Estonian Manor Houses: Splendour, Forever Lost



20.06. – 30.08.2015

Cover photo: Lohu manor after the Revolution of 1905

Estonian Museum of Architecture’s this year’s summer exhibition explores a unique part of Estonian cultural history – the Estonian manor houses. For the first time, the main focus is on the interior design and the furnishings of the manors. According to the exhibition’s curator, Mati Raal, the aim is to be an impartial mediator of the life in a manor:

Everything that the visitor sees in the exhibition is genuine and honest. On the pictures of the interiors of the manors, the photos have frozen a time from a hundred years ago. This was the real life of a manor and of the people who lived in it. Noble posture and stylish clothes may cause confusion in identifying and differentiating between the estate owner and the servant.

The exhibition has been set up, both in terms of content as well as the design, in three connected parts. To tune the visitor in, the foyer of the museum and the staircase exhibit life-size pictures of the estate owners and the servants of the manors. In the Great Hall of the Rotermann Salt Storage, different interiors have been designed, such as the salon, the sitting room, the great hall, the porch and the cabinet. The exhibition features furniture from various museums and private collections, which characterises the era. The furniture is complemented by numerous photographs of the interiors and the milieu of the manors.

According to curator Mati Raal, the average size manor house would have had 20 rooms, 200 pieces of furniture, at least 100 paintings, in addition to innumerable amounts of porcelain, silver knives and forks, carpets, chandeliers and candlesticks. Altogether there were approximately 2 million items in Estonian manors, which nowadays are referred to as “cultural heritage”.

The third part of the exhibition tells the story of the decline of the manor culture. The first extensive eradication took place in 1905, when about 10% of all Estonian manors were burned. The next part of the period begins in 1919 with the dispossession process of the manors and continues with the last estate owner’s departure from Estonia in 1939. This signifies the end of the era of the manors in Estonia.

The scarce items – furniture, art, photographs and memories – that have preserved from the era of the manors have been gathered to the exhibition. Looking into what were once the great estate rooms tells a story about why this world seized to exist and hopefully sparks interest in a one-of-a-kind cultural environment.


Curator: Mati Raal
Designer: Anneliis Aunapuu
Film editing and sound design: Mati Schönberg

The exhibition is supported by Cultural Endowment of Estonia, Viking Window, Tsunftijänes, Interno

The Museum of Architecture would like to thank the Estonian History Museum, Estonian National Museum, Järvamaa Museum, Valga Museum and Tartu City Museum.