19 November 2016

Planned my day over breakfast.


Walked first to Toompea Hill, which reigns over Lower Town. Together they comprise Old Town.

I started at Freedom Square. Erected in 2009, the Victory Column commemorates the 4,000 Estonians who lost their lives during the War of Independence (1918-1920), one of many that followed the Soviet overthrow of the Russian Empire.


Just behind stands Kiek in de Kok. Built in 1475 by the Livonian Confederation, Kiek in de Kok is the mightiest tower that remains of the 46 towers that were once incorporated into the medieval city walls.


After their defeat in 1236 at the Sun Battle in Siauliai, the Livonian Brothers were incorporated into the larger Teutonic State as the Livonian Order. Ironically, it was the Livonian Order alone to withstand the dissolution of the Teutonic State at the Battle of Grunwald in 1410. They retained control of their historic territory (roughly Estonia and Latvia) under the guise of the Livonian Confederation, until their defeat during the Livonian War of 1558-1583. Tallinn was relinquished to the Kingdom of Sweden. Cannon balls from that war can still be found lodged into Kiek in de Kok.


The 38 meter tower now houses a rather unimpressive museum. It did make for some impressive views of the city though.

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral stands nearby. It is the dominating landmark of Toompea Hill. Built in Russian Revival style, it was ordered by Tsar Alexander III in 1894. It serves the Russian Orthodox community of Estonia. Named for Saint Alexander Nevsky of Russia who defeated the Livonian Order at battle in 1242, it was meant as a symbol of Russian supremacy. The Russians conquered Estonia from the Swedes during the Great Northern War (1700-1721).


The cathedral faces Toompea Castle, built by Estonians in the early years of the last millennium. The Danes conquered the region in 1219 from the Estonians, who would not again enjoy independence for 800 years. In 1346 the Danish sold their Baltic holdings to the Teutonic Order, who rebuilt the castle entirely.


Tall Hermann Tower still dominates the castle skyline at 48 meters tall. It functioned then as both a fortress and a monastery, in true crusader style.


Under Swedish rule, Toompea Castle functioned as an administrative centre of political power in Estonia, a purpose the castle retained through Russian occupation until the present. It is now the seat of the Estonian Parliament.


Walked down a pleasant medieval street to reach Dome Church.


Founded by the Danish in 1219, it is the oldest church in Estonia. It serves the Lutheran community of Estonia.

Of all the churches visited on my travels, it was the first where I heard the organ played. I was beyond excited.


En route to Lower Town I visited two viewing platforms.


Forecast predicted showers all weekend. I feel like I’ve been rewarded for traveling despite my exhaustion.


I made way down a steep flight of winding stairs to reach Lower Town. Her entrance is guarded by three of the oldest towers- the Nunne, Sauna and Kuldjala.


Of the 46 towers that once guarded the city, twenty remain. They stand scattered along the 1.85km of surviving city wall. In doing so, they preserve the medieval feel of Tallinn. That feel is enhanced by the narrow cobblestone roads that wind throughout the city.


First referenced in 1267, Saint Olaf’s Church soars over the city. With the addition of a steeple in 1549 it was the tallest building in all of Europe for almost a century. Surrounded by tight alleyways on all sides, it was extremely difficult to take a picture of.


It was a pleasant walk to the Estonian History Museum located just north of Town Hall Square. It is housed in the Great Guild Hall, for which it provided an extensive overview. Built in 1410, the Great Guild Hall was the epicenter of Tallinn’s economic and cultural life until Swedish occupation. It was endowed by the Great Guild, an association of Hanseatic merchants.


The Teutonic Order was German in origin, having been invited from the Holy Roman Empire to the Baltics by Polish Kings in the 13th century in order to subdue the encroaching pagan tribes. With them came a flood of German merchants belonging to the Hanseatic League, which dominated trade throughout Europe for centuries. Although never quite a sovereign entity, the Hanseatic League had significant influence over cities across Europe- including Tallinn, which was attractive for its position between Russia and the West as well as for its impressive harbor.

Ethnic Estonians were excluded from the guild as well as subject to widespread serfdom until the 19th century. Germans dominated the economic and cultural life of Tallinn and Estonia even through Swedish and Russian occupation.

The Grand Hall now houses the bulk of the permanent exhibition, but once accommodated Tallinn’s most lavish celebrations (Shrovetide, Christmas, etc).


I was particularly interested in the display about the Estonian language. It has only about one million speakers worldwide, with roughly ninety percent residing in Estonia. I was surprised to learn that both the language and people are of Finnic origin rather than Baltic.

It was a short stroll down the notable medieval alleyway known as ‘Catherine’s Walk’ to reach the other side of Old Town. It felt like walking through a time-machine.


It let out at a crowded market along a tall segment of surviving city wall.


I followed the wall to Viru Gate where I found a bustling thoroughfare (I was wondering where all the people were). All that remains are the two corner towers of a much once larger barbican dating to the 14th century.


I joined the flood of people, which only grew as I neared Town Hall Square.


I was a bit confused, but nevertheless excited to find a Christmas celebration. A bevy of merchants sold seasonal ornaments, nutmeg and the like to a crowd of cheery natives and tourists. At the center of it all stood a glowing Christmas Tree.


Erected in 1404, the Tallinn Town Hall is the oldest in all of Northern Europe. From construction until 1970, it was the seat of municipal government. She now serves as a venue for ceremonial and cultural functions.


I strayed briefly to the 13th century Holy Spirit Church.


In addition to her impressive Baroque tower, she sports an intricate wooden interior with the oldest pulpit in Tallinn.


I was fortunate to hear yet another organ played.


Ventured back to town square where I found Raepteek, one of the oldest continuously running pharmacies in all of Europe.


I warmed up over a cup of traditional fish and vegetable soup before rejoining the crowd for Christmas performances.


I was disappointed to find an amateur troupe of various ages (to put it kindly) dancing to traditional Arabic music…


Picked up a traditional meal before taking a taxi back to the hotel. Blogged for the rest of the evening.


One thought on “19 November 2016

  1. Pingback: 26 November 2016 | The Shtetl Shlepper

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