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

Pilgrim’s route

Merja village and Merja hill-fort

Some visited the Kingsepp farm, some did not, in any case we are now heading for Merja hill-fort. A sign soon appears about the beginning of Merja village. A few kilometres still to the hill-fort.


Merja village allegedly came into being as a village of refugees after the invasion of the knights of the Teutonic Order in Järva County in 1212. When Abaja, Keri and other villages were burnt down, people fled to the forests and marshes around Merja. Hence a strong village was established here.

On 12 August 1938, the local paper Järva Teataja no 92 writes:
„Merja fill-fort is located in Merja village, on the lands of Linnamäe farm. ... there is no doubt that a hill-fort of our ancestors truly existed centuries here ago, offering refuge and a place of resistance when the enemy attacked. ... Data about it can only be found in (Jaan) Jung’s book about Estonian ancient strongholds, in the 3rd part, on just a few lines. Finds are very few, some old coins, uncovered during ploughing on the slippery slopes of the hill. The stronghold on the hill-fort probably dates to the earlier Iron Age, as almost all other ancient Estonian strongholds, and the finds should come from the same period.”
The information board at Merja hill-fort says:
„There are about a few dozen hills of natural making in Estonia, popularly called hill-forts. Among them is also Merja hill-fort. ... It has probably never been inhabited. Merja should rather be seen as a sacred hill of our ancestors, as human bones have been found here. Merja village was first mentioned in writing in 1474, the first burials on the hill-fort could derive from the same time. – Archaeologist Tanel Moora.”
Merja hill-fort is today an archaeological monument.

The committee for celebrating the Victory Day (23 June 1919 when Estonians defeated the German forces), set up in 1936, suggested that ancient strongholds should be marked as historical battle sites with „80x120 cm cast iron plaques with a map of Estonia, where the locations of all the strongholds are marked. This map would remind every visitor of where he is standing, offer a comprehensive picture of the locations and kindle general interest in ancient sites.”
On 14 August 1938, a similar plaque was unveiled also at Merja. On the initiative of the Defence League's Koeru volunteer battalion, a ceremony took place at the hill-fort, there was a concert-party in the evening, with a bonfire and dances.

In 2010 a new, 12 m tall viewing tower was opened on the hill-fort. The tower was built by the Society of Abaja Four Villages (Abaja, Merja, Valila, Koidu-Ellavere) together with friends of Endla nature reserve society and supported by the LEADER programme.
The hill-fort and viewing tower are maintained by the Merja villagers who organise various festivities, meetings, villages days here.

Sitting on the viewing tower platform having a bite to eat and resting your tired feet, we all find that life is wonderful – if only the deer flies would not torment us so much. My travelling companion voices an idea that we should set up the next prayer bench here. The place is highly suitable. And another idea: on a warm summer night, a true traveller-pilgrim can sleep in his sleeping bag on tower's lower floor, protected from rain. There is space for several people. Admittedly, we are not true travellers. It is September, after all... We wait for our carriage to take us to dinner and nice accommodation in Kodasema.

Daila Aas
September 2017

Blessing of the Merja Town Hill Prayer Bench, in May 15, 2019
The wishes have often a custom – to come true. Standing in couple years ago on the Merja Hill, we were thinking that, at a prayer bench would fit very well in there – and here he is standing right now. All work was done by the nice and workful locals, led by Kerli Sirila and four Village Society, the Koeru School, the Culture House and the Rural Municipality folks. The beautiful weather on the opening day, was certainly made also by the same people.

Our wish was, as always, is to create the bench with the hands of domestic handyman. Koeru High School Director, Jaan Kabin, grabbed this idea and under his guidance, Koeru school boys Andre Nurmeots and Kristjan Illi completed the work. The bench board were given by Rain Remmelgas, owner of Koeru’s woodworking company.
A large number of people had come to the bench blessing.
Uno Aan, a home history researcher, talked about the local history and the Prayer Bench idea. It was also interesting to listen a former teacher, cultural historian Herbert Last. Lagle Parek spoke about the Pilgrimage Road and thanked folks for their warm attitude. Deacon Jaanus Tammiste blessed the Prayer Bench.
The head of Koeru Culture House, Eva Linno, put this beautiful afternoon on Merja’s Town Hill in words. The musical part of this event was accompanied by four men of the Koeru Free Church, who sang on the hillside and let their voices sound down also from the top of view tower – over the sky and forest. We were moved and very, very thankful to all the good people!

Daila Aas, 2019


Martin Kuldmägi „Muinaslinnuste uurimislugu Eestis 1920.–1930. aastatel”. Tartu Ülikooli Filosoofiateaduskond, Ajaloo ja arheoloogia instituut. Bakalaurusetöö, juhendaja Mirja Ots. Tartu, 2012.
„Mälestuskilde Koidu-Ellavere, Valila, Abaja, Merja küladest”, koostaja Uno Aan, Koeru 2008.