This is fifth in a series of travelogue posts about an Erasmus+ cultural heritage, study trip undertaken by Jackie Sangster from the Learning & Inclusion Team at Historic Environment Scotland.
Day 5 Time for Tallinn
Like Edinburgh, the historic centre of Old Town of Tallinn is a UNESCO world heritage site & upon arrival it was obvious to see why. Here we met Riin Alatalu, for a walking tour of the city, old & new. Riin is an associate professor at the Estonian Academy of Arts and an expert in built heritage, so we were set for an enthralling walk. Our rendezvous point was outside the Soviet built, 1963 modernist Writers’ House at 1 Harju Street. Today, the ground floor is occupied by a brilliant second-hand bookstore, called Raamatukoi.
This is one of the most important streets in Tallinn, dating back to early medieval times. Most notably in 1944 the Soviet Union performed air raids here, the heavy bombing of Tallin killed hundreds. The last ruins of old Harju Street served as a memorial but after archaeological work in 2007 a park was created. In 1966, this vicinity was the first conservation area established in the former USSR. We wandered with Riin, hearing about the evolution of the city and its diverse architecture – there was a lot of information to absorb.
Within the magnificently preserved Old Town we witnessed the vast hordes of tourists and co-ordinated cruise ship visitors as they too enjoyed the courtyard surroundings of Katariina Kirik. Sadly, the oldest working pharmacy in Europe established in 1422, Raeapteek, was closed – perhaps because it was Sunday? However, we were able to pop into the Kalev Marzipan Museum Room to see the mesmerising, medicinal confectionary figures in the 1864 Café, Maiasmokk on Pikk Street.
At the Linnamuuseum Tallinn City Museum, housed in a medieval merchant house, we went to the exhibition ‘One Hundred Years of Daily Life’ about everyday life the city and how it has changed – it was great! We also saw the permanent display about the history of the city and I learned about the impact of the Hanseatic League. I have since discovered there were settlements associated with Hanseatic trade in Scotland too, such as Hillswick on Shetland. In the cellar, we explored the glorious stores of ceramics & metal.
Continuing outdoors, we wove our way around, spotted more Muhu style doors, many Kultuurimälestis National Monuments and wound up towards Alexander Nevsky Cathedral at the very top of the city by Toompea Castle, where the Estonian Parliament sits. From this aspect, we joined the masses taking in great panoramas of the city and the sea.
After all that we were ready for our evening meal so we set off to the cool Kalamaja district to dine. Today this is one of well-known areas for its hipsters. Beyond the train station, it boasts Bohemian charm and consists of wooden buildings which once accommodated fishermen.
Before our table was ready at trendy Boheem, Riin had more knowledge to impart about the local architecture. We were surrounded by gorgeous two storied timber tenement houses with symmetrical facades, named after the architect engineer Voldemar Lender who was also the mayor of Tallinn from 1906 to 1913.
These early 20th century homes had been cheap to construct when the city had been growing rapidly. The houses have subtle variations reflecting the owners’ preferences, such as doors with carved details, fanlights or ironwork ornament around the windows. I was captivated by them.
Scotland’s fisher town communities, such as those in Cromarty or Dunbar, looked somewhat different at this time. The local building material was stone rather than wood, which resulted more often in lower level thatched cottages. Although, Cat’s Row in Dunbar looks like a larger tenement circa 1900.
During dinner much to my amusement, a reminder of home unexpectedly surfaced because Belhaven Ale (made in my adopted home town of Dunbar) featured on the foreign beer menu.
Later, Riin told us about a travel campaign she’s involved with, that is Visit Baltic Manors. This European Year of Cultural Heritage initiative celebrates 130 historic heritage sites across the Baltic countries; Estonia, Latvia & Lithuania. When given our own traveller’s card, we were pleased to see we’d already been to two! That was Loona mois and Muhu pastoraat.
After dinner, we travelled back to our hotel by train to rest up for our penultimate day with Maarika.
Archive Images © East Lothian Museum Service & Historic Environment Scotland | Licensor Scran