Estonia had 26,578 monuments under state protection (2014).These include 6,622 archaeological monuments (settlement sites, burial sites, offering stones, sacred groves, wrecked ships, etc.), 5,253 built monuments (buildings, bridges, manor parks), 1,264 historical monuments (places linked to significant people or historical events, War of Independence memorials, cemeteries, etc.), and a large number of artistic monuments – 13,516 in total.
Protection of cultural heritage is concentrated on single objects as well as whole areas – ensembles of houses, town quarters and settlements. To protect the environment the government has established 12 heritage conservation areas which include the historic town centres of Tallinn, Tartu, Narva, Kuressaare, Pärnu, Valga, Võru, Viljandi, Paide, Rakvere and Lihula. Rebala heritage conservation area is protected because of its valuable cultural landscape. In 2013, Estonia celebrated the year of Cultural Heritage.
The overall responsibility for heritage lies with the Ministry of Culture. Monuments and sites of historical, architectural and archaeological value are protected by the Heritage Conservation Act (2002). The objective of the act is to ensure that monuments, sites and heritage conservation areas are preserved in their traditional environment. To preserve cultural heritage, monuments and conservation areas are promoted, protected, and governed by various legal acts. In another hand, education and research on cultural heritage are enhanced. An independent Heritage Conservation Council is the statutory adviser to the Ministry of Culture on heritage conservation policies.
National Heritage Board is the state body charged with heritage legislation, protection and conservation activities. Its tasks include supervision, advice for the owners of monuments, support for renovation, and maintenance of the national cultural heritage registry. The National Heritage Board is represented in every 15counties. Major towns, such as Tallinn, Tartu, Pärnu, Haapsalu and Narva, have contracted heritage specialists to fulfill heritage conservation obligations in their territories.
Information on monuments and protected sites is available on the web registry or from local heritage specialists.
Various heritage NGOs are actively involved in preserving and maintaining cultural heritage in Estonia as for instance the Estonian Heritage Society which brings together several organizations like the Union of Estonian Archaeologists or the Society of Estonian Archivists .
Sustainable Renovation Information Centres in Tallinn, Tartu, Paide and Läänemaa offer consultations, training and practical workshops for owners of historical buildings. Private heritage organisations include also the Estonian Manor Association, whose members promote and introduce historic manor ensembles in Estonia; the Society of Schools in Manor Houses , Union of Estonian Restorers , Union of Estonian Conservators and a number of community societies.
The Restoration of cultural monuments is financed by the state, local governments, and private owners. The Ministry of Culture finances the study and preservation (incl. maintenance) of rural architecture and landscapes, according to the development plan “Rural architecture and landscapes.
Estonia participates in the work of the following organizations and institutions:
- Monitoring Group on Cultural Heritage in the Baltic Sea States – in 2014–2015 Estonia serves as the Presidency of this working group.
- Council of Europe
- ICOMOS (International Council on Monuments and Sites)
- ICCROM (International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property)
- Europa Nostra – pan-European association of voluntary heritage conservation organisations.
- DOCOMOMO (Working Party for Documentation and Conservation of Buildings, Sites and Neighborhoods of the Modern Movement) – an international network to record and protect 20th-century architecture.
- EAC (Europae Archaeologiae Consilium) – an international organisation to unite the state institutions (authorities, inspectorates, agencies, and directorates) of European countries, which handle the protection of archaeological heritage.
- EAA (European Archaeological Association)
- ASCE (Association of Significant Cemeteries of Europe)
List of main national legislation:
- Heritage Conservation Act
- Implementing provisions of the Heritage Conservation Act (in Estonian):
- Act on the Export and Import of Cultural Goods (in Estonian):
- Act on the Export and Import of Cultural Goods (in English):
- General Principes of cultural policy until 2020
Estonia has joined a number of international conventions, the principles of which form the foundation of heritage conservation work:
- The Hague Convention on protection of cultural heritage in case of armed conflict, 1954. (ratified in 1995)
- The UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of cultural Property, 1970. (ratified in 1995)
- The Unesco Convention on the Protection of Cultural and Natural Heritage, 1972. ratified in 1995)
- Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of Archaeological Heritage, 1992. (ratified in 1996)
- Council of Europe Convention on the Protection odf Architectural Heritage, 1985. (ratified in 1996).
- II Protocol of the Hague Convention on Protection of cultural Heritage in case of Armed Conflict, 1999 (ratified in 2004)
- UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, Paris 2003. (approved in 2006)
UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, Paris 2005. (approved in 2006).Currently, preparations are ongoing to join the UNESCO Convention for the Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage