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Government approves Haapsalu heritage protection order

Haapsalu toidutänav festival.
Haapsalu toidutänav festival. Source: Press materials.

The heritage protection area in the Western Estonian town of Haapsalu has been reorganized in an effort to make its operation more efficient.

The protection procedure differs from the by-laws relating to the heritage protection area in force up to now, in terms of providing greater clarity and flexibility, following the government adopting the relevant order last week.

The Heritage Protection Board (Muinsuskaitseamet) drafted the protection order last year. It will, among other changes, remove the current situation whereby any outhouse or otherwise uninspiring building within the protection zone is still subject to the same restrictions as a building of historical interest would be.

A three-tier categorization system will be put in place, while the same rationale is being applied to around a dozen heritage protection zones in Estonia on a case-by-case basis.

Haapsalu is famous for its 13th-century episcopal castle, and for its heritage as a spa town during both the later Tsarist era and in the inter-war period also.

Minister of Culture Heidy Purga (Reform) said: "Historical town centers are our key common property relating cultural heritage, and serve to create a unique identity for such places."

Minister of Culture Heidy Purga. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

"In addition to heritage protection, the updated order will help to better highlight the idiosyncrasies of Haapsalu's storybook character, and utilize the potential of its heritage in the development of the region and community." 

"Its romantic location adjacent to the sea, the medieval castle and the well-kept wooden lace architecture seen in the small old town are among the reasons why Haapsalu is a beloved place to rest and recuperate," she added.

The new protection order divides the buildings of the Haapsalu heritage protection area into three protection categories, which provide the basis for requirements in carrying out work. 

For the vast majority of heritage buildings, this means greater flexibility and fewer requirements, the ministry says.

Up to now, all buildings in the Haapsalu heritage conservation area had both interiors and exteriors considered valuable, from a protection perspective, but under the new regime, interior protection will disappear in the case of almost 96 percent of the buildings in the heritage conservation area, the ministry says.

Map of the protected zone in central Haapsalu. Source: Ministry of Culture

Nineteen of the 449 buildings in the area remain in the highest, or A protection category, where both interior and exterior protection applies.

The conditions for C protection category buildings, whose authentic preservation is not required, have also been significantly eased. There are 187 buildings in this category.

 The boundaries of the protection area have also been changed, so that the heritage conservation area can be perceived as a logical whole in the context of the urban space. 

The old town of Haapsalu is one of the most representative and well-preserved historical city centers in Estonia, the ministry says, and is outstanding in respect of its fully preserved historic street network and assortment of buildings, dating from the later Middle Ages to the 20th century.

In the latter case, beautiful examples of resort architecture have set the tone, forming a well-perceived urban space, the ministry adds.

On the basis of the Heritage Protection Act, which entered into force in 2019, the Heritage Protection Board is updating the order for the protection of all heritage protection areas. 

The historical heart of Haapsalu has been under state protection since 1973, while the statute of the heritage protection area, which has regulated construction activities hitherto, was established in 2005.  

More info (in Estonian) including a clickable map of the area is here.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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