Sillamäe: An Underrated Town With Many Faces
For many Estonians, Sillamäe is almost a no-go-zone, perhaps because of its mainly Russian population, an inheritance from the Soviet occupation.
The Swedish have a phrase, “home blindness,” which refers to our inability to lose sight of to the little details when we’re very familiar with a place.
For Estonians, it could be said that they’re a little home blind with some of the towns that sit along the Russian border.
Estonians may adore the picturesque Old Town in the heart of capital city Tallinn or brag about quaint Tartu. But when it comes to lesser-known towns, especially in the Northeastern part of the country, we sometimes think of them as places of little value.
One of the most underrated Estonian towns is probably the small town of Sillamäe. For many Estonians, it’s almost a no-go-zone, perhaps because of its mainly Russian population, an inheritance from the Soviet occupation.
Sillamäe, population 13,666, sits on the southern coast of the Gulf of Finland. Back in the 19th century, Sillamäe was a resort town for some well-known Russian names at the time, like Tchaikovsky. But during WWII it was mostly inhabited by people working at the local uranium plant, including Nazi concentration camp prisoners. Today, we see the town’s brightly-colored display of near-pristine Stalinist neoclassical architecture as a ray of hope against its dark history, though if you look closely, you may still find communist symbols on building doors.
Should you fancy some unusual architecture from another era, you’ll find Khrushchyovkas in Sillamäe. The five-story walk-up “disposable” apartment buildings developed during the early 1960s as a quick and cheap way to house families. Though sometimes plain in nature, they could easily be a stark backdrop for a film depicting themes like poverty and communism.
There is plenty of beauty in Sillamäe, which you will see as you walk towards the town square, where Stalinist neoclassical architecture takes center stage. The Town Hall and Cinema Building are just two of the many wonderful examples of the style.
But beyond the square lies the sea, which is visible as one gazes down the length of Mere Boulevard, flanked all the way down by even more stunning examples of Stalin era architecture. the picturesque grand boulevard is flanked by rows of green trees and a number of spectacular houses, making a walk down to the waterfront a truly unique experience.
Should your script contain a romantic walk — or any type of walk, really — saying that this backdrop is worthy is an understatement.
There are many ways to elevate a city’s confidence and one would be bringing in a major movie production, something that hasn’t happened yet, but surely will. Sillamäe is one of the European cities that needs to be central in a film, and when the first is made, there will be many others to follow.
Not enough people know of this unique little town or celebrate its beauty, a fact which, along with the relatively low cost of filming, make it a dream for movie producers.
Sillamäe is a real hidden treasure, as is a cash rebate of up to 30% on eligible production costs, which you can apply for should you choose to film in Sillameä or anywhere else in Estonia.
Photos: Location Unit – Helen Västrik, Hannes Paldrok