192-Part Guide To The World: Estonia

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The Independent Travel

Official name: Republic of Estonia (local form, Eesti Vabariik)

Official name: Republic of Estonia (local form, Eesti Vabariik)

Location: Estonia is situated in north-eastern Europe. The northernmost of the three Baltic states (Latvia and Lithuania are the other two), it borders the Baltic Sea and Gulf of Finland as well as Latvia and Russia, and includes 1,500 islands.

Language: Estonian, the official language, belongs to the Finno-Ugric linguistic family and so is related to Finnish and Hungarian. Russian-speaking peoples make up about 30% of the population, and German and English are widely spoken and understood.

Size: Around 45,000sq km (17,000sq miles) - making this the smallest of the Baltic states, but still bigger than Denmark.

Population: There are 1,445,100 inhabitants (1999 estimate), including a large number of emigrants from the former Soviet Union.

National dish: There is an Estonian saying: "Better a salty morsel than a square meal of sweet." Food is spicy and traditional dishes include black pudding made with pork fat, onions, spices and blood; and baked potatoes with pork and sauerkraut. And then, of course, there's the herring: rollmop is a favourite throughout Scandinavia and the Baltics.

Best monument: For symbolic significance you can't beat Pikk Hermann (Tall Hermann Tower) in the capital, Tallinn. Dating from the 15th century, this 50m-high tower has survived numerous invasions relatively unharmed. The first Estonian flag was flown from here in 1884, 34 years before Estonia became independent for the first time, and nowadays the flag is raised daily at sunrise and lowered at sunset, except at midsummer. The Estonian flag is blue, black and white, representing the sky, the soil and the hopes of the Estonian people.

Most famous citizen: Probably the anthropologist, naturalist and geographer Karl Ernst von Baer. His studies were used by Darwin in developing his theory of the origin of species.

Worst moment in history: Estonian history is pretty bleak so there are a lot of candidates for worst moment. For several centuries ethnic Estonians were serfs to German, Danish, Russian and Swedish landlords as different powers invaded the country. Equally grim were the years of Soviet rule from 1940-1991, briefly interrupted by the Germans. June 14 1941 was a particularly black day: in a Soviet purge, 10,000 Estonians in senior public positions were dragged from their homes without warning and deported to Siberia. Many never saw their homeland again.

Best moment in history: After half a century of Soviet rule, Estonia officially declared independence on August 20 1991, a year after its sister state Lithuania, and a day before Latvia. Three days later the statue of Lenin was removed from its pedestal by Finnish cranes. September 1988 saw the happiest demonstration in Estonia's history, when a quarter of a million people (a quarter of the adult population), packed into the Song Festival arena in Tallinn. The events that followed became known as the "singing revolution".

Essential accessory: A healthy appetite for lounging in the sauna. Saunas are an Estonian institution, with much ceremony attached to performing ablutions and relaxing at blood-boiling temperatures. Every town has a public sauna and many Estonians have one at home, but for a really luxurious experience make a reservation at Tallin's Hotel Olumpia, where the view of the city is as exquisite as the two saunas and plunge pool.

What not to do: Don't get attached to any antiques. Items made before 1700 cannot be taken out of the country at all, and even exporting more modern objects involves red tape.