Thursday, August 11, 2005


Thank goodness we gained an hour last night. The extra sleep was needed! We docked in Tallinn in bright sunshine and went for yet another early tour – this time a walking tour of Old Tallinn. We boarded our buses to go to the centre of the city. Our guide was a lovely, bright young woman of 19 who was headed off to university in Manchester in September. She was a natural storyteller and enjoyed telling jokes. Her first tale was that Tallinn’s weather is like a baby’s butt. You never know what will come – sunny, wet or wind. As the day progressed this tale proved to be correct.

Estonia is only 45000 square miles and is quite flat. As we drove we passed a cannon tower, Stout Margaret. The language that Estonian is closest to is Finnish. The population of Estonia is 1.4 million, but there has been a decline with many young people leaving. Estonia has been occupied many times over the years by Danes, Germans, Swedes, Livonians, and Russians. In 1918, Estonia became independent and in 1940 it became part of Russia. We disembarked near Toompea Hill. Near the top was a boulder. When the Russians tried to stop the push for independence in 1990 the citizens of Tallinn placed large boulders to try to stop the tanks. One boulder has been left as a testamony to their resistance. At the top of Toompea Hill is the parliament building (1773). It was built by Tsarina Catherine II. It was built on the castle grounds. Now it flies the Estonian flag which was originally a student protest flag. Blue symbolizes the sky, black the soil and white hope. It was consecrated in 1884. Near the parliament is one of the towers of the medieval battlements. It is about 50 meters tall.

Also on Toompea Hill is the Alexander Nevsky Orthodox church. It was built by the Russians. Some say it was built there to show Russian superiority. It was completed in 1900. It has 11 bells the largest of which is 11 meters wide and weighs 5 tonnes. The main religion in Estonia is Lutheranism. About 26% of the population is Russian, but there is some animosity towards things Russian. About 50000 Estonians were sent to Siberia.

We started to walk and passed the first school which was established in 1319 by the Dome Church. Next door is the current home of the Estonian Ballet School. The arts play a prominent role in Estonian life. There are 10 theatres, many choirs… There is a singing festival held every 4 years with 30000 singers and about 100000 spectators. Everyone wears national costumes.

Our next stop was the Dome Church, built by the Danes. The original church was built out of wood, but after a fire in the 1600s (there seem to have been fires all over Europe in that decade), it was rebuilt. It was originally a burial spot for the nobility. Many coats of arms, carved in wood, decorate the walls. The floor dates from about the 15th century. The guilds had burial places in the church and we saw stones carved for the shoemaker’s guild and the butcher’s guild. In the organ loft is an organ that dates to 1858. The red and white stripes are for Denmark. Near the door is the tomb of a local Don Juan. It is said that either – everyone steps on him going in and out of the church which would rid him of his sins, or – lying there, even in death, he could look up the skirts of the ladies walking over him.
We passed a baroque palace part of which was never finished. It was commissioned by Peter the Great. It is being renovated to be the Fine Arts Museum and will open in 2007. We looked over the lower part of Tallinn. St. Olaf’s Church steeple is the highest point. No building may be built higher than the spire. As legend goes the merchants of the city wanted to build the tallest church in the world but didn’t know where to find a builder capable of this feat. Suddenly, a stranger came to town and offered to build the church. His fee was very high, but he agreed to waive his fee if someone could guess his name. He kept to himself and work progressed quickly. Finally, someone spied on his home and heard a woman singing to her baby about his father “Olev”. When he was affixing the cross to the steeple crookedly, someone called out “Olaf the cross is crooked” He was so surprised, he lost his balance and fell to the ground. When he landed, dead, a frog and a snake crawled out of his mouth. Was he cursed?

We could see the TV tower (built for the Russian Olympics as the sailing events took place near Tallinn). When the Russians tried to take it over in 1991, people went to protest. A human chain was made all the way from Tallinn to Vilnius made up of 2 million people.

In medieval times there were two roads that led to the castle – the long leg and the short leg. Each led to a gate. A wall went all around the town joined by 27 towers. Several remain standing. One is the Virgin’s tower which used to be a prison for prostitutes. Another is Kiek in de Kök, or Peep into the Kitchen. The soldiers could climb up and see what was going on in the kitchen. We walked down into the Danish king’s garden. Here we could see the spot where a “miracle” happened. The Danes were losing the battle, but the skies opened a flag came down. The leader picked it up and the tide of the battle changed. The Danes won. This was the first flag of any country. We had seen a painting of this event in Copenhagen. As we walked lower we came to St. Nicholas’ Church. It was built in the 13th century and was badly destroyed in World War II, but has been rebuilt. An organ festival is held here.

We came to a wheel well. It is said that there was a witch living at the bottom. The citizens were frightened and threw down dead cats which very soon made the water undrinkable. Then we passed a garden with a statue of a deer. It represents a story of how Tallinn got its original name, Reval which means fall of the deer.

In 1316 the Holy Ghost Church was built. The first book to be published in Estonian is there, a catechism book. There are pictures so that the illiterate could “read” the stories. The motto on the church says “the hours strike everybody whether they are rich or not”.
Tallinn is built near a lake. The legend from
goes as follows:

Once a year in autumn at dark and gloomy midnight a grey-haired old man Yarvevana comes out of Yulemiste’s lake, goes down the hill to the city gates and asks the guards:
- So, is the city ready yet, or is it still being built?
In big cities there’s always enough work for the construction workers, if no new buildings are being build, then the old ones make trouble. You have to fix this, repaint or reconstruct that – the work never stops and there hasn’t been one day, when everybody was relaxing. However, if this happens, this old man of the lake should not know about it. The guards at the city gates are ordered to tell him the same old answer:
- The city is not ready. A lot of time will pass, until all the work is done.
The old man, then, shakes his head angrily, mumbles something indistinctively, and quickly goes back to the lake, his eternal habitat.
But if the old man of the lake receives an answer that the city is ready and there nothing to build out there, then the waters of Yulemiste will go down from the hill Lasnamyagi to the coastal lowland and flood Tallinn

Our guide rhapsodized on the rye bread found in Estonia. She took us to a shop (like our depanneurs) and some of our fellow walkers bought bread and butter. They shared their samples with us and it was, indeed, good.
We walked through a passageway to the town square, passed a Garlic Restaurant. The Town Hall was built in 1404. The weather vane is called Old Toomas; the original was installed in 1530. This is about the 5th. There are cafes in the square and at different times there are markets, concerts and, at Christmas, fir trees.

We next went to the Dominican Monastery, now a museum, where we were treated to a concert of Medieval and Renaissance music accompanied on vielle, hurdy-gurdy and lute. The music certainly wasn’t Estonian – Dowland, a French song, a Spanish song… But it was lovely. We walked through the Katariina Passage to a market place where women were selling Estonian knitware. The sweaters were beautiful and the prices very reasonable. As we started back to the buses it started to drizzle and by the time we were back on the buses it was raining hard.

The walk from the buses to the ship was a good distance and by the time we got off the buses the rain was pelting down driven by strong winds. No one was dry by the time we got back and it took time to get us all back on the ship as we had to scan our card and put our bags through xrays each time we got back on the ship. People with mobility problems got the worst of it as they could not move quickly through the rain.

Tallinn surprised me. It was a charming city in a lovely setting. As in many of the places we saw, I would have like to have time to explore more and to just enjoy the atmosphere.


Post a Comment

<< Home