Naissaar is an island
An island or isle is any piece of sub-continental land that is surrounded by water. Very small islands such as emergent land features on atolls can be called islets, cays or keys. An island in a river or lake may be called an eyot , or holm...

 northwest of Tallinn
Tallinn is the capital and largest city of Estonia. It occupies an area of with a population of 414,940. It is situated on the northern coast of the country, on the banks of the Gulf of Finland, south of Helsinki, east of Stockholm and west of Saint Petersburg. Tallinn's Old Town is in the list...

 (but belonging to Viimsi Parish) in Estonia
Estonia , officially the Republic of Estonia , is a state in the Baltic region of Northern Europe. It is bordered to the north by the Gulf of Finland, to the west by the Baltic Sea, to the south by Latvia , and to the east by Lake Peipsi and the Russian Federation . Across the Baltic Sea lies...

. The island covers an area of 18.6 km². It is 13-14 km long and 6 km wide, and lies about 8.5 km from the mainland. The highest point on the island is Kunilamägi, which is 27 meters above sea-level. The island consists predominantly of coniferous forest and piles of stones and boulders. As of 2005, the island had a population of ten. Now the island has three dozen or so permanent residents and some summer residents.

Until the Second World War
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

, the island's population numbered about 450 people of Estonian-Swedish
Estonian Swedes
The Estonian Swedes, Estonia-Swedes, or Coastal Swedes are a Swedish-speaking linguistic minority traditionally residing in the coastal areas and islands of what is now western and northern Estonia...

 origin. However, these people fled during the war. Naissaar under Soviet
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

 rule was a military area and off-limits to the public.

Although the fortifications on the island date back to Peter the Great's scheme to fortify Tallinn
Tallinn is the capital and largest city of Estonia. It occupies an area of with a population of 414,940. It is situated on the northern coast of the country, on the banks of the Gulf of Finland, south of Helsinki, east of Stockholm and west of Saint Petersburg. Tallinn's Old Town is in the list...

, the main fortifications are from the period of Russian rule before World War II. Today, the previous small houses of the Swedish villages are being restored bit-by-bit. Also being restored is a narrow gauge railway that runs from the north to the southern tip of the island.

A notable native of the island was Bernhard Schmidt
Bernhard Schmidt
Bernhard Woldemar Schmidt was a German optician. In 1930 he invented the Schmidt telescope which corrected for the optical errors of spherical aberration, coma, and astigmatism, making possible for the first time the construction of very large, wide-angled reflective cameras of short exposure time...

, the Swedish-Estonian optician who invented the Schmidt telescope in 1930.


The island received a lighthouse in 1788, though the present lighthouse dates to 1960. It is 47 meters tall.


The island's name means "island of women". It is possible, therefore, that Naissaar is the island the chronicle of Adam of Bremen mentioned around 1075 under the name "Terra Feminarum
Terra Feminarum
Terra feminarum is a name for a land in Fennoscandia that appears in Gesta Hammaburgensis Ecclesiae Pontificum by Adam of Bremen 1075 AD...

". Estonian Swedish fishermen were well-established on the island by the 15th Century, and the Swedes erected a small fortress there in 1705 during the Great Northern War
Great Northern War
The Great Northern War was a conflict in which a coalition led by the Tsardom of Russia successfully contested the supremacy of the Swedish Empire in northern Central Europe and Eastern Europe. The initial leaders of the anti-Swedish alliance were Peter I the Great of Russia, Frederick IV of...

. After the war Estonia became part of the Russian Empire. The Tsar had a new fortress, with five bastions, built in 1720, for the defense of Tallinn and St. Petersburg.

An epic single-ship action
Single-ship action
A single ship action is a naval engagement fought between two warships of opposing sides, excluding submarine engagements; called so because there is a single ship on each side...

 took place off the north end of the island on 1808 when the 14-gun Russian cutter Opyt
Russian cutter Opyt (1806)
The Russian cutter Opyt was launched in 1806. The British 44-gun frigate Salsette captured Opyt in 1808 in the Baltic during the Anglo-Russian War after her captain and crew put up a heroic resistance. The Admiralty took her into service as HMS Baltic...

 put up an heroic though ultimately unsuccessful fight against the British 44-gun frigate .

In 1850 the island's population was 155 people and by 1858 it had grown to 188, most of whom were Estonian Swedes. Between 1853 and 1856 the inhabitants built a new chapel that was part of the Swedish parish of St. Michael in Tallinn.

In the early twentieth century, Russia began the process of a modernization of its fortifications in the Gulf of Finland. However, the outbreak of the First World War stopped the planned improvements for Naissaar. Still, in 1914 the Russians opened a narrow-gauge railway line, with a total trackage of 37.7km.

World War I

The Russians built a new fort during the First World War. Estonia acquired some autonomy in April 1917 by a decree of the Russian provisional government
Russian Provisional Government
The Russian Provisional Government was the short-lived administrative body which sought to govern Russia immediately following the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II . On September 14, the State Duma of the Russian Empire was officially dissolved by the newly created Directorate, and the country was...

, though Estonia remained under the suzerainty of the Russian Empire. However, after the October Revolutions the Bolshevik rebels suspended Estonia's provisional government, the Maapäev.

In December 1917, a group of Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

n sailors commandeered Naissaar and proclaimed an independent "socialist republic", known as the Soviet Republic of Soldiers and Fortress-Builders of Nargen, under the leadership of Stepan Petrichenko
Stepan Petrichenko
Stepan Maximovich Petrichenko , was a Russian revolutionary, an anarcho-syndicalist politician, one of the main leaders of the Third Russian Revolution, the head of the Soviet Republic of Soldiers and Fortress-Builders of Nargen and in 1921, de facto leader of the Kronstadt Commune, and the leader...

. The Russian sailors, numbering about 80-90 men, formed a government and levied taxes on the local population.

At this point the new Estonian government appealed to the German army for assistance. The "republic" ceased to exist two days later, on February 26, 1918, when German
German Empire
The German Empire refers to Germany during the "Second Reich" period from the unification of Germany and proclamation of Wilhelm I as German Emperor on 18 January 1871, to 1918, when it became a federal republic after defeat in World War I and the abdication of the Emperor, Wilhelm II.The German...

 forces occupied the island, causing the Russians to flee. The sailors fled to Kronstadt
Kronstadt , also spelled Kronshtadt, Cronstadt |crown]]" and Stadt for "city"); is a municipal town in Kronshtadtsky District of the federal city of St. Petersburg, Russia, located on Kotlin Island, west of Saint Petersburg proper near the head of the Gulf of Finland. Population: It is also...

, where Petrichenko came to play an important role in the Kronstadt uprising.

After the departure of the German troops the Estonian Provisional Government
Estonian Provisional Government
The Estonian Provisional Government was formed on February 24, 1918 by the Salvation Committee appointed by Maapäev the Estonian Province Assembly. The Provisional Government was led by Konstantin Päts...

 executed forty Bolshevik prisoners of war here in February 1919. The island then became part of the new Estonian Republic in 1920.

Between the wars

The Estonian Republic too used Naissaar as a naval base. In 1934, 450 people lived on the island, of whom 291 were Estonians, most of whom in turn were in the Estonian army. The army of the Republic of Estonia continued to use the railway for military purposes throughout the 1930s.

World War II

The Red Army
Red Army
The Workers' and Peasants' Red Army started out as the Soviet Union's revolutionary communist combat groups during the Russian Civil War of 1918-1922. It grew into the national army of the Soviet Union. By the 1930s the Red Army was among the largest armies in history.The "Red Army" name refers to...

 occupied Naissar in 1940, only to have the Wehrmacht
The Wehrmacht – from , to defend and , the might/power) were the unified armed forces of Nazi Germany from 1935 to 1945. It consisted of the Heer , the Kriegsmarine and the Luftwaffe .-Origin and use of the term:...

 displace it a few months later. The population of Swedish fishermen preferred the Germans, and when the Red Army drove the Germans out in 1944, the last of the Swedish-speaking fishermen took refuge in Sweden.


During the period of the Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic
Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic
The Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic , often abbreviated as Estonian SSR or ESSR, was a republic of the Soviet Union, administered by and subordinated to the Government of the Soviet Union...

, the Soviet Union established its largest factory for naval mine
Naval mine
A naval mine is a self-contained explosive device placed in water to destroy surface ships or submarines. Unlike depth charges, mines are deposited and left to wait until they are triggered by the approach of, or contact with, an enemy vessel...

s in the Baltic on the island. The Soviets therefore declared the island a military area and off-limits to the public. The Soviets also used the railway to connect the factory to the port.

Post-Soviet period

When the Soviets left Naissaar in early 1993, they burned the explosives in the naval mines, leaving a multitude of metal casings scattered throughout the island. Many of these were scavenged as scrap iron, but a field of mines is still visible near the wharf at Mädasadam. Another legacy of the arms industry is that the soil of the island remains contaminated by oil and heavy metals.

In 1995 Naissaar was converted into a nature reserve.

On 10 August 2005 a helicopter belonging to the Finish airline Copterline crashed east of the island. The accident resulted in the death of all 14 persons on the helicopter.

External links

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