Tallinn, the capital of Estonia and the Baltic nation’s cultural centre, is certainly one of Europe’s most fascinating cities. A rich architectural and historical heritage that blends magically with modern skyscrapers, offices and shopping centres has made the city an increasingly well-regarded and popular tourist hub. Tallinn’s historical centre, enclosed by old walls and criss-crossed by cobblestone streets, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
One unique characteristic of the centre of Tallinn are its towers, originally erected in defence of the city, and which today play host to cultural centres as well as restaurants and hotels.
Strolling along St. Catherine’s Passage among medieval buildings, shops and eateries, it’s lovely to stop off in one of these locales to taste the typical fare of the venerable Estonian tradition. The Raekoda (“City Hall” in Estonian) is located in the homonymous square and represents the city’s lone example of Gothic-style civic architecture. Continuing your walk through the centre we encounter the church of the Holy Spirit, whose façade displays Estonia’s oldest clock, and the church of St. Nicholas. Dedicated to St. Nicholas of Bari, it’s one of Tallinn’s oldest religious monuments. A short distance away, the church of St. Olaf, dedicated to King Olaf of Norway, protector of sailors, dominates the city with its 159-metre-tall gargoyle, and which still today represents a point of reference for Baltic seamen.
Winding your way up through the streets of the city centre we come to the top of Toompea Hill, from which you can admire Tallinn in all its beauty, from the oldest neighbourhoods with their steep roofs and cobblestones to the new area with its skyscrapers and then the sea. Not to be missed is the magnificent Alexander Nevsky Russian Orthodox Cathedral on Lossi Plats (“Castle Square”). It’s dedicated to Alexander Nevsky Yaroslav, Prince of Novgorod, attributed with having stopped the eastward advance of the Teutonic Knights. The Cathedral and its location have always had a very strong symbolic value, representing the political and religious power of the tsarist empire, which is perhaps why it is not particularly loved by Tallinn’s inhabitants, who on more than one occasion have even asked for its demolition.
Tallinn’s cultural dynamism is also represented by the Baltic region’s most important museum of modern and contemporary art, as well as one of the largest in northern Europe: the Kumu, an abbreviation of the Estonian Kunstimuuseum. Its futuristic structure was built between 2003 and 2006 by Finnish architect Pekka Vapaavuori. In 2008 the Kumu received the “Museum of the Year” award from the Forum of European Museums.