The mysterious Peipsimaa

Peipsimaa (“Peipus Land”) as a place name is both old and new. The Russian-language Причудье can be considered the historical equivalent of ‘Peipsimaa’, as it has been used for centuries to refer the Lake Peipus West Shore inhabited by Russian Old Believers. The first known mention of the name ‘Peipsimaa’ in Estonian-language literature was by the ethnographer Aliise Moora in her 1964 study Peipsimaa etnilisest ajaloost (“About the Ethnic History of Peipsimaa”). The name ‘Peipsimaa’ carries the idea that we are talking about more than just the shore of a lake – it is also a unique cultural space that cannot be found anywhere else.


Peipsimaa and the Russian Old Believers


The unique identity of Peipsimaa has been shaped by the Russian Old Believers throughout three centuries. The first Russian Old Believers arrived to Peipsimaa at the end of the 17th century as a result of church reforms and a consequent schism in Russia. The communities who wished to continue the religious traditions of their ancestors fled from repressions to the Russian border of even further away. A more active inhabitation of the Lake Peipus West Shore occurred in the 18th century – the Russian Old Believers’ communities and settlements were established in Kallaste, Kükita and Kolkja at that period. The Russian Old Believers saw both good and bad times in the 19th and 20th centuries, but overall they have survived the twists of history. Today, there are eight active communities of Russian Old Believers: in Mustvee, Kükita, Kallaste, Suur-Kolkja, Väike-Kolkja, Kasepää, Varnja and Rajaküla.

Despite being persecuted by the tsarist Russia as well as the Soviet authorities, the Russian Old Believers have managed to maintain the majority of their religion, traditions and world view throughout three centuries. The culture of Old Believers is undergoing a resurrection of a kind: the recent decades have seen a lot of publications about the Old Believers, recordings of their traditional music and Old believers’ cultural events. The Old Believers Museum in Kolkja, the Varanya Museum of Living History and now also the Peipsimaa Visitor Centre are open to those visitors of Peipsimaa who are interested in the culture and life of the Old Believers.


Peipsimaa and the Estonian cultural heritage


At the same time the identity of Peipsimaa encompasses more than just the Russian Old Believers’ culture. Peipsimaa is a place of cultural diversity where an important place has been reserved for Estonian cultural heritage – be it the folktales about Kalevipoeg, the Kodavere dialect or the works of the poet Juhan Liiv. The Alatskivi castle is a dignified representation of the Baltic German legacy. This all combined creates Estonia’s richest cultural landscape which is interesting, educating and soulful.

What does Peipsimaa offer for tourists?

Peipsimaa is not a destination for everyone. It does not offer four-star hotels or eventful nightlife for example. However, for an open-minded visitor it offers something else, perhaps something even more valuable – a unique culture, beautiful scenery and increasing opportunities to enjoy it all in an active way, be it a cycling tour along the one-street villages of the Old Believers, a workshop about traditional signet print or a boat ride on Lake Peipus.

For specific information and recommendations please contact the Peipsimaa Visitor Centre – or even better, come and stop by!