The Baltics*


Tallinn Medieval Old Town. Built in the 15 to17th centuries and excellently preserved. At the heart of the city is the hill of Toompea, covered in cobbled streets and filled with medieval houses and alleyways. The lower town spreads out from the foot of the hill and is still protected by the remnants of a city wall. Tallinn is a historic city dating back to the medieval times and it was first recorded on a world map in 1154, although the first fortress was built on Toompea in 1050. In 1219, the city was conquered by Valdemar II of Denmark, but it was soon sold to the Hanseatic League in 1285. The city, known as Reval at the time, prospered as a trading town in the 14th century, and much of Tallinn's historic centre was built at this time. Tallinn then became a pawn in the geopolitical games of its big neighbours, passing into Swedish hands in 1561 and then to Russia under Peter the Great in 1710. By World War I and the ensuing brief Estonian independence (starting 1918) Tallinn's population had reached 150,000. Estonia was eventually occupied by the Soviet Union in 1940, only to be conquered by Nazi Germany (1941-44) and then retaken by the Soviets. In World War II, the city was quite extensively bombed by the Soviets, although luckily the medieval town remains. The Soviet Union undertook a program of massive Slavic migration, and just over 40% of Tallinn's current inhabitants are Slavic (compared to an average of 28% for the entire country). On Aug 20, 1991, Estonia declared independence and Tallinn became its capital once again.  

>St Olav’s Church

Although the tower of this church is impressively tall, and still dominates the skyline of old Tallinn, it is perhaps hard to believe that for a time (from 1549-1625 when the Eiffel Tower was built) it was, at 159 metres, the tallest building in the world! It was intended to serve as a beacon for ships approaching the harbour, but such height also brought challenges, and the spire was frequently struck by lightning and the church consequently burnt down on three of these occasions (in 1625, 1820 and 1931), each time to be rebuilt. Today’s version is a little shorter, just 124 metres, but still impressive.

>Lower Old Town

Viru Gate, is an entrance to Viru Street and the section of town known as All-Linn or "Lower Town", as it's where the merchants and artisans of old Tallinn lived. Today, Viru is still Tallinn's trendiest shopping street and the entire All-Linn is the busiest (and most touristy) bit of Tallinn.

>St Catherines Passage

One of the prettiest little walkways in Old Town, the medieval St. Catherine’s passage connects Vene and Müürivahe streets. On the northern portion of the passage you can see what's left of St. Catherine’s Church (hence the passage name) and various large, ancient tombstones that used to line the inside of the sanctuary. On the southern portion of the passage, there are numerous artisan workshops.

>Raekoda (Town Hall) 

On the central square of Raekoja Plats, built in 1371, this stone structure dominates the square. It now houses the Tallinn City Museum.

>Town Hall Pharmacy

On Town square this is one of the oldest continuously running pharmacies in Europe. No one knows exactly when it opened, but records show that the Raeapteek was already on its third owner in 1422. In Medieval times patients could buy mummy juice and burnt bees for treatment, and healthy folks could even drop in for a glass of spiced wine. Keeping up with the times, the pharmacy sells the usual aspirin and condoms, but part of the shop is also a museum, displaying old medical instruments and other curiosities.

>House of the Brotherhood of

Black Heads

This is the only surviving Renaissance building in Tallinn. The medieval guilds were hugely important in Tallinn and wielded significant power. As in Riga, one of the most powerful was the Brotherhood of Blackheads, whose members were all young, single merchants and foreigners (mostly German). This Brotherhood was founded sometime around 1399 and was active only in Estonia and Latvia. Their patron was St. Maurice, a black African moor – hence the name Black Heads.

>Upper Old Town

According to myth, Toompea hill was built on top of the grave of legendary Estonian king Kalev, but more historically, its solid limestone and the site of the Danish castle that founded the city in 1219. Toompea was the home of the Danish aristocracy and relations between the toffs and the plebs were often inflamed, which is why it's surrounded by thick walls and there's a gate tower (1380) guarding the entrance. There are some great views over the city. Estonia's Parliament is based in a large pink building in Upper Old Town opposite the cathedral.

>Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

A classic onion-domed 19th-century Russian Orthodox church that has become a tourist symbol of the city, much to the annoyance of nationalist types who regard it as a symbol of oppression. It was almost demolished in 1924 during Estonia's first brief spell of independence, but the Soviets left it to moulder and it has been restored to its former glory. >St Mary's Cathedral Also known as Dome Church. The oldest church in mainland Estonia, originally established by the Danes as a Catholic church in 1229 but renovated and expanded many times since then, become a Lutheran church in 1561. It is the only building in Toompea which survived the 17th-century fire. >City Wall A section of the City Wall can be climbed from the corner of Suur-Kloostri and Väike-Kloostri, with entry into three towers possible. (The spiral staircases are steep and somewhat claustrophobic and the views from up on Toompea are better.)
Ex-KGB Headquarters Now the Interior Ministry and not generally open to the public, this is where the KGB detained and tortured suspected dissidents. A Soviet-era joke says that this was the tallest building in Estonia: even from the basement, you could see Siberia. Interrogations were conducted in the basement and you can see even today how the windows were crudely bricked up with concrete to mute the sound.
Were you at the 25th Song & Festival? The massive panoramic photo captured the image of most people at the 25th Song & Festival – 1.79 gigapixel resolution and 216 degree field of view. Approximately 10% of all Estonians were in the photo, which held the world record in 2009 for being the largest photo ever taken of moving objects.  
Museum of Occupations The museum describes the life conditions under Soviet and Nazi regimes.  
An ultra modern building alongside an old historic building in Old Town.