Rural Municipality, Town and City

Areas of manorial estates became known as rural municipalities during the Swedish reign (1629-1710). Rural municipalities as communal self-government units were formed when serfdom was abolished in the province of Estonia in 1816 and in the province of Livonia in 1819. The borders of rural municipalities coincided with the borders of manorial estates and there were many rural municipalities without an integral territory. Rural municipalities started to take over the responsibilities formerly discharged by squires; however, squires maintained their control over rural municipalities. Only the 1866 Rural Municipalities Act released peasants’ self-government institutions from under supervision of squires.

Throughout the history, 71 settlements have had the city or town rights on the territory of Estonia (counting Uus-Pärnu and Vana-Pärnu as separate settlements). Some of them are little known today. For example, the settlement of Küttejõu located on the south-eastern border of the city of Kiviõli was a separate town in 1945-1954 later to be merged with Kiviõli.

In 1920, there were twelve cities - Haapsalu, Kuressaare, Narva, Paide, Paldiski, Petseri, Pärnu, Tallinn, Tartu, Valga, Viljandi and Võru - and eight towns - Jõgeva, Jõhvi, Kilingi-Nõmme, Narva-Jõesuu, Nõmme, Otepää, Tapa and Türi - in Estonia. The same year, also Antsla, Kunda, Kärdla, Mõisaküla, Põltsamaa and Võõpsu were granted the town rights. The town rights were granted to Kallaste, Mustvee, Sindi and Tõrva in 1921, to Elva and Suure-Jaani in 1923, to Keila in 1925 and to Mustla in 1926. Heated discussions over the position and rights of towns within the local self-government system began already then. In 1926, the Government granted five towns – Nõmme, Põltsamaa, Tapa, Tõrva and Türi – the city rights at the request of their citizens. That left 17 towns the inhabitants of which had not expressed a clear wish to have their towns become cities. Over the following dozen years, however, certain changes took place. Tõrva was granted the city rights in 1927 and Otepää in 1936.

At the board meeting of the Association of Estonian Cities on 26 April 1934, the issue of granting towns the city rights was discussed and a conclusion was reached that “uniformity with cities in terms of both governance and supervision” would be better “so it was decided to ask the Government to grant viable towns the city rights while others would be merged with rural municipalities while effecting the reform of rural local governments.”

Towns were abolished with the Cities Act that took effect on 1 May 1938. Pursuant to law, 14 towns were granted the city rights – Antsla, Elva, Jõgeva, Jõhvi, Kallaste, Keila, Kilingi-Nõmme, Kunda, Kärdla, Mustla, Mustvee, Mõisaküla, Sindi and Suure-Jaani. Narva-Jõesuu, a city district of Narva, established pursuant to the Act by merging the town of Narva-Jõesuu with the city of Narva maintained its status. Pursuant to the Cities Act, the town of Võõpsu was merged with the rural municipality of Räpina being the only town that was “degraded”.

A new wave of establishing towns began in 1945 when Abja-Paluoja, Aegviidu, Ambla, Järva-Jaani, Järvakandi, Kehra, Kohila, Kohtla, Küttejõu, Lihula, Märjamaa, Narva-Jõesuu, Nuia (Karksi-Nuia since 1987), Pärnu-Jaagupi, Rapla, Räpina, Võhma and Vändra were granted the town rights (all in all, 18 settlements became towns). In the late 1940s, several other changes were introduced in the network of Estonian cities and towns. In 1946, Kiviõli and Kohtla-Järve were granted the city rights. In 1948, Ahtme, Loksa, and Sompa, and, in 1949, Lavassaare, Sillamäe and Tootsi became towns. If we were to add that in 1950, Kukruse and Viivikonna became towns then it becomes clear that the most drastic changes in the network of urban settlements took place in the rapidly urbanised region of oil shale production in the late 1940s.

Significant changes in the network of Estonian urban settlements took also place in the 1950s. In 1953, Ahtme was granted the city rights maintaining its status until 1960 when it was merged with Kohtla-Järve. In 1954, Püssi and Tamsalu became towns. Küttejõu lost the city rights in 1957, and Kohtla and Kukruse in 1959. Jõhvi lost the city rights in 1960 and was merged with the city of Kohtla-Järve. In 1957, Sillamäe, a special regime settlement during the Soviet period because of military manufacturing plants (processing radioactive material) was granted the city rights; in order to visit the city a special permit had to be received from Moscow. It was sufficient to apply for a permit in Leningrad (now St Petersburg) to gain access to the closed navy base in Paldiski. The security forces located in the republic issued permissions to visit other areas in the border zone of Estonia, including the islands. Thus, all the changes to the network of urban settlements in the 1950s took place in the former Viru County and within the borders of the present day Ida-Viru County, except for the town of Tamsalu.

Within the following thirty years, the network of our urban settlements changed relatively little. In 1961, Väike-Maarja and Põlva were granted the town rights (Väike-Maarja lost them already in 1963); in 1971, Võsu and in 1973 Saue (under the city soviet of Tallinn) became towns. In 1979, Mustla lost the city rights and Ambla the town rights, and both became small towns that were then considered rural settlements. In 1987, Järva-Jaani lost the town rights. In 1980, Maardu (under the city soviet of Tallinn) was granted the city rights. It should be mentioned that in 1945-1961, a distinction was made in Estonia between the so-called city-type small towns, small towns of workers and resort small towns.

In the mid-1970s, the record keeping on rural settlements was reorganised and, as a result, there were only 3,500 settlements in Estonia from 1 January 1976 onward instead of former 7,100 settlements, i.e. the number was reduced two times. In about a decade already, the then campaign of abolishing settlements, albeit statistical ones and dividing them into settlements with a future and settlements without one, was severely and justly criticized. It had increased and sped up the process of areas becoming peripheral. In 1990-2000, a number of villages excluded from the register regained their status (in 2006, there were close to 5,000 settlements in Estonia); however, it will not bring back a significant number of people who left the villages. Almost a hundred villages in the register of settlements have no inhabitants.

It can be said that the Soviet era was beneficial for Tallinn in terms of the territory. The territory of the city was more than doubled by the central government of the republic without even as much as consulting the village soviets that had to relinquish their land. In 1940, the area of Tallinn was 71 km2 and by 1975, it had increased to 175 km2. The territory of Tallinn is 159 km2 since the cities of Saue and Maardu were granted the self-governing status and are no longer under Tallinn.

By 1990, there were 6 independent cities, 27 district cities and 24 towns in Estonia. In addition to the city of Maardu and the town of Saue being a part of Tallinn, the town of Narva-Jõesuu was a part of Narva, the city of Kiviõli and the towns of Püssi and Viivikonna were a part of Kohtla-Järve and the city of Sindi was a part of Pärnu. There were a total of 57 urban settlements in Estonia.

Details about this article