched landscapes worth discovering.
This region has different names – the “Edge of Peipsi”, the Peipsi-shore, the lands at Lake Peipsi etc., first and foremost stressing the relation of this region to the shore. The name “Peipsimaa” describes a wider concept – indicating that this is a special cultural landscape, which cannot be found anywhere else.
The Russian name of Peipsimaa is Причудье, which originates from the Russian name of Lake Peipsi – Чудское озеро, which means “Lake of the Chudes”. If looking from Russia, then Причудье precisely refers to the western coast which is until nowadays home to many Russian-speaking people.
In Estonian literature the term “Peipsimaa” was first used by the ethnographer Aliise Moora in her research „Peipsimaa etnilisest ajaloost“ (Of the Ethnical History of Peipsimaa) in 1964.
With this, Peipsimaa relates to the biggest Estonian lake at the Russian border, which is the 4th biggest in Europe (3555 km2).
The Lake consists of three distinct parts. The northernmost is the biggest and the deepest – the Lake Peipsi itself or the Suurjärv (“The Big Lake”), with a size of 2611 km2. The southern part is called Lake Pihkva, with an area of 708 km2. The narrow part connecting the both is the deep Lake Lämmijärv (minimum width is 3 km), with an area of only 236 km2. At Mehikoorma harbor the lake reaches its maximum depth – 15, 3 m.
In total 240 rivers, streams and channels flow into Lake Peipsi with the biggest being Suur Emajõgi. The only out-flowing river is River Narva, rich in waters. Due to its size Lake Peipsi has a considerable influence on local climate: in autumn the weather stays warm for longer, but spring comes up to two weeks later.
Lake Peipsi has always been considered good for fishing and known for its for bream, pikeperch, lavaret, eelpout, whitefish, cuttlefish etc. Fishing has throughout centuries been the most important source of income for the people of Peipsimaa and many traditional fishing rituals are alive here until today. The lake is also rich in birds with over 100 different breeds of water- and marsh birds.
Large Alutaguse forests are located at the northern and northwestern coast of the lake. Sandy shores have become popular summer destinations. The northern and southern shores of the lake are very distinct. The northern shore in Kauksi, for example, has a sandy coast and dunes. The southern part is overgrown and swampy. This is because of the rising of surface, which is faster at the northern shore than at the southern. Due to this the waters of Peipsi slowly spread towards south flooding over new surrounding areas.
Interestingly, the whole formation and inhabitation story of Peipsi-region is fascinating and linked to many myths.
In reality, though, the lake was formed into a shallow hole created by sheet glaciers. Based on historical data it’s possible to say that the surrounding areas of Peipsi were inhabited by the predecessors of Estonians and other Fenno-Baltic peoples, who Russians called the Chudes – already after the last ice age.
According to the most popular legend, Lake Peipsi was formed as a result of the Estonian national hero: Kalevipoeg.
As our neighbors from the East were often plundering these lands, this allegedly upset Kalevipoeg so much, that he decided to finish it one day. He dug a huge ditch between the two countries, which filled with water and so became Lake Peipsi. He spread the scooped soil over South-Estonia, resulting in the beautiful hilly landscape as we see it today.
Many sights around Lake Peipsi are closely linked to Kalevipoeg. Rows of stones in the coastal water in Lohusuu, Ninasi, Rannamõisa and Nina village are called the eyes of Kalevipoeg. In Mustvee (Narva Str.) you’ll find the sling stone of Kalevipoeg. His sling stones can be found between the villages of Omedu and Sääritsa. His graves can be found both in Alatskivi as well as in Torma. At the river Kääpa, where Kalevipoeg supposedly died – one can see his sword. More information awaits all visitors in the Museum of Kalevipoeg.
The permanent exhibition “Living Room of Lake Peipsi” of the Peipsi Information Center in Kasepää offers a good overview of Lake Peipsi, with its constantly updated items and exhibits – and information being available in Estonian, English and Russian.
In the cultural context there’s a key role to one significant fact: At the end of the I. Millennium, Slavic tribes coming from the River Dnepr reached the shores of Lake Peipsi, some of whom moved towards the western shore.
Apart from that Peipsi has seen several other waves of migration. One that has a significant effect until nowadays, was the emigration of the Old Believers from Russia at the end of the 17th and beginning of the 18th century.
Russian Old Believers were forced to flee from Russia after the Church Schism and the following reforms, and due to the repressions resulting from it. The area around Peipsi was suitable for settlement and despite various hardships and the negative attitude both from Czarist and Soviet Russia, the Old Believers have maintained their culture and traditions at the shores of Peipsi. Nina, Kolkja and Varnja villages are typical old-believers-style fisherman villages reflecting their life and traditions. You’ll find interesting museums and chapels.
In recent years interest towards Old Believers culture has grown significantly. Numerous books have been published, different events are taking place and more materials are being released and supplied to local visitors’ centers and museums. Also, the NGO “Society of Old Believer Culture and Development in Estonia” has dedicated itself to this topic.
Peipsimaa is historically a crossroad or three cultures – as next to Estonians and Russian Old Believers, the region was strongly influenced by Baltic-Germans. This is shown at its best in all the magnificent manors and parks they erected. Practically no visitor coming to Peipsimaa misses out on the opportunity to see the wonderful Alatskivi Castle – a genuine example of Baltic-German culture.
The unique combination of these three cultures has in a way survived to modern days, when it’s being valued more and more.
The territory of Peipsimaa consists of parishes and towns surrounding the Lake Peipsi in the counties of Ida-Virumaa, Jõgevamaa, Tartumaa and Põlvamaa. Each of the four counties is unique and full of culture – Peipsimaa is worth a visit in both summer- and wintertime.