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Võõpsu village

Võõpsu Small Town is located in Põlva County. Võõpsu Small Town covers an area of 1.17 km2 and according to the Räpina Rurla Municipality register there are 227 people living there (as of 1 August 2012). One hundred seven households are in use all year round (as of year 2006).

Old people say that traditionally Estonians have known Võõpsu as Voosu (after the former name for Võhandu). Yet, the Russians started to pronounce Voosu as Voobsuu, which later transformed to Wõõbsu. This name lasted until 1924, when the name Võõpsu was taken into use in its current form.

Võõpsu Village was first mentioned in 1428; although a village across the river, in Setomaa, was meant. Yet, archaeological findings show that humans were present in the area long before that time. The Võõpsu area played an important role during the reign of Bishopric of Dorpat (now Tartu) and the Pskov Republic, when there were wooden defence towers and an ancient port located here. Võõpsu was a border village until 1706.

The Võõpsu Small Town located on this side of the river is said to have been established in 1857 by Sivers, a landlord from Räpina. Before that there had been an inn here, where wagons went to Pskov, Tartu, Võru and Riga. Also, there were army barracks here, which are considered to date back to the times of the Swedish-Russian wars. In 1857, the landlord had the lands of the Võõpsu herd manor divided into lots and sold these. In the development of the street network of Võõpsu Small Town the Räpina Highway was taken as the determinant. The highway had been used for hundreds of years and was part of the trade road crossing Võõpsu Village and going to Pskov. The characteristic of Võõpsu as a small town is its meticulously precise, regular chess-board street pattern. This infertile land, on which the first houses of Võõpsu were built, covers an area of 25 hectares. The citizens were mainly craftsmen and farm hands, who served at near-by manors and farms. By the turn of the century there were already as many as 108 houses in the town. In 1911 there were around 750 people living in Võõpsu.

During the second half of the 19th century Võõpsu grew into a large trade centre and a port – a little over 3 kilometres separates Võõpsu from the mouth of the Võhandu River. All traffic and goods traffic in the area passed through Võõpsu, the Võhandu River and Lake Peipus. In 1923, around 8000 passengers used the Võõpsu Port and 700 ships brought 1300 tons of goods, but carried away nearly six times as much (mainly wood and bricks). A century ago the small town, located at the mouth of the Võhandu River, could have easily have grown into a town. There were more than 20 trade companies here, including three roadhouses and taverns, many millineries, two beauty parlours, watchmakers, a photographer, cabinetmakers, tailors, two bakers, two butchers, a chemist’s and cosmetics shop. Seven times a year there were well-attended fairs taking place, the most famous of which was the Fair of Saint Nicholas, in December. People came here to get fish or clay pots. At the end of the 19th century a leather factory started work and in 1924 the port and the cobble stone paving of the main street were finished. There were passenger boats going between Tartu and Võõpsu, barges took goods to Tartu and to Pskov. Many societies were active…

These times are described by Richard Roht in his 1938 novel “Elutee” (Course of Life). The travels of small merchants from the capital of the travelling Seto people, Võõpsu, extended to half of Estonia.

Võõpsu had a rural municipality school by 1872, at the latest. It is known that eight years later there were 19 students in the school. During the first two decades of the 20th century there was also another school in Võõpsu – a private school for girls, established by Ida Asson. In a letter applying for the right to open a school, sent to the inspector of public education in the Võru region, Ida Asson notes the intention to open the school on 15 October 1901. She also noted that the issue of the school house and its lightening and also funding has been settled with the people involved. Teaching was planned in one class room with younger, middle and older student groups; the study period was 15 September to 15 May; the students were girls up to 14 years of age; number of students up to 40 girls. The school house was a building that had stood next to the Võõpsu herd manor castle, which has since been demolished. The studies were undertaken in Russian.

Võõpsu remained a small town until 1938, when the administrative reform made the small town into a small borough, or village, since the relative importance of the port was continuously decreasing and many people had lost their jobs. The last blow to the vitality of Võõpsu was made by a fire that took place on 12 May 1939. It destroyed 31 houses and 47 auxiliary buildings on Aia Street and along the Räpina Highway, including the building which held the society and the library. In total, the fire ravaged over a quarter of Võõpsu. As a result of that, the development of the whole settlement was inhibited. There were grave battles here in the autumn of 1944, when many of the houses along Veski Street were burnt.

In 1946, a wooden bridge was built between the village and the small town, which ended the ferry connection. After the war, ship traffic was also stopped from Võõpsu port. The last passenger boats visited Võõpsu in the 1950s. A new concrete bridge was constructed in 1968 (reconstructed in 2001). The largest change in the street network of the small town is the street passage going up to the new bridge. During the Soviet period Võõpsu was a labour village, home to many of the production units of the Räpina state farm technical school, and became an important fishing centre.

Although Võõpsu once had the opportunity to develop into a large town, history had its own plan and this did not happen. Võõpsu has since become a place to admire an orderly street network, with buildings remaining from the 1930s, the Church of Saint Nikolai, the former port area, and the cobble stone road. It is also a place to be merry during summer festivals and fairs on the square, in front of the fire brigade shed. There is a general merchandise shop and a library operating in Võõpsu.

There are two wooden icons protected as artistic monuments in the Võõpsu Orthodox Church: “Püha Gennadius” (Saint Gennady) and “Jumalaema sündimine” (The Birth of Madonna) (wood, oil, 18th century).

This is the place of birth of Daniel Palgi, literary critic and author of much research, and actor Olli Ungvere. Võõpsu was the home of the summer cottage of Voldemar Panso, a well-known and beloved Estonian actor and stage director.