When arriving in Estonia, I was feeling pretty exhausted. It was already late in the day and I had been travelling non-stop for five days already (not that I’m complaining). Plus, to make things a bit worse, the weather looked awful. I could see the heavy and dark clouds getting closer as we approached Tallin. It was a long bus ride from Riga, where the sun was shining. And once I stepped outside the coach, it started pouring massively.
Luckily the bus stop where I had to go to get the bus to the hostel where I was staying was close. Found shelter in there. When the bus finally came the rain got worse. But again I was lucky. Nature decided to pour everything out while I was inside the bus. So the moment I stepped outside the sun was peeking and no tears were being cried by the skies.
As I said, I ended up arriving quite late in the day to Tallinn. It was past 5pm when I got the coach station, and almost 6pm when I got to my hostel. The weather wasn’t in its friendliest mood, so it was darker than what’s supposed to be outside at that time of the day.
With the imminent threat of rain, I stepped outside and started to explore the magnificent old town. The first thing I thought was that I had really travelled in time. it was as if I was in a real-life medieval fair. Despite aching feet, I was in love.
Tallin’s old town is a UNESCO World Heritage site, considered as one of the best preserved in Europe. But we can’t get ourselves to be misled by the appearances. Tallinn may seem like a town stopped in time, but it’s often named as the Silicon Valley of Europe. That’s right: not London, Berlin or Paris. Tallinn. It has the highest number of startups per person in Europe and is the birthplace of Skype or Transferwise, also housing the European Union’s IT agency and the home to the NATO Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence. Just to wrap it up pretty quickly, Tallin is listed among the top 10 digital cities in the world!
So yeah, don’t let the medieval old town make you believe the city is old-fashioned or conservative. It’s pretty much the opposite. Which kind gives it the best of both “times”!
Now, let’s get down to some nerdy historical facts, as per usual. Tallinn was actually named Reval for most of its history, but today’s name is actually derived from Taani-linn(a), which means Danish Town. This tells a lot already about the beginnings when Estonia was a target to the expansion of the Kingdom of Denmark. However, ironically, at that time the city’s name was indeed Reval and the Danes sold the city and other lands in northern Estonia to the Teutonic Knights (a Catholic German order) in 1346. Medieval Reval was in a very strategic position, in the crossroads of trade between Western and Northern Europe and Russia. This is when the city became very well fortified with city walls and 66 defence towers. The remainders of the wall are part of Tallinn’s main attractions, is considered the most well-preserved defence wall in the world.
German influence became even stronger as the city was converted to Lutheranism. However, in 1561 Sweden took the then Reval under its political dominion. The city remained then sort of independent, at least culturally and economically. However, the neighbour Russia soon started to take over, contributing to the industrialization of the city in the 19th century.
It was in 1918, that Estonians saw the opportunity to fight for independence. Finally, in 1920 Russia acknowledge the independence of Estonia Republic, with Reval, soon to be Tallinn, as the capital.
However, as I’ve learned in this trip to the Baltics, happy endings are difficult to stay like that. With the arrival of WWII, Estonia was obliged to accept the then called “protection” of USRR against the German Nazis. Not that they were of much help – Nazi Germany was able to invade the territory and kill with no mercy most of its Jewish population. Once Germans retreated in 1944, the country was annexed to the Soviet Union.
It was finally in 1991 that Estonia could be called as an independent democratic state, with Tallinn as its capital.
In August 1991, an independent democratic Estonian state was established and a period of quick development to a modern European capital ensued. Tallinn became the capital of a de facto independent country once again on 20 August 1991.
Now, with no further ado, I’m sharing my favourites of Tallinn. I must recommend, as I usually door, taking a free walking tour if you have the chance. You learn loads about the history of the city, as well as funny/interesting facts you wouldn’t find easily online.
— OLD TOWN OF TALLIN —
As said in this post, it a trip to the past. The main attraction of Tallinn is its heart. I found this to be the case in every single capital of the Baltic countries. In Tallinn, take special attention to hidden courtyards where small galleries and artisan offices can be found.
Interesting to know, under the Old Town there is a labyrinth of tunnels dating back to the 17th century. These tunnels were used by the residents during WWII as protection against the bombings.
— DOORS OF TALLINN —
Apart from paying attention to the “secret” hidden courtyards, also be aware of the most beautiful doors. Colourful, some more picturesque than others. But it’s indeed a fun game to play with yourself as you walk through the streets of Tallinn – find the pretty door.
— THE APOTHECARY —
Tallinn is home the oldest operating pharmacy in Europe. Nobody is quite sure how old it is, but the oldest registration dates back to 1422 – that’s almost 600 hundreds of operation, 596 to be precise.
— MEDIEVAL FORT —
Dating back to the 14th century, originally the limestone wall was 2.4km. Today about 1.9km still remain with 20 of the original 46 observation towers intact.
— KADRIORG PALACE —
Now housing a foreign art collection of the Estonian Art Museum, the palace used to be an imperial summer residence. Designed to resemble the Italian palaces of the time, it has been very well preserved since the 18th century.
— ALEXANDER NEVSKY CATHEDRAL —
This magnificent cathedral was partly under restoration works when I visited. It was built between 1894-1900 when the country was part of the Russian Empire.