Narva Coat of Arms
Ivanorgod Coat of Arms

Narva is the third largest city in Estonia, it is located in Ida-Viru County in the east of the country where it borders Russia. It is seperated from its twin city of Ivanorgod by the Narva river which drains Lake Peipus. As a border city it’s ownership has changed over the centuries, with Russians and Swedes contesting ownership between the 15th and 17th centuries.

The status of Narva was finally resolved in a July 1917 referendum, when the district population, roughly equally divided between ethnic Russians and Estonians at that time, voted to attach itself to the soon to be independent republic of Estonia. Narva became part of an independent Estonia in 1918, at the end of World War I. The town saw fighting during the Estonian War of Independence. The war started in Narva on 28 November 1918; on the next day the city was captured by the Red Army. Russia retained control of the city until 19 January 1919. Heavy battles occurred in and around Narva in World War  with most of the city, including most of the Baroque Old Town being destroyed by Soviet forces in 1944.

It’s twin city of Ivangorod, part of Estonia in 1920 following the Treaty of Tartu was finally seperated from Narva in 1945 and was made part of the Leningrad Oblast in the Russian SFSR. Ivangorod received the official status of town in 1954. When Estonia regained its independence in 1991, Narva again became a border city. A referendum supported the notion of establishing a “Transnarovan SSR” but was countered by local polls who overwhelmingly supported remaining part of Estonia. According to the 2011 census 95.7% of the population of Narva are native Russian speakers, and 87.7% are ethnic Russians. Ethnic Estonians account for 5.2% of total population. The majority of the population had lived in the area for many years.

Concerns amongst the Russian speaking population relate to the new citizenship and language test requirements. Recently, the Estonian President has moved her office to the city and inward investment has increased including creating a new College in the centre of the town. Russians in this area whilst supportive of Putin are not interested in any way in rejoining Russia. Looking across the river highlights the differences in standards of living and opportunities.

The Baroque Old Town Hall
New College

Narva is dominated by the border which follows the course of the river through the town. There are 3 border crossings within the town. Narva 1 which is the main road and pedestrian crossing point. The border crossing facilities extend into the town. Narva 2 is the newly renovated pedestrian crossing point for Estonian and Russian citizens only (or third country nationals with a residence permit). The final crossing point is the railway bridge. The river is 300m wide and therefore it is possible to see the Russian side clearly.

Narva and Ivanorgod are characterised by their 2 competing castles. Ivangorod Fortress and Hermann Castle, both developed in competition with one another and now face each other at the external border of the EU. Both are museums, with Ivanorgod Castle only accessible from Narva with a Russian visa. EU investment on both sides of the river led to the creation of promenades, the Russian one being a lot shorter and costing more! Plans for a cross border bus service are on hold due to Russian costs.

Bordermarkers #638 – #640

Russia is only 300m away.

Estonian Fisherman with Russia across the river
Russian Border Guards
Russian Border Guards


  1. Two Border Cities Share Russian History — and a Sharp European Divide NYT (November 2017) Article
  3. Narva: The EU’s ‘Russian’ city DW (May 2019) Article

Date of Visit: 15th/16th December 2019

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