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

Pilgrim’s route

Vapramäe’s Stories

„Download with a grenade,” said Captain Karl Parts. „Train ahead, for the onslaught!”
The Armored Train Number 1 plunk out from Vapramäe corner to the direction of Valga, but come to a halt behind the Voika’s Stream blasted Railway Bridge. Then the battle with the Red Chinese began. It was the January 16th, 1919. The Chinese, who had been blown up the Bridge and tried to attack the Armored Train from both sides, belonged to the Red Army’s Mining and Breaking Division.
„Arise an acute noise. There was no pause at all between the enemy’s blasts,” writes in his memory book „Winning or Death” Karl Parts, the Commander of the Armored Trains Division, who calls this armed attack in Vapramäe as the First Estonian-Chinese War, in the War of Independence. „The Estonian boys won soon their Yellow opponents. The Russians and the Chinese troops fled with fear to the woods.” For the two Eastern Sons, the Voika Bridge Battle ended sadly. At night, they were buried to the foothill of Vapramäe, on the Elva River’s bank. The Armored Train fighters repaired the Bridge by three days under the Red Army’s fire and after that they moved forward.

When in the 1960s, the students from University of Tartu Wild-Life protection Society, founded the Vapramäe hiking trail, under guidance of Jaan Eilart, then the Red Chinese grave places were marked with modest cobblestones. In 1970, during the Soviet occupation, when Jaan Pau began work in the Peedu Forest District, as the Vapramäe’s forest warden, the deceased Chinese had already a good stone, with the Estonian, Russian and Chinese words: „Everlasting fame for brave Chinese Red Army soldiers who fell in the struggle for Soviet Power.”


Someone’s pitiful hand has been five times pushed the heavy granite board down, once it was pulled away from his place. Jaan Pau carried a stone with difficulty back to his place, it was his work duty, but also his conviction. „They are still victims of the War of Independence, nevertheless of the fact that the Chinese were fighting on the Wrong Side.”
To Jaan Pau talked about the Tõravere’s battle, the school teacher August Turp, who lived until 106 years old.
The Turp’s story was that: „the dark race was brought into the war to intimidate the Estonians. The Chinese, however, turned out to be helpless, they had no clothing or proper weapons.”
Currently, the Chinese Grave and a ten-kilometer-long Vapramäe Hiking Trail are managed by Vapramäe-Vellavere-Vitipalu Foundation. Vapramägi was taken under protection in 1927 – it was then, already a popular outing. The Landscape Reserve, with a surface area of 100 hectares, was established in 1959.



       We finally got to the Vapramäe’s top.
       It was not easy, to bear you on shoulder.
       Now, let’s rest,
       take my hand
       and downhill rely on heels by your yourself.
       I'm not that old, to be weak,
       And you are not silly from youth, –
       maybe I can escort you, on your way,
       until you find the Sender,
       who are more than a Grandpa.
       Soon it’s the Time!
       Just now perhaps,
       when I met the gracile Girl,
       when Grandpa’s chaperone become your Grandma ...
       · · ·
       What beautiful day!
       How nice to walk,
       and have a talk, about the forest beauty,
       and later on, in Elva River,
       clean up your blueberry’s cheeks.
       My companions are birds songs,
       and squirrels swindlers strobilus throws,
       and candy striped milk mushrooms,
       which hidden yourself in the moss,
       and buzzing bee flies from flower to flower,
       and ants intolerable assiduousness,
       and above all sparkling heavens –
       great native mid-summer’s radiance.

These are excerpts from Paul Rummo’s poem „Jaak and Grandpa” from the anthology „Broken Yarn” (Tallinn, 1969). The Grandpa’s prototype is the author himself and Jaak – this is his Grandson Jaak Johanson. The Rummo’s family spent your summers in Vapramäe, in Writers Union’s Rest Home, in Peedumäe, as well as many other literary folks – Hando Runnel, Peter Olesk, Boris Kabur, Astrid Reinla, Kalju Kangur, Kersti Merilaas, they are just a few names.

Between Vapramäe and Peedumäe, along the Elva River, located Kerikmägi (these three hills are by the river, next to each other), with living prints from Middle of First Christian Millennium until to the year 1000, approximately. After that Kerikmägi or Peedu Town Hill, Estonian smallest by yard acreage, was by the Harri Mora’s words „lost its significance, thanks to the military technology developments, increasing the number of troops and the changed character of wars”.
In 1936, archaeologists, headed by Harri Moora, worked at Kerikmäe. Towards of Vapramäe, along to the road, their attention was attracted by the old fir-trees, whose strains appeared to be the cross signs. Right there, from gravel mine, came out a few hundred years old rings.
„It seems that this place had some meaning in the eyes of the old folks,” writes Harri Moora in his research report, which appeared in the publications of the Educated Estonian Society in 1939. According to archaeologist Tanel Moora, „that at in Kerikmäki was a church,” is just folklore (there are many materials in the Estonian Literary Museum that confirm this). Indeed, on the connecting mound between Kerikmägi and Vapramägi could be located a chapel, at the same area was also a road and the passageway over the Elva River.


According to Tanel Moora, during the Livonian War there were „chapels and holy pictures everywhere”, and they were found also during the Polish period following the Livonian War, said Heiki Valk, Head of the Archeology Department at the University of Tartu. According to Heiki Valk, such a chapel could be „from tree and tiny”. For example, four times seven meters. „There were no benches; surely there was a laconic altar, made from stone. The building could have a small tower,” visualizes the art historian Mare Kask. Sweden’s time brought to Livonia the grubbing of saints’ cult and destruction of chapels.
It is fascinating that the chapel, supposed location near to the Kalevipoeg’s Chair, is later mentioned as the holy place, even a spooky spot (by the river’s mound, on the Kalevipoeg’s Chair, maybe the Giant has been sitting and washed his feet). Today, the people even getting married in this spot.

Who drives along the old Riga’s road from Tartu to Elva, knows that, at after the Nõo, appears on the left side the forested hill of Vapramäe, which will follow you for a while (Vapramägi is 77.7 meters high). Five kilometers are good to run with him ... The forest, higher from the people's head, soothes, a high spruce wood, soothes – in the autumn and winter ...
The forest cannot disappear from Vapramäe, the inhabitants of this region believe in it – it protects us. Kersti Merilaas writes in the poem „On Vapramäe’s berm 2”:

       On slippery polished stairs,
       lives cunning and hypocrisy.
       I am old and tired.
       Hide me, Vapramägi!

       The powerful chatter of weapons,
       resounds through the antennas in here,
       in the silence of valley. In bread’s,
       feels a taste of metal.

       But the apple tree cradles
       the sleeping buds and the grandpas
       cover up beehives. Hide,
       hide us, Vapramägi!

Juhani Püttsepp
Autumn, 2018



Gea Järvela „Kolmetipuline mägi Elva jõe embuses” – Eesti Loodus, 2016, 1.
Herki Köbas, Juhani Püttsepp „Vaesed taevapojad langesid kuulsusetult Vapramäe all” – Tartu Postimees, 2. veebr. 2000, lk. 2.
Arvo Iital, Urmas Peterson, Jaan Eilart „Vapramäe-Voika-Tõravere looduse õpperada”, raamatus „Looduse õpperajad” Tallinn, 1986