Tallin Old Town – a town on two levels

By October 23, 2019Estonia, Europe

Tallin is the capital of Estonia and a bit different than other European cities. While most other towns had the upper and lower classes, only Tallin actually had an upper town and lower town which were separated by a hill. The upper town, called Toompea, is where the nobility lived while down the short hill is where all the merchants and artisans lived. But it goes farther than that, because both parts of this Old Town had separate laws. It is quite fascinating to explore.

Toompea is barely ½ a km by ¼ a km is size and has a defensive wall built around it, because tensions were always a bit high with the citizens down below. Some of the highlights are:

Toompea Castle – only the western wall and the towers are from the 13th and 15th centuries. The rest of the building was built in the mid 1700’s and in the 1920s.

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral – was built at the very end of the 1800’s when Estonia was part of the Russian Empire. When Estonia gained independence in 1928, it was argued that the church is a symbol of oppression and should be demolished. Luckily it survived and is your typical, beautiful, onion domed, Russian church.

St. Mary’s Cathedral – is the oldest church in Tallinn. It was built as a Catholic church in 1229 but renovated and expanded many times since then, becoming a Lutheran church in 1561. Inside you will find many family crest from the royalty of pasts centuries.

If you want to see defensive walls of Toompea, the best examples are Maiden Tower and Kiek in de Kok. Also if you want to look down onto the lower part of town, called Vanalinn, then Kohtuotsa Viewing Platform is my favorite, but Patkuli Viewing Platform is nice also and also has a walkway down to Vanalinn.

Now that we are down in the lower part of Tallin, where the merchants and artisans lived, you will find an exceptional example of a medieval town and is a World Heritage Site because of that fact. Personally I was much more fascinated with this part of town over Toompea. You should take the time to just wander around the streets and soak up the medieval merchant vibe you get and while there is a ton to do here, my favorite sites are:

Tallinn Town Hall – built in the 14th and 15th centuries, this is the oldest in eastern Europe. I found it so fascinating I am going to write about it by itself tomorrow.

Town Hall Pharmacy – this is the oldest pharmacy in the world and has been selling drugs and medicine in the earliest part of the 1400’s.

Church of the Holy Spirit – built in the first half of the 13th century, it is much more intimate then cathedrals built during this time. I expecially loved all the dark wood and the twin balconies you are allowed to ascend.

Great Guild Hall – here you will find the Estonian History Museum that takes you through 11,000 years of Estonian history. Not only is it a fascinating building, but also a good museum.

St. Olaf’s Church – built in the 12th century and the most visible landmark on the northern end of the Old Town.

Ex-KGB Headquarters – this is where the KGB detained and tortured suspected dissidents and you can visit the basement where the cells were. In fact, from the outside you can see how the basement windows were bricked up to mute the sound from interrogations. It was a cruel time and a Soviet-era joke says that this was the tallest building in Estonia, even from the basement you could see Siberia.

St Catherine’s Passage – the way out of old town to the east and is lined with restaurants and shops. It gets its name from the remains of the St. Catherine’s Dominican Monastery that it runs along side. It is one of the oldest buildings in Tallinn and existed since at least 1246. The monastery was destroyed in 1524, but you should still check out the little that remains.

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