A Spiritual and Cultural-Historical Journey
from Pirita to Vana-Vastseliina

Pilgrim’s route

Rebala museum and Rebala Heritage Conservation area

The name Rebala may be confusing as it means so many things at the same time. There is a village called Rebala. The name goes back to the oldest written records – the Danish Census Book (Liber Census Daniae), which lists the village under the name of Reppel (1241).
In the prehistoric times there was a parish called Rebala. Before the conquest of Estonia in the 13th century the modern-day territory of Estonia was divided into several parts or lands, and the present-day Harju County was Rävala. Rävala, in its turn, consisted of three ancient parishes, of which the eastern one was called Reppel, or Rebala in its modern form.
In addition, the westernmost parish in the Viru County was called Rebala in the ancient times, which shows that the name was widely spread along the north coast. So the village of Rebala had the same name as the parish and the neighbouring parish.

Rebala is also the name given to Rebala Heritage Conservation area, which initially encompassed only the village of Rebala and was of local significance. Now it covers nearly 70 square kilometres with several villages included.
The names Rebala and Rävala are linguistically related and come from the same root, to these names we can add Reval, the former name of Tallinn. Several different etymologies have been proposed for the place-names Rebala and Rävala, ranging from an underwater shallow or rock to a fall of a deer. The explanation that they can be traced back to the word rebane gained quite wide currency, according to this, it may have been the name of a tribal chief or a totemic animal. Geographically and linguistically it is possible that the words come from the same stem as the word riba (’a strip, a stretch’), which originally denoted the limestone cliff on the coast. Because of the historical changes in the language both forms reb- and rev- are correct. The last meaning would suit well to the village and the whole area located on the coast in North Estonia.

The area of Jõelähtme is rich in ancient monuments, which were known already in the early 20th century. But it was not until the 1970s that Oskar Raudmets, a hobby archaeologist, got actively involved. The archaeological investigation gained momentum when in 1974, in connection with the construction of the Iru Power Plant, the archaeologist Vello Lõugas (1937–1998) came to conduct archaeological excavations in the area.  In quite a limited site more than a hundred ancient graves were found. In 1977 the first conservation area of a historical agricultural region was established.

There was a growing protest against the Maardu chemical plant, as the open-pit mining of phosphate rock led to the destruction of ancient landscapes. Vello Lõugas managed to convince Estonian, Soviet and even international cultural and scientific circles that these landscapes were invaluable. The chemical plant in Maardu needed phosphate and was going to open more quarries. Many traditional farms and even whole villages were on the point of being destroyed by mining. But as the concept of cultural landscapes became a hot topic, the Maardu chemical plant was forced to allow archeological excavations before they could expand, and these excavations were again led by Vello Lõugas. After he had discovered the oldest known sites of agriculture in the forest zone, the significance of these landscapes rose sharply.

Thanks to Vello Lõugas’s tireless efforts the bureaucratic barriers were knocked down and, in  1987, the Rebala conservation area was founded. The Maardu chemical plant had to give up their expansion plans, and some important cultural landscapes were saved.

The Rebala landscape conservation area encompasses many archaeological monuments, but it has a broader aim of protecting landscape designed and created by man. Here people have cultivated land for the past three thousand years. More than a hundred generations have given their energy and strength to these fields and pasturelands. This long history abounds in events that changed Estonia, its customs and practices, but until recently everything revolved around land, which was not only the most valuable asset, but also an opportunity.

Janek Shafranovski

REBALA HERITAGE RESERVE CENTRE-MUSEUM can be found at the 22nd kilometre of the Tallinn–Peterburi Road near Jõelähtme bridge in the house of the former road builder. The museum introduces the oldest history of the area. Next to the house lies the largest aboveground cemetery in Estonia with 36 Late Bronze Age stone-cist graves (8th–7th c B.C.). In the course of a road extension, the graves were opened up in 1982–1984 and moved twenty metres out of the way.