Big City Tales

Tallinn’s Old Town Stands Tall and Strong | March 14, 2018

It may not be the most recognizable European capital, but it happens to be one of the continent’s best preserved medieval cities and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Indeed, Tallin’s Old Town in Estonia is proud of its history and its buildings dating back to the Middle Ages that continue to stand tall and strong.

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St. Olaf’s Church

As the tallest church in the Baltic states since the 12th century, there is also reason to believe that for a period of time between 1549 and 1625 that St. Olaf’s was the world’s tallest building owing to the length of its spire.

After a number of rebuilds, the height of the spire now measures just under 124 metres. While it has since been dwarfed by the likes of the Strasbourg Cathedral, St. Peter’s Basilica and the Cologne Cathedral, it nonetheless remains the most prominent building in Old Town.

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Toompea Castle

Situated in the “Upper Town” section of Old Town, Toompea Castle was originally used as a defensive stronghold because of its hilltop position.

Over the centuries, the castle was occupied by invading forces such as the Danes, Germans, Swedes, Poles and Russians.

Following the declaration of Estonian independence in 1918, a building to house the new parliament (Riigikogu) was constructed in the castle’s courtyard area. Although the exterior has a traditionalist look, the architects opted for an avant-garde Expressionist interior making it unique among other parliamentary halls.

Tallinn Town Hall and Town Hall Square

In the “Lower Town” region, Tallinn Town Hall (Tallinna raekoda) and Town Hall Square (Raekoja plats) are located next to each other in the geographical centre of Old Town.

Tallinn Town Hall’s most famous exterior feature is its weather vane, called Old Thomas, that has long been considered a symbol and guardian of the city. Inside the hall, a number of elaborate tapestries provide the main decoration. Due to their value and delicate nature, the original tapestries were placed in safekeeping at the Tallinn City Museum in 1937 and replaced with copies.

Town Hall Square is utilized as a market and a venue for festivals and concerts. There are also several bars and restaurants located nearby. During the festive season, a Christmas tree display is the primary attraction in the square, a long-standing tradition that dates back to 1441.

Walls of Tallinn

First constructed around the city in 1265, the Walls of Tallinn and its many gates and structures are still largely in place today. In subsequent centuries the walls were enlarged and strengthened to better defend the city. Additionally, around the 14th century the citizens of Tallinn were required to perform guard duty as a sign of their civic loyalty to ward off invaders.

Some of the structures still in existence along the wall include the Long Leg Gate Tower, Nun’s Tower, and Kiek in de Kok, which translates to “Peep into the Kitchen” and denotes the smaller towers that were low enough to allow tower occupants to peek into the kitchens of nearby houses. Fat Margaret is another notable wall tower so-named because of its thick walls and broad diameter that made it an ideal defensive structure in Tallinn’s port.

Medieval Magic

With its cobblestone streets, Gothic spires and other remnants from centuries gone by, Tallinn’s Old Town is full of medieval magic at every turn that guarantees to leave visitors spellbound by its beauty and charm.

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