The Baltic city, founded by Danes in the 13th century, rose to become an important member of the Hanseatic League. The nucleus of the old city of Reval is the cathedral hill, on which the mighty towers and walls of the former fortifications can be seen.

Tallinn Old Town: Facts

Official title: Tallinn Old Town (Reval)
Cultural monument: Old town and others with the Aleksandr Nevsky Cathedral, a symbol of Russification, with the Gothic Church of the Holy Spirit, the Parish Church of St. Nicholas, the Cathedral Church of St. Mary, the oldest church in Estonia, the Church of St. Olaf with 124 m high tower; also the town hall square with the Gothic town hall and the Ratsapotheke (founded in 1422), the house of the Blackheads, the house of the Olaf guild, the house of the knighthoods and the old town wall with 19 towers
Continent: Europe
Country: Estonia
Location: Tallinn (Reval)
Appointment: 1997
Meaning: a remarkable urban ensemble from the Middle Ages to modern times

Tallinn Old Town: History

1154 Tallinn shown as “Kolywan” on a map by the Arab cartographer Idrisi
1219 Part of the Danish Kingdom, foundation of the first cathedral church
1229-33 Construction of St. Mary’s Cathedral
1248 Granting of town charter
1284 Member of the Hanseatic League
1346 Sale of the Danish territories of Estonia to the Teutonic Order
1407-10 Construction of the House of the Great Guild
1475-83 Construction of the cannon tower »Kiek in de Kök«
1510-29 Construction of the »Fat Margarete« cannon tower
1561 Takeover of Tallinn by the Swedes
1684 Fire on Toompea
1700-21 Sweden lost Estonia in the course of the Northern War
1881 with the accession to the throne of Alexander III. intensive russification of Estonia
1941-44 under German occupation
since September 1991 Tallinn again capital of Estonia
April 27, 2007 Riots after the implementation of a Russian (Soviet) war memorial
2011 Together with Turku, Tallinn is the European Capital of Culture

Fairytale scenery with a view of the sea

One likes to wonder what makes a city unique: its buildings or its location. The hill, on which the bishops of Reval – today’s Estonian capital Tallinn – built the country’s first stone church in the 13th century and where changing secular lords built a castle, rises only slightly above the nearby Gulf of Finland. But because there is only this one prominent hill far and wide on its south coast, a city complex was created here, to whose charm the natural features contribute as much as in hardly any other former Hanseatic metropolis.

If Tallinn’s silhouette is characterized on the one hand by the relief of the terrain, the church towers seem to want to reflect the existing contour: From the upper end of the merchant town, which nestles east of the Toompea, St. Nikolai towers above the cathedral, which is inferior despite its higher location. Both are again vertically clasped by the imposing Olaikirche. In addition to such a purely optical harmony, when looking at old Tallinn, a harmony can be felt, which is probably based on the fact that even a still more seamlessly preserved city could not show its medieval structure more vividly. Without having to be guided expertly, For example, the former coexistence of legally independent sub-towns is revealed – tangible in the form of the gate towers above the only two direct connections between the »cathedral« and the lower town. The visitor has the opportunity to puzzle when he sees the slender octagonal towers of the town hall and the Church of the Holy Spirit for the first time over the roofs, for example from a terrace of the Toompea. Their status as Tallinn’s landmark is due to the fact that they so skilfully hide which is the sacred building and which is the profane building.

One question arises a few streets away on the Patkul terrace: Who is it named after? After the architect of an anti-Swedish coalition that forcibly ended a century and a half of Swedish rule over northern Estonia, or after the last Swedish lieutenant governor, who in 1710 preferred to surrender the city to the tsar over the risk of continuing to defend it? When looking down at a particularly intact section of the late medieval wall ring and at the Olaikirche, telling testimony to a much earlier presence of Scandinavians in Estonia, everyone would be inclined to give the honor to the patkul to whom the old town owes its integrity, and by no means to the one who she had previously put at risk.

However, the ensemble was to experience two negligent injuries. According to franciscogardening, a wave of russification that broke out in the Baltic provinces of Estonia, Livonia and Courland, which were administered by a German upper class at the end of the 19th century, gave Reval an Orthodox cathedral on the Toompea – the most suitable place for a symbol of power, but the most unfortunate place for an architectural foreign body. The loss of a few streets around the Nikolaikirche due to bombs from World War II seems more painful. The simple reconstruction, which was not based on the previous one, has at least the result that eight centuries of styles are present in the old town. The late Gothic stone church is now a museum and concert hall.

Another pearl in Tallinn’s old town is the House of the Blackheads, the facade of which is in the style of the Dutch Renaissance of the 16th century. On the outside are the coats of arms of the Hanseatic offices of Bruges, Novgorod, London and Bergen. The small Ratsapotheke on Rathausplatz can also look back on a long history. It was founded in 1422 and is the oldest pharmacy still in operation in Europe!

Maintaining the Hanseatic heritage of the Estonian capital is very important, as it is also a major tourist attraction for visitors from all over the world. However, this does not mean a standstill – Tallinn, the European Capital of Culture in 2011, combines historical heritage with state-of-the-art architecture and the claim to be a scientific and economic center of the European Union. Galleries, new museums such as the futuristic »Kumu« art museum, the new Rotermann design district in the former industrial area as well as the new synagogue inaugurated in 2007 and the waterfront promenade that opened in 2011 make the Estonian capital a lively and fascinating gem in the Baltic region between the Middle Ages, the IT boom and Soviet relics.

Tallinn Old Town (World Heritage)

Tallinn Old Town (World Heritage)
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