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The first approximate historical data of Põlvamaa originate from the 13th century. Around 1240 one of the bishops of the Bernhardian munk order established Maarja church. The Bernhardians loved valleys and respected modesty and therefore the church was started to be built.

According to legend the Devil was vandalizing the church every night. To get help the Wise Man was turned to and he ordered to mure someone into the wall. Next day it was asked who wants to keep the church keys. Someone called Maarja agreed. The keys were put into the hands of the girl and she was mured on knees into the wall. Since that day the Devil was no longer vandalizing the church and the construction works were successfully completed. The church got its name also based on this young girl.

The first written records of Põlva originate from 1452. Then Põlva parish belonged to the composition of Tartu bishopric. As a result of the Livonian war Põlva parish went under Russian power up to the year 1582 when the whole Southern Estonia went over to Poland. As a result of the Swedish-Polish wars Põlva parish became the part of Tartumaa in the Livonian province.

The whole Estonia and Livonia were passed to Russia with Uusikaupunki peace contract concluded after the Northern War. In 1783 Põlva parish was connected with Võrumaa. During the whole tsar period Põlva was a modest church village. During the Republic of Estonia Põlva was on a strong track.

One development and expansion reason was the completion of Tartu-Petseri railway in November 1931 which involved the livening of economic activities. On 10 August 1993 Põlva got the status of the city.

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