Estonia is a country in the Baltic region of northern Europe. It is on the southern shore of the Gulf of Finland, across from Finland, and lies just north of Latvia. Its population is about 1.25 million, about one-third of whom live in the capital and largest city, Tallinn. The country’s official language, Estonian, is a member of the Finno-Ugric language family; thus, it is related only to Finnish and distantly to Hungarian.
The name Estonia came from either the Aesti tribes that lived in the region in Roman times, or the ancient Scandinavian land of Eistland (still its name in the Icelandic tongue)—or both. Human settlement dates back to around the 9th millennium B.C., after the last Ice Age ended. There were Vikings in Estonia as early as the 2nd century B.C., as mentioned by Egyptian historian Ptolemy.
Estonia declared its autonomy in 1917; it was occupied by the Soviets, the Nazis and the Soviets again before its independence was restored in 1991. Today Estonia is a parliamentary republic with both a president and a prime minister. It is a member of the United Nations, NATO and the European Union. The country has a well-educated labor force, particularly in the sciences, and some oil shale resources as well. Its main religion is Evangelical Lutheranism but according to some reports Estonia is one of the least religious countries in the world. There is a sizeable Russian community within Estonia and they tend to practice Eastern Orthodoxy. The country has an active cultural life, with literature, music, contemporary art and architecture.
Tallinn has a lovely, red-roofed medieval old town area, but it also has the Kadriorg district, a holdover from the time of the czars. Kadriorg Palace was built for Peter the Great, and the baroque Catherinethal was built for Catherine I. From Kadriorg park visitors can see the impressive Russalka Memorial, commemorating the loss of a Russian warship in 1893.