The exhibition of the history of Viljandimaa begins with prehistoric exhibits. The tools, household items, weapons and decorations date from the period from the Middle Stone Age to the 1st quarter of the 13th century. The probable one-time usage of the exhibits is depicted on drawings by J. Ratas. A model of the Lõhavere stronghold, the most extensively excavated hill-fort of that period in Estonia, a reproduction of a treasure box found at Lõhavere and a figure of an ancient Estonian warrior illustrate the display.
The exhibition of the Middle Ages and Early Modern Period in Viljandimaa reflects the life in this area and the architecture of Viljandi castle from mid-13th century to the beginning of the 17th century. The central exhibit in the gallery is the model of the castle of Viljandi and the column capitals found during the archaeological excavations in the castle ruins in 1878–1879. The displayed items, mostly from the Castle of Viljandi and the medieval town area, display both the one-time German “high society” (e.g. glass vessels, chess pieces), town artisans (stave dishes, tools, processing remains) and items distributed to the peasant living in villages (e.g. needles, clay pots, iron tools). Military exhibits from the times of the destruction of the stronghold, the period of the Livonian and the Polish–Swedish Wars constitute a separate part of the exhibition.
The fourth room is dedicated to the history of the town and county of Viljandi from the 17th to the 19th century. Here documents and objects from the manors and farms of Viljandimaa are displayed. A part of the exhibition is formed of the material reflecting the Municipality of Viljandi: official decorations, seals etc.
In the next two rooms the visitor can learn about Estonian peasant culture. A life-size model of a kiln-drying room of barn-dwellings, typical to Estonia, introduces the visitor to the household items and peasant furniture once used in Viljandimaa. In a separate room folk costumes are displayed on mannequins. Decorations and handicraft items seen in smaller displays give an idea of the sense of beauty of the inhabitants of Viljandimaa through centuries.
On the second floor the permanent exhibition continues with the 2nd half of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century in Viljandimaa. The exhibits provide an overview of the economic, cultural, educational and political history of the county. The visitor can see what was produced in Viljandimaa before 1918, what the local business life was like, what kind of innovations were introduced – the railway, telephone etc. A brief summary is given of Estonians’ and Germans’ social life and the local schools.
The major political events of the early 20th century are dealt with – the Russian revolutions and World War I, up to the events of the German occupation after the Republic of Estonia had been proclaimed on February 24th, 1918. The society-house resting corner is arranged like a typical lounge in a public building at the turn of the century.
The next part of the exhibition shows the independence period in Estonia (1918–1940). In addition to the general development of the county, the visitor can also see the military collections and a collection of radio sets of that period. The collections of three Estonian army officers – lieutenant colonel Martin-Friedrich Bergmann, lieutenant colonel Artur Tenno and colonel Johannes-August Vellerind – include personal weapons, items, decorations and documents. One can also see the prize cups and horns collection of the Sakala (Viljandimaa) regional unit of Estonian Defence League, found during the museum renovation works in 1999.
In the section illustrating the destruction of the Republic of Estonia and the period of World War II, there are propaganda materials from the years 1940–1944, small arms and light weapons, as well as military equipment of the Soviet and the German army.
The post-war collective farm period is visualised in the dioramas, created in 1955–1957 by the artist J. Muks and renovated in 1999. The dioramas depict the machinery and work procedures that were used in the collective farms in the countryside. In the same room, there is also a place for watching documentary films, shot from the 1920s onwards.
On the ground floor there is a small room for short-time exhibitions, which show some aspect of the history of Viljandimaa or Estonia. So there is something new at the museum every month!
Additional information can be obtained from the museum’s website, yearbooks of the museum (in Estonian, with summaries in English) and the reading room of the library of the museum.