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Saatse - A view from our expert author


The town of Saatse has an Estonian Orthodox Church that dates from the mid 19th century, although its iconostasis is a lot earlier and several paintings have been saved from a previous church on this site. It is named after St Paraskeva, who protected crops and good health. There is also a museum which proudly boasts a collection of 20,000 objects, all nominally related to the Seto community. These are largely tools made by men, to contrast with the women’s handicrafts displayed in the museum at Obinitsa. The museum was brought to life in 2012 with the addition of many pre-war films and a few from the Soviet period, together with music, for those who want to hear it. (Unlike in Estonian restaurants, the music is not compulsory.)

Stride through the woods here for glimpses of the incongruous border: the Russians mark their side very clearly with fencing and often with a cleared area in front of it while the Estonians limit themselves to the occasional border post.

The building has had a very chequered history, even by Estonian standards. It looks like a modest private residence, but in fact was built as an officers’ holiday home in 1908, then converted into a hospital. Between the wars and through the early Soviet period it was a boarding school, becoming a museum in 1963. It used the term ‘local folklore’ to avoid Soviet objections to honouring the Seto. However, most visitors will want to stride through the woods here for further glimpses of the incongruous border. It is easy to approach and there is no problem with photography. The Russians mark their side very clearly with fencing and often with a cleared area in front of it; the Estonians limit themselves to the occasional border post. There is a road crossing point near the village but this is only for local cyclists with, of course, visas.

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