“If the mountain won’t come to Muhammad, then Muhammad must go to the mountain” may be among the most overused proverbs in human history. But this Turkish folk wisdom rings true in Estonia.
“We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender,” Winston Churchill said famously, most recently through Gary Oldman in “The Darkest Hour.” It was a captivating film, albeit we didn’t see much fighting–at least in its traditional physical sense. In addition, we didn’t see any of the hills the prime minister spoke about with such passion. But there are incredible hills in Estonia, even if it is overall the flattest country in the known world.
The area of highest elevation in Estonia is called Haanja Upland (or Haanja Highland, should one prefer a truly “Scots” moniker). This upland area continues into neighboring Latvia and is at Estonia’s highest point, one known as Suur Munamägi or Big Egg Mountain (but we’ll stick to the original name for obvious reasons).
Suur Munamägi, as a matter of fact, is the highest peak in all of the three Baltic states. At over a thousand feet above sea level, there are much higher points, even in Europe, but when you see the gorgeous views from the tower on the hilltop, you will not want to leave.
The tower is a remarkable sight in its own right. It was originally built in 1939, using over 36,000 bricks and 80 tons of cement, all of which required men to carry it to the top of the hill. The tower has since been remodeled numerous times, most recently in 2005. So if you think seeing lovers at the top of Empire State Building has become too much of a cliché, then bring your boy-finally-meets-girl scene to Suur Munamägi. You will not be disappointed, and neither will your audience.
Another notable high point in Estonia is the Sinimäed (Blue) Hills, three linked hills in the northeastern part of the country. The peaks are aligned from west to east, and are called Tornimägi, Põrguaugu mägi (aka Grenadierimägi) and Pargimägi (aka Lastekodumägi), but none of these “aka” options are easy for anyone to say or spell who isn’t a native speaker.
The Sinimäed Hills also have an abundance of controversial history attached to them: In the summer of 1944, the Waffen-SS defeated a Soviet offensive here. There were many Estonians fighting alongside the Germans, not for the love of Nazism, but because they hoped to avoid a full-blown Soviet occupation (which, alas, eventually occurred anyway). Fighting alongside Nazis also created many controversies–and does even to this day–but Estonian history is far too complicated to understand from a traditional point of view, and the Sinimäed Hills are a monument to that fact. Anyway, if you need to recreate something like the Battle of Tannenberg or some other military situation, your crew and camera will find these hills an ideal place! The hills also lie conveniently close to Sillamäe, a picturesque town with the most spectacular examples of Stalin-era architecture in Estonia.
“If the mountain won’t come to Muhammad, then Muhammad must go to the mountain” may be among the most overused proverbs in human history. But this Turkish folk wisdom rings true in this case. Consider pretending to be Muhammad for a week and coming to these mountains.
Photos: Vist Estonia