Exhibition “Norway and Estonia through times”

The exhibition “Norway and Estonia through times” depicts the friendly relations between the two countries through centuries and is part of the celebrations of the 100th Anniversary of diplomatic relations between Estonia and Norway. The exhibition was first opened by President Kersti Kaljulaid in Tallinn on the Norwegian national day 17th of May.

The full text of the exhibition

or check out the exhibition boards and texts here, via this link.

Austrvegr – way to the east

The Viking Age lasted from around 793 to 1066.  This was a period in the Middle Ages when Scandinavians known as Vikings undertook raids, established colonies and were trading throughout Europe and even reached North America.  From their homelands they travelled west – to the Vestvegr -- to the British Isles and to Ireland and east  -- to the Austrvegr – to the Gardariki area, to Estonia and Novgorod, which the Vikings called Holmgard.

Estonia was not a unified country at that time. The area was divided among loosely allied regions. During the Viking age, the area of Estonia was divided between two cultural areas: southeastern Estonia and northern and western Estonia. The northern and western Estonia seem to have belonged to the Scandinavian cultural area at that time with many traces from the Viking age.

Did the Viking elites and tradesmen in the coastal and Viking trading areas in Europe have some kind of a common language? The Norsemen travelled to Estonia and to Novgorod to trade on the markets in summertime. Olav Tryggvason is an example of an international traveler staying in areas like Estonia, Novgorod, Ireland, England and Norway.

The Scandinavian written sources suggest that four areas in Estonia were clearly the most important, and the Vikings had their own names for these areas:  Eysysla for Saaremaa including other nearby islands, not just the single island as it is today. Adalsysla for Läänemaa, Refaland for Harjumaa and Virland for Virumaa.


Olav Tryggvason and Estonia in the Sagas

Heimskringla is a collection of tales about Norwegian kings written around 1230 by the Icelander Snorri Sturlason.

Most of the Sagas are believed to have been written in the 13th and 14th centuries, probably originating in an older, and oral tradition of storytelling. The sagas focus largely on history and especially genealogical and family history and reflect the struggles and conflicts. Estonia is mentioned several times in different Sagas. It seems that many Norwegians and Icelanders sailed to Estonia to trade at the summer markets along the coast.

Norway might be the only country with a king who knew how to speak Estonian. Olav Tryggvason must have learned Estonian at a young age.

According to the King Olav Tryggvason’s Saga, in the year 967 his mother Astrid fled from Norway with her young son Olav, since their enemies threatened to kill the boy. She wanted to seek protection in Novgorod, where her brother Sigurd held an honored position at the court of Prince Vladimir. On their journey, Vikings from Estonia raided the ship, killing some of the crew and taking others into slavery. Astrid and Olav were taken into slavery in Saaremaa. Six years later, when Astrid’s brother travelled to Estonia to collect taxes on behalf of the prince, he spotted Olav at a market in Saaremaa and paid for his freedom. 

Another mentioning is in the Njål’ss Saga: a battle between the Estonian and Icelandic Vikings near Saaremaa in 972 AD.

Around 1008 AD, Olav II Haraldsson, later King of Norway, who became Saint Olav after his death, landed on Saaremaa. The local inhabitants, taken by surprise, had at first tried to negotiate the demands made by the king and his men, but then gathered an army and confronted them. Nevertheless, Olav won the battle.


Viking ships

Vikings gave their ships splendid names like ‘Long Serpent’ and ‘Snake of the Sea’. Viking ships had a fantastic feature – they were double-ended. This meant that their direction could be reversed without having to turn the boat around. On board were a series of small rowing boats that meant that the Vikings could get to shore and explore without risking damage to the bigger ship.

The success of the Vikings was closely linked to the development of shipbuilding. Vikings built fast ships that could sail longer distances. The Viking ships were designed for speed and easy navigation. Viking longships were normally about 30 metres long and could carry 60 men. In good weather conditions, it is thought that longships could reach speeds of up to 17 knots.

The Viking Ship Museum in Oslo has the world’s best-preserved Viking ships.

One of the most significant graves found in Scandinavia is the so-called Oseberg burial mound. In the year of 834, the Oseberg queen was buried in an impressive ship together with her valuable belongings. The grave also contained the remains of another woman of unknown origin.

Women are said to have had a stronger position in the Viking society than in most parts of Europe. They usually had the right to divorce, and if their spouse passed away, they would inherent his land and belongings. There are many examples of strong women in the stories of the Vikings.  In part, they were protected by laws against sexual harassment, and a woman was respected as the head of the household when her husband was away, sometimes for a long time.


Sankt Olav

Olav II Haraldsson, later known as Saint Olav or traditionally as St Olave, was the King of Norway from 1015 to 1028.

He died in the Battle of Stiklestad on 29 July 1030. He was canonized at Nidaros, nowadays Trondheim, just a year after his death. His sainthood encouraged the widespread adoption of Christianity in Norway.

Especially during the times of foreign rule Saint Olav became a symbol of Norwegian independence and pride. Saint Olav is symbolized by the axe in Norway’s coat of arms. In Norway he is celebrated at Olsok, the day marking his death in the Battle of Stiklestad. The coat-of-arms of Norway in 1905-1992.

For centuries, Olav figured in folk traditions as the slayer of trolls and giants. He was said to have healing power and it was claimed that the water in the springs dedicated to him could cure sickness. Around the 12th century the folk traditions of Olav absorbed elements of the gods Tor and Frøya from Norse mythology. The first churches were often located on the former pagan centres, so the worship continued in the same places as before Christianity.  Saint Olav became associated with fertility, which led to his adoption as the patron saint by the Scandinavian farmers, fishermen, sailors and merchants and this continued with the merchants of the Hanseatic League. 


Sankt Olavs churches

As we know today seven churches or chapels in Estonia are dedicated to the Norwegian Saint Olav. All of these are located in the coastal areas, reflecting the main sailing route for the trade with Estonia, Russia and the Scandinavian Vikings. On this trade route there was also a Saint Olav’s church in Novogord (Holmgard).  Estonia was an important part of this early trade. People gathered themselves into settlements situated along the trade routes. When the Vikings and their Eastern trade partners accepted Christianity in the 10th – 11th centuries, new merchant churches were established along the trade routes. These were places where merchants could perform religious services as well as store goods, measures and documents.

Nidaros cathedral is built upon the burial site of St Olav.

12th century Ornes wooden church at the Lustrafjorden in Vestland fylke.

Portal of the Hedal wooden church.

One example of the St Olavs cult was found in Saastna, where a Chapel of Saint Olav had been built. The ruins of the chapel are first mentioned in the written sources in 1593 as a renowned center of heathen religion were people from Gotland, Saaremaa, Kurland and also from other places still used to convene.  According to the data from the 18th century, the pilgrimages to Saastna were still made after the Reformation.

The Saint Olav churches along the coast of Estonia were possibly at such locations, also serving as market places between the local Estonian people, Skandinavians and the Varangians. A similar network of Saint Olav’s churches is found on the eastern coast of Ireland and in other places with extensive trade and contacts with the Norse or Scandinavian Vikings.


Hanseatic League

Christianity reached Estonia as in Norway through trade and contacts with the Scandinavian and Eastern trade partners. T

The first attempt to Christianize Estonia, which is historically documented, was made around 1070. A century later pope Alexander III authorized Bishop Fulco and his assistant Nicolaus, an Estonian monk from the monastery of Stavanger at the west coast of Norway, by a papal bull to “consecrate churches and ordain clergy” in Estonia.

This might be one of the motives behind building Saint Olav’s church for the Scandinavian merchants and the Old Russian church for the Russian merchants on the hill just above the port of Tallinn.  Maybe this reflects that Tallinn was an important trading place on the Estonian north coast long before any foreign takeover of the town.

The Hanseatic League took over the earlier Scandinavian trade throughout the Baltic Sea. German cities achieved domination of trade in the Baltic during the 13th century. Tallinn became an important Hansa City. Bergen on the west coast of Norway had a Hanseatic trade office, kontor, along with Novgorod.  The early trade, which had started with Austvegr continued along the same routes to a great extent. Fish, fish oil, salt and hides from Norway were traded for grain, fur and amber from the Hanseatic cities.

The old harbor in Bergen Bryggen belongs to the UNESCO World Heritage List since 1979.


Northern countries

Norway and Estonia are Northern countries by the sea. Norway has one of the longest coastlines in the world. Estonia also has a very long coastline. Both countries have historically had many seamen, fishermen and a strong coastal culture. Both Estonia and Norway have many prominent polar explorers who served and participated on foreign expeditions before the countries were independent and they made an important contribution to the shaping of our national identity.

Fridtjof Nansen and Fredrik Hjalmar Johansen dragging sledges across uneven ice. One of the many photos from the trip to the North Pole (photo taken before 1895).

The two most important historical polar explorers in Norway are Fridtjof Nansen and Roald Amundsen.

Fridtjof Nansen was an explorer, scientist, diplomat and humanitarian. He led the first expedition across the Greenland interior in 1888, traversing the island on skis from coast to coast. On midsummer, June 24, 1893, an expedition led by the Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen set out from Christiania (name of Oslo until 1925)  on a ship named Fram to the Arctic Ocean. Near the New Siberian Islands the ship froze into the sea ice and began its planned 3-years drift together with the pack ice across the Arctic Ocean. In the summer of 1894 Nansen together with Fredrik Hjalmar Johansen ventured out from the ship on an attempt to reach the North Pole on skis. They reached the latitude of 86°14’ N before harsh conditions forced them to turn back without reaching the North Pole. This has become one of the most famous expeditions in the history of Norway.


Amundsens expeditions to the North and to the South

Although Nansen retired from exploration after the Fram expedition in 1896, his techniques of polar travel and his innovations in equipment and clothing influenced generations of later explorers. Nansen later devoted himself to humanitarian work and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1922 for his work on behalf of displaced victims of the First World War and related conflicts.

Roald Amundsen and his crew greet the Norwegian flag at the North Pole. The flag was hoisted on top of the tent.

Roald Amundsen was the first person to successfully navigate the Northwest Passage in 1903 to 1906 when he stayed with the indigenous people, the Inuits, at Gjøa havn. The Inuits taught him how to dress in fur, how to make an igloo and to use the sledge dogs in the most efficient way. This indigenous knowledge was important when he was the first to reach the South Pole December 14, 1911. The iconic photo of the Norwegian expedition team on the South Pole is one of the most important in the Norwegian history. For poor and newly independent Norway Roald Amundsen was the national hero who showed that small countries could do great things.  He was the rock star of that time.


Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen

Admiral Bellingshausen was born in a German-Baltic family in Saaremaa and joined the Russian navy at a young age. He became an admiral, cartographer and explorer, and the governor of Krohnstadt. Bellingshausen commanded the Russian circumnavigation expedition of the globe from 1819 to 1821. During this expedition, he became among the first explorers to see the land of Antarctic on 27th of January 1820. In 2020 the Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid participated in the Antartika 200 expedition to honor the Estonian-born Admiral Bellingshausen. The trip repeated the same journey as Admiral Bellingshausen sailed in 1820.


Modern explorers

In 2009 Estonian polar explorer Timo Palo and Norwegian Audun Tholfsen crossed on skis the ice cap of Greenland in commemoration of the 120th anniversary of the first crossing by Nansen and his five companions.

In honour of the Nansen and Johansen expedition in 1894, Timo and Audun undertook an unassisted expedition on skis from the North Pole to Svalbard – a trip Nansen and Johansen planned, but had to cancel. Similar to Nansen and Johansen, they needed sea kayaks in addition to skis, as the last part of their trip just before Svalbard was supposed to be rather watery.

The helicopter put them down 11 km from the North Pole and they set of towards the Pole pulling sea kayaks full of provisions, ca 150 kg in weight and 4,2 meters in length. However, the Arctic ice drift made even reaching their starting point double as hard.

The ice conditions were harsh and the skis would not slide well at such low temperatures. There was plenty of older pressure ice, with ice blocks several meters high piled upon each other, forming large pressure ridges of ice. There was no way around them, so they had to break through them or climb over.

The kayaks soon looked terrible – dented and scratched from hitting against ice and deformed in the middle due to the heavy load. And the watery part was yet to come. The waterfront was 400 km off the Svalbard archipelago.

The first polar bear encounter happened 300 km from the land, although the men had detected their traces also near the pole. In the most shocking incident the polar bear attacked them from under water. This is a method that polar bears use when hunting for a seal lying on a block of ice. Timo and Audun escaped by a stroke of luck.

On July 3, 2012, they finished their epic expedition after 1620 kilometres and 72 days in the town of Longyearbyen on Svalbard. This was a grand Estonian-Norwegian polar achievement, which entered the Guinness Book of Records.


Norway-Estonia 100

1905 – Norway becomes an independent state

1918 – Estonia becomes an independent state


4/5 february 1921 - Norway recognizes the Republic of Estonia de jure.

Ambassador of Norway Johan W. Jakhelin delivered his credentials to President Jaan Tõnisson in 1928 (photo).

Norway never recognized the illegal annexation of the Baltic States by the Soviet Union. 

1953 – Exile government of the Republic of Estonia established in Oslo

1991 - Royal Norwegian Embassy starts its work in Tallinn

Ambassador of Norway Brit Løvseth delivered her credentials in 1991 (photo).

1994 - Embassy of the Republic of Estonia established in Oslo (photo)

1998 – King Harald and Queen Sonja of Norway on a state visit to Estonia (photo)

2002 – President Arnold Rüütel on a state visit to Norway

2014 – President Toomas Hendrik Ilves on a state visit to Norway

2017 – President Kersti Kaljulaid on a working visit to Norway

2018 – Crown Prince Haakon and Crown Princess Mette-Marit of Norway visit Estonia (photo)


Close neighbours

Artist Konrad Mägi lived in Norway in 1908-1910 and painted some of his most famous works there. (painting)

Norwegian female student choir took part of the Estonian song festival in 1928. An Estonian choir of Juhan Aavik performed in Oslo University hall in 1949.

Twelve Estonian volunteers defended Norway’s freedom against the German occupation in the battles at Narvik in 1940. One of the Estonian soldiers, Arnold Soinla, also died there, as the first Estonian to fall in World War II. (photo)

Estonians have loved Norwegian literature throughout all the years from Henrik Ibsen’s plays and Sigrid Undset’s Kristin Lavransdatter to Thorbjørn Egner’s Karius og Baktus and Jo Nesbø’s Doktor Proktor’s fartpowder. The Norwegian readers are familiar with the works of Jaan Kross and Viivi Luik as well as of Andrus Kivirähk.

Norwegian translator Turid Farbregd visited Estonia in 1979 and she became a great supporter of Estonian culture and people. She laid a foundation to extensive cultural contacts. In 1984 Norwegian-Estonian cultural society was founded and in the following years several friendship societies were established between Estonia and Norway. (photo)


Together in the world

In 2004 Estonia became a member of the NATO and the defence cooperation with Norway had a strong new stimulus. Already in 1996-1997 the Estonian peacekeepers contributed to UNIFIL mission in Lebanon as a part of the Norwegian battalion. (photo)

Estonia and Norway are both elected members in the United Nations Security Council – Estonia in 2020-2021 and Norway in 2021-2022. Norway was the founding member of the United Nations and the first Secretary General of the organization was a Norwegian, Trygve Lie.

European Economic Area agreement provides a common framework for the economic relations between Estonia and Norway. It enables the free movement of people, goods, services and capital between Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and the European Union member states. As a part of the EEA agreement Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein have supported Estonia’s development with nearly 150 million euros.

Estonian and Norwegian ministers meet regularly for joint consultations between the Nordic and Baltic states in the so-called NB8 format.

Norwegian Minister of European Affairs Frank Bakke-Jensen, Estonian Minister of Health and Labor Jevgeni Ossinovski and the Ambassador of Iceland Kristin A Arnadottir signed the EEA and Norway Grants agreement for 2014-2021. (photo)

Norwegian-Estonian Chamber of Commerce (NECC) was established in 2007 with many of the most important companies in Norway as members. 


Norway supports Estonia

Norway has contributed to the development in Estonia for over two decades. Norway’s support to various Estonian social and environmental projects began already in 1998.

In 2004 the support programmes of the European Economic Area and Norway Grants were established by which Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein support fifteen EU states and contribute to the reduction of social and economic disparities Europe.  

Strengthening bilateral relations with these fifteen states is another important aim of the Grants. Norway finances 95% of the programmes.

32 million euros – EEA and Norway Grants to Estonia in 2004-2009

48 million euros – EEA and Norway Grants to Estonia in 2009-2014

68 million euros – EEA and Norway Grants to Estonia in 2014-2021


  • Innovation and competitiveness Green ICT – 29 million euros
  • Climate and environment – over 20 million euros
  • Cultural heritage and manor schools – over 10 million euros
  • Civil society
  • Public Health
  • Research and education
  • Gender equality


Real-time detection and classification of maritime pollution

OCEAN VISUALS; an Estonian-Norwegian technology collaboration project for detection of oil spill and organics on the surface and into the water column.  It later became a joint venture between Norwegian Industries Holding group and Estonian LDI Innovation OÜ.

This technology is especially valuable for detecting the pollution in the dark or in difficult weather conditions, where a human eye cannot see the pollution.

Lidar technology penetrates the sea surface and measures hydrocarbons and other organic matter in real-time on a molecular level, part-per-million (ppm). Samples are compared with an onboard library of known oil types, and real-time pattern matching and analysis of the data enables to quickly identify the type of oil. The system also carries AIS of ship traffic in the region, making it possible to indicate the likely source of the pollution.

SEA OWL™ is a fitting name for the gadget that has by now made over 10 million samplings from the Hurtigruten ships that sail the 2400 km route on the Norwegian west coast. When the equipment has detected a pollution, the system automatically informed its recipient at the Norwegian Coastal Administration Preparedness and Response Center.

(photo) Christian Testman presents the pollution detection technology to the Norwegian Crown Prince and Crown Princess in 2018.


Estonian and Norwegian smart solutions

Skeleton Technologies ultracapacitors reached the market with the help of the prototype laboratories of the Norwegian company NxTech AS.

This super powerful energy storing equipment has to withstand strong vibration in trucks and busses. The Nextech AS laboratories extensive knowledge and experience in testing the industrial prototypes were vital to the development of the Skeleton ultracapacitors.

Founders of the company: CEO Taavi Madiberk and Chairman of the Board Oliver Ahlberg. (photo)

Skeleton Technologies innovative ultracapacitors give a 25% energy saving on trucks. Now the Norwegian Green ICT programme supports a project where Skeleton Technologies in cooperation with the Norwegian company NCTech AS develops ultracapacitors systems suitable for use at sea.

To operate the modern ships complicated systems are used that crave enormous amounts of energy. Skeleton ultracapacitors enable to store wave energy and use it to compensate the ships movements while keeping the heavy machinery on the ships, like cranes stable in relation to the sea bottom. Currently batteries are used for such compensation, but the ultracapacitors are dozens of times more powerful and can do the same job more efficiently and cheaper. Unlike the batteries, which last only a couple of years, the ultracapacitors can last 15 years. Using ultracapacitors on ships makes them much more energy efficient.


Prepared for the climate change. We know what to expect.

keywords for year 2100 are: increased temperature, more precipitation, rise of sea level, more frequent storms.

With the support of the EEA and Norway Grants and the help from foreign experts the Estonian researchers analyzed the impact of climate changes to the various sectors and compiled the climate scenarios in Estonia until 2100.

pResearchers from Tartu University, Estonian University of Life Sciences, Academy of Security Sciences, Stockholm Environment Institute Tallinn Centre, Estonian Fund for Nature, Estonian Environmental Research Centre and the Baltic Environment Forum gave their contribution.

Rise of temperature in Estonia has been faster than the world average. Our summers and winters will get even warmer.

There will be increasingly more storms, torrential rain and other extreme weather phenomena. By the end of this century the sea level will have risen by ca half a meter.


How to prepare for floods and storms?

  • Follow the weather services’ forecasts and warnings, changes in water levels and information on which water level rise will threaten your house. It is important to be informed about the instructions of the Rescue Service as the main damage happens due to ignorance.
  • Prepare for possible electricity outages. Load your mobile phone battery, find a torch lamp and hopefully you have a battery charged radio.
  • Store drinking water, food, batteries, if necessary also medications and car fuel.
  • Inform the neighbors and close ones on the approaching danger.
  • move loose items outdoors that might be blown away by winds and park the car in a garage or in a clear area.Keep away from fallen power lines.
  • Call 112 in case of human injury or direct danger.

Water level measurements at Pärnu river on the public hike “How does Pärnu adapt?”, under the project “Assessment of climate change impacts elaboration of adaptations measures: planning, land use, health and rescue management”. (photo)

Most vulnerable sectors were analyzed and an action plan was drawn for improving the preparedness and capability of the Estonian state to tackle the climate change.


Hopeful future of pearl mussels

In Norway the pearl mussels have a viable population in several rivers. In Estonia, unfortunately due to overfishing and unfavorable natural habitats the pearl mussels have become very rare.

Pearl mussels have a long life cycle and it needs favorable conditions on all stages of its life. Thus, we will sea the results of these efforts after many years.

Under the project the population size of the pearl mussel as one of Estonia’s most endangered species was analyzed, activities for the protection of this rare mussel were defined and the habitat conditions was improved. With the help and advice of the Norwegian experts the Estonian Environmental Board restored one river in Estonia, which is suitable for the habitat of the pearl mussels.


Fifteen manor schools renovated with Norwegian support

All over Estonia 15 manor schools have been polished up with the help of Norway Grants --  Hiiu Suuremõisa, Vääna, Aruküla, Illuka, Koigi, Laupa, Väätsa, Olustvere, Suure-Kõpu, Rogosi, Puurmani, Kiltsi, Vasta, Kaagvere, Lahmuse.

Some manors have gone through a full renovation from a facade to cellars, in others a part of the building have been restored or heating and ventilation systems.

Main building of the Kiltsi manor, currently housing Kiltsi school and the museum of Admiral Adam Johann von Krustensterni, was built by Hermann Johann von Benckendorff upon the sturdy foundation of the 13th century vassal-fortress.

Laupa manor school was the winner of “Beautiful school of Estonia” and it was awarded the Cultural Endowment restauration prize for a simple and sincere, yet delicate restauration design by Jaan Jõgi.


New ventures in manors

Classical main buildings of manors are not the only ones being renovated, a new life has been brought also into other buildings in the ensembles. For example, in the Olustvere manor the old distillery has been renovated and refurbished as a glass workshop and bee-keepers are educated in the adjacent old dairy house.

The old garden around the Koigi manor school inspired people there to launch an annual Weed Festival.

A beautiful manor can be of benefit to the people in the whole region for many years. Therefore, the EEA and Norway Grants cultural heritage programme was not limited to the renovation of the buildings, but it gave rise to many undertakings that use the manor as their foundation.

In Tammistu manor children with special needs and their families get support from the knowledge of the Estonian Agrenska Foundation as well as the experiences of the Norwegian ASVO Nøtteroy in assisting people with special needs in their work-life.


Increasing cooperation in cultural heritage

Hiiu Vocational School and Hå Gamle Prestegård art centre in Norway have carried on their cooperation and mutual teaching throughout many years.

For the experts of Riksantikvaren, the Norwegian Directorate for Cultural Heritage, it has been interesting to see the manor schools together with their Estonian colleagues from the Ministry of Culture -- unlike the Estonian manors most of the manors in the land of the fjords are wooden buildings, like the Eidsvoll manor, where in 1814 the Norwegian Constitution was adopted.