Tallinn, Estonia

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Tallinn, Estonia

Weather didn't allow us to sail to Tallinn, but it's a short ferry ride from Helsinki, Finland, so that's how we got there. Tallinn is the capital of Estonia, a place that's been under the control of Denmark, Sweden, Germany, and Russia during most of its history. Estonia got its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, and joined the European Union in 2004.

We visited Tallinn during July, the time of the "white nights" in nearby Russia, and the "midnight sun" in Denmark. Click on this photo of Town Square, taken at 4 PM, and you'll see what it looks like at about midnight. Move the mouse away to return to daytime.







 

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Aerial view of Old Town
Tallinn was founded in the thirteenth century and was a member of the Hanseatic League of merchants. Its wealth remains visible in the restorations of its opulent houses and churches in Old Town.
Danish Garden
The first occupier of Tallinn was Denmark, its founder, under King Waldemar II. The locals put up great resistance in the 1219 battle. At one point, the Danes saw a white cross fall into a pool of blood on the ground. Seeing it as a sign from God, they mobilized and went on to win. Then they adopted the white cross on a red background as Denmark's flag.
Fat Margaret Tower
This is the Great Coastal Gate and the tower is called "Fat Margaret". That's the historical name, signifying in its day what it means now: a stout defensive structure. Over the years, it's been a storehouse for gunpower and weapons, and served as a prison.
Upper Town and Lower Town
Tallinn was divided into an Upper Town and a Lower Town, and this gate and a door probably just like this one separated the two. The aristocrats and bishops lived in the Upper Town, looking down (literally and figuratively) on the merchants and craftspeople of the Lower Town.
Old Town
Tallinn is a jewel of a place to visit, and its Old Town is on the World Heritage List. Thanks to the effective defense walls and the government policies that prevented the use of explosives for building, Tallinn is an intact medieval city, with cobblestone streets, narrow alleys, and restored wooden houses.
Church of the Holy Spirit
The Church of the Holy Spirit was built in the fourteenth century and has on its exterior wall the oldest clock in Tallinn. The tower bell is from 1433. Tallinn is probably the home of the first Christmas tree. In 1441, a group of unmarried merchants put up a tree, sang, drank and danced with girls, and then set fire to the tree. I don't know if this is accurate, but in 1433 Tallinn was in German hands. That might explain why the Christmas tree carol "O Tannenbaum" is in German.
Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is a Russian Orthodox church, built between 1894 and 1900 under Tsar Alexander III. It's named for a thirteenth-century Russian prince and military leader. This cathedral and others were part of a "Russification" campaign undertaken in the Baltics during that time. The spot he chose for this show of power was believed by some to be the gravesite of a legendary Estonian character named Kalevipoeg. Local legend blames the structural problems that this church has sustained on the fact that it was built to commemorate a Russian hero, but it stands on the grave of an Estonian one.
Restoring the Nevsky Cathedral
The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral hasn't always been a favorite of many Estonians, who view it as a looming reminder of Russian occupation. It was scheduled for demolition in 1924, but thankfully that never happened. But modern Tallinn recognizes the historic importance, for better or for worse, of the artifacts of its history, and, like so much else in town, restoration specialists are at work on the cathedral to bring it back to its original beauty.