The Marian Church (Maarja in Est) is the most majestic structure of the city. It was probably founded by a bishop of the Bernardine religious order around 1240. As the monks of the Bernardine order loved valleys and respected reserved manners the church was built in the valley. However, it is quite probable that long before in the place of the present church ancient Estonians had a sacred grove (traditionally called hiis) and a place where they made sacrifices.
Legend has it that a girl was immured in the wall of the church in a kneeling position and thus the place came to be called Põlva (the Estonian word põlv means knee in English).
The church of Põlva has suffered a lot during different wars. It is known from history that at the beginning of the Swedish time the church was in ruins for about twenty years. After the devastating Great Northern War the rebuilding of the church began. The records preserved in the egg-shaped stand of the cock at the top of the tower of the church tell us that in 1726 Weiso Peter from Väimela presented the church of Põlva with a gilded cock and egg. The same cock of Weiso Petri is still at the top of the tower and is, full of hope, looking into the future.
The Cultural Centre, which lies next to the park that is dedicated to Jakob Hurt, was opened in 1991 and received the title of the best building of the year in the republic. Today the structure houses the Maarja Gallery with permanent art exhibitions, a cafe, a hall for dancing and a concert hall, an art school and a youth gallery. If you want to enjoy the most spectacular view of Põlva you have to climb the steps to the terrace on the roof.
The Intsikurmu open-air stage, located in a forest-park, is a popular place of public festivals. Regardless of season it is a place for recreation: you can walk, enjoy the nature and meditate in peace or partake of a party here. Intsikurmu as a suitable place for outdoor festivals was “discovered” by Jaan Vahtra, a young teacher of the nearby Metste village school, who later became a well-known artist and writer. He suggested Intsikurmu for a parish song festival. The first Estonian song festivals were held in Põlva in 1855 and 1857.
A Festival of the City of Põlva is organised every May. If you happen to visit the city then, you can participate in a number of lively events
In summer the best place in Põlva is certainly the beach of the lake, which offers lots of bathing and swimming pleasures. Both the young and old can share the brilliant sun, clean water and warm air!
There are also several sports facilities in Põlva: you can practice sports in the indoor sports center, in the stadium or in the Fitness Centre, which has also an indoor swimming-pool.
Suur ja Väike Taevaskoda [Big and Small House of Heaven] form the Taevaskoja popular nature park, which has been considered a sacred place of the Estonians in ancient times. In the last century lots of folk parties were held in Taevaskoja while today it is a natural attraction for hikers. During your walk in Taevaskoja you can admire Neitsikoobas [Maiden’s Cave], Salakuulaja kivi [Spy’s Stone] and Emaläte [Mother’s Spring], swim in the river and take a rest in front of a 24-metre-high Devonian sandstone wall at Suur Taevaskoja. Those who like longer hikes can choose a more difficult trail or ride on horseback through the scenes of the most popular Estonian movie The Last Relict. Those who are eager to enjoy the kaleidoscopic views of nature in the primeval valley of the Ahja River may embark on a canoeing trip or a 3-km-cruise along the river aboard a riverboat called Lonny.