Day 20 - Tallinn (EE)
Well, what can I say? I did not know what to expect when we arrived in this (for me) fairly unknown part of the world but this city exceeded all my expectations. We walked the whole day and covered about 15 kms (slowly through snow and icy pavements/cobblestones). This included a 2-hour free walking tour which was amazing and so interesting - a big shout out to Dominc, our guide. There are 2 tours a day at 11.00 and 14.00 hours and you can just meet up outside the tourist office in the centre or book online.
Estonia borders the Baltic Sea and the Gulf of Finland and includes more than 1,500 islands, 1,000 lakes and 7,000 rivers. The capital, Tallinn, is known for its preserved Old Town, museums and the 314m-high Tallinn TV Tower, which has an observation deck. It is a big sea port and it has important food and textile industries.
The official language is Estonian but most of the people also speak either Russian or English or both.
- More than 400,000 people live in Tallinn and there are just over 1.3 million people in Estonia.
- We finally found the Euro and a currency we understand!
- Estonia is a member of NATO and the EU
- The country has the highest number of meteorite craters per square kilometre in the world! The Kaali crater in Saaremaa is what remains of the last giant meteorite to hit an area populated by humans and it fell to Earth over 4,000 years ago with the power of a nuclear bomb.
- Suur Munamägi (Big Egg Hill), at 318 meters high, is the highest in the Baltic region
- Estonians are a singing people and the country holds the largest collection of national folk songs in the world, over 133,000
- The Song Festival, held every five years in Tallinn, is famous for the highest number of choral singers on stage at once. All together 34,000 people turn up to sing, up to 18,000 people can be on stage at the same time and over 200, 000 people attend the event. That’s nearly 1/6 of the entire population!
- There are over 1,200 spa beds for 15,000 inhabitants and Kuressaare is the world’s most popular spa town. Estonia has been the favourite place for spas (mud baths, saunas and sea air) since the time of the tsars.
- Like in Finland, sauna is a way of life here too. Many homes have their own sauna which gets used at least once a week. If you’re on the move you can even take a sauna bus or erect a sauna tent. This has been declared the year of the sauna and the annual Otepää sauna race is back, combining orienteering with saunas in the middle of winter!
- The world champion in wife carrying (it happens here too!) is Estonian!
- Estonia is one of the most advanced digital societies on the planet. Estonia embraced online voting already in 2005. In here, 95% of tax returns are completed online and businesses can be registered in minutes. You can sign legally binding documents using your ID card or mobile ID, and now, even those living outside of Estonia can benefit from the e-residency scheme.
- The Baltic States have some of the best fibre coverage in the EU and the “Estonian Wideband Infrastructure Network” project, EstWin, seeks to bring ultra-fast internet access within 1,5 km of all rural households, enterprises and institutions in the project area. Funded almost 100% by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD), this project was a finalist in the European Broadband Awards.
- And there is reportedly 4G coverage even in the middle of the woods!
- Estonia hosts both the cybersecurity centre of NATO and the IT-agency of the European Union.
- Estonia is the 132nd smallest country in the world by land mass but according to the Wall Street Journal, it produces more start-ups per capita than any other country in Europe with global firms such as Skype, TransferWise and GrabCAD and Bolt (see below).
- Bolt was set up by 19-year old college dropout, Markus Villig in 2013, after just one semester studying computer science at the University of Tartu, in Estonia. Bolt has grown to become the fastest-growing transportation platform globally and is now available in 250+ cities across 45 countries, with 75 million customers and 1.6 million drivers. In Tallinn there were both Bolt and Uber taxis but in Riga we found only Bolt. So download both apps and away you go!
“Cities increasingly see that they want to switch over from private car ownership” to ride-hailing and other “shared mobility” options like electric scooters and car-sharing", Bolt CEO and co-founder Markus Villig told CNBC in an interview.
Tallinn has belonged to many different nations, including Denmark, Sweden, Russia and Germany before finally gaining its latest independence from Russia in 1991. Apart from a period of 22 years between 1918 and 1940, the city was subject to outside control for 750 years from 1219.
The country was first conquered in 1219 by the Danes, who built a new fortress on Toompea hill. The name Tallinn comes from the Estonian words for “Danish castle.”
Danish King’s Garden is a park in the old town next to Toompea. It is here where, according to legend, as the Danes were losing a battle against the Estonians, the heavens gave them their flag and the battle then turned in their favour. That is how the flag of Denmark, Dannebrog, is said to have been born and very year on 15 June, the Day of the Danish Flag is celebrated in the garden.
St Mary's Cathedral is the oldest surviving church in Estonia and is known as Toomkirik in the Estonian language. It was established by the Danes in the 13th century.
St. Olav's Church is believed to have been built in the 12th century and is dedicated to King Olav II of Norway. It has been the focal point for the Scandinavian community of the city ever since. The Gothic spire of the church was completed in the 16th century, at which point it made St Olaf’s one of the tallest buildings in the world. From 1549 until 1625, the church was the tallest structure in the world, standing and enormous 159 meters high!
It was originally a Roman Catholic Church but during the Reformation, it became part of the Lutheran tradition. In 1950 it became a Baptist church and the congregation continues to meet at St. Olaf's today. From 1944 until 1991, the Soviet KGB used St. Olaf's Church's spire as a radio tower and surveillance point.
German merchants then arrived and for a while the country was passed back and fore and ruled by both nations but in in 1346 the King of Denmark decided to sell his Northern Estonian lands together with Tallinn to the Germans.
The Church of the Holy Spirit was built in the 14th century and has a timber interior and a hexagonal tower.
The Raeapteek is a pharmacy in the centre of the medieval city and it is one of the oldest continuously running pharmacies in Europe, having always been in business in the same house since the early 1400s. Ten generations of the same family, the Burcharts, operated it from 1581 to 1911. It was so famous in its day that the Russian tsar used to order medicines from here.
The Guild Hall and the Town Hall were built by German merchants in the 14th century.
St. Nicholas Church is medieval and was built by the German merchant/settlers in the 13th century. The sturdy church was designed to double as a fortress in the days before the town wall was built. It was dedicated to Saint Nicholas, the patron of the fishermen and sailors - most of the original Estonians were simple fishermen who just got on with life through all the invasions! The church was originally built in the 13th century but it was partially destroyed in the Soviet bombing of Tallinn in World War II. The building has since been restored, but it has not been used for regular religious activities since World War II. At present it houses the Niguliste Museum and a lift is currently being intalled which will enable visitors to go up to the top of the tower for great views over the city.
Other medieval buildings in the city!
In 1561 after battles between Russia, Sweden, Poland and Denmark, Tallinn was owned by the Swedish Crown for 150 years. Russian troops tried to siege Tallinn twice - 1570-1571 and 1577 - but they were forced to retreat without conquering the town. Eventually in 1710 Tallinn surrendered to Russia after the Northern War.
Toompea castle is a medieval castle on Toompea hill and it now houses the Parliament of Estonia. It was constructed in 1767–1773 by the order of the Russian Empress Catherine II who apparently visited the Baltic provinces in 1764. She spent a night in Kadriorg Palace and fell ill because her room there did not have double-paned windows and was cold so she decided to have a more modern and magnificent palace built at Toompea.
The Roman-Catholic Cathedral of St Peter and St Paul was built between 1841 and 1844 on the walls of a refectory of a medieval monastery.
St Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is located on Toompea Hill and is a spectacular onion-domed Russian Orthodox cathedral. It was designed by St. Petersburg architect Mikhail Preobrazhenski and it also possesses Tallinn’s largest bells, which ring before every service. It was buit in 1900 when Estonia was part of the tsarist Russian Empire and was intended to show the empire's religious and political power over the Baltic territory.
The cathedral was dedicated to the Prince of Novgorod, Alexander Yaroslavich Nevsky, who led the famous Battle of the Ice at Lake Peipsi in 1242, which stopped the German crusaders’ eastward advance. It was deliberately placed in this prominent location right in front of Toompea Castle, on the same spot where a statue of Martin Luther had previously stood, to show the mainly Lutheran locals who was in charge.