Last year I was invited, along with Nigel Adams, to Estonia to help out and impart some of our knowledge in meadow management (including the use and sharpening of the scythe). Always fancied going to these Baltic countries so the invitation was gladly taken up, especially as these meadows were forest meadows.
Having never visited Tallin the capital city of Estonia I was amazed to see how much of the medieval city still survived. The architecture was truly superb and there only a handful of European cities so well preserved.
Tallinn is the capital and largest city of Estonia. It is situated on the northern coast of the country, on the shore of the Gulf of Finland, 80 km (50 mi) south of Helsinki, east of Stockholm and west of Saint Petersburg in Harju County. From the 13th century until 1918 (and briefly during the Nazi occupation of Estonia from 1941 to 1944), the city was known as Reval. Tallinn occupies an area of 159.2 km2 (61.5 sq mi) and has a population of 445,054. Approximately a third of Estonia’s total population lives in Tallinn.
Tallinn was founded in 1248, but the earliest human settlements date back 5,000 years, making it one of the oldest capital cities of Northern Europe. The initial claim over the land was laid by the Danes in 1219 after a successful raid of Lyndanisse led by Valdemar II of Denmark, followed by a period of alternating Scandinavian and German rule. Due to its strategic location, the city became a major trade hub, especially from the 14th to the 16th century, when it grew in importance as part of the Hanseatic League.
Tallinn’s Old Town is one of the best preserved medieval cities in Europe and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The first traces of human settlement found in Tallinn’s city center by archeologists are about 5,000 years old. The comb ceramic pottery found on the site dates to about 3000 BCE and corded ware pottery c. 2500 BCE. Around 1050, the first fortress was built on Tallinn Toompea. As an important port for trade between Russia and Scandinavia, it became a target for the expansion of the Teutonic Knights and the Kingdom of Denmark during the period of Northern Crusades in the beginning of the 13th century when Christianity was forcibly imposed on the local population. Danish rule of Tallinn and Northern Estonia started in 1219.
In 1285, the city, then known as Reval, became the northern most member of the Hanseatic League – a mercantile and military alliance of German-dominated cities in Northern Europe. The Danes sold Reval along with their other land possessions in northern Estonia to the Teutonic Knightsin 1346. Medieval Reval enjoyed a strategic position at the crossroads of trade between Western and Northern Europe and Russia. The city, with a population of 8,000, was very well fortified with city walls and 66 defence towers. A weather vane, the figure of an old warrior called Old Thomas, was put on top of the spire of the Tallinn Town Hall in 1530 that became the symbol for the city.
With the start of the Protestant Reformation the German influence became even stronger as the city was converted to Lutheranism. In 1561, Reval politically became a dominion of Sweden. During the Great Northern War, plague stricken Tallinn along with Swedish Estonia and Livonia capitulated to Imperial Russia in 1710, but the local self-government institutions (Magistracy of Reval and Chivalry of Estonia) retained their cultural and economical autonomy within Imperial Russia as the Governorate of Estonia. The Magistracy of Reval was abolished in 1889. The 19th century brought industrialization of the city and the port kept its importance. During the last decades of the century Russification measures became stronger. Off the coast of Reval, in June 1908, Tsar Nicholas II and Tsarina Alexandra of Russia, along with their children, met their mutual uncle and aunt, Britain’s King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra, an act which was seen as a royal confirmation of the Anglo-Russian Entente of the previous year, and which was the first time a reigning British monarch had visited Russia.
On 24 February 1918, the Independence Manifesto was proclaimed in Reval, soon to be Tallinn, followed by Imperial German occupation and a war of independence with Russia. On 2 February 1920, the Tartu Peace Treaty was signed with Soviet Russia, wherein Russia acknowledged the independence of the Estonian Republic. Tallinn became the capital of an independent Estonia. After World War II started, Estonia acceded to the Soviet Union (USSR) in 1940, and later occupied by Nazi Germany from 1941 to 1944. After the Nazi retreat in 1944, it was annexed by the USSR. After annexation into the Soviet Union, Tallinn became the capital of the Estonian SSR. In August 1991, an independent democratic Estonian state was established and a period of quick development to a modern European capital ensued. Tallinn became the capital of a de facto independent country once again on 20 August 1991.
Tallinn has historically consisted of three parts:
- The Toompea (Domberg) or “Cathedral Hill”, which was the seat of the central authority: first the Danish captains, then the komturs of the Teutonic Order, and Swedish and Russian governors. It was until 1877 a separate town (Dom zu Reval), the residence of the aristocracy; it is today the seat of the Estonian parliament, government and some embassies and residencies.
- The Old Town, which is the old Hanseatic town, the “city of the citizens”, was not administratively united with Cathedral Hill until the late 19th century. It was the centre of the medieval trade on which it grew prosperous.
- The Estonian town forms a crescent to the south of the Old Town, where the Estonians came to settle. It was not until the mid-19th century that ethnic Estonians replaced the local Baltic Germans as the majority among the residents of Tallinn.
The city of Tallinn has never been razed and pillaged; that was the fate of Tartu, the university town 200 km (124 mi) south, which was pillaged in 1397 by the Teutonic Order. Around 1524 Catholic churches in many towns in Estonia, including Tallinn, were pillaged as part of the Reformational fervor: this occurred throughout Europe. Although extensively bombed by Soviet air forces during the later stages of World War II, much of the medieval Old Town still retains its charm. The Tallinn Old Town (including Toompea) became a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site in 1997.
The only problem I had was finding somewhere to stay… unfortunately it has become (understandably) a very popular attraction for tourists, especially the main square. One thing that stood out was the variety of doors, so here are a few of them:
Our trip was to the forest meadows and it was pleasing to find how much the Estonians value their wildlife. In the city the Kelch lime trees are revered, Tallinn is home to 52 listed trees, the majority of which grow in the city centre. The foremost of these is Tallinn’s oldest tree, a venerable linden near St. Nicholas’ Church. Called the Kelch Linden it is named after a pastor who planted the tree around 1680.
There is also a lovely natural history museum although it is mostly in Estonian, however what struck me was how many different types of forest existed in this relatively small country. Now armed with some information about the forests I was looking forward to visiting some of them.
I have to say Tallin is a wonderful city and the beer is also excellent, however it was time to make our way to the forest meadows further south.