Top Historic Sights in Tartu, Estonia

Explore the historic highlights of Tartu

Tartu University

The University of Tartu was established by King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden in 1632, thus being one of the oldest universities in Northern Europe. Over the centuries it has been closed down, moved to Tallinn and re-opened by Baltic Germans. After Estonia became independent in 1918, the University of Tartu has been an Estonian-language institution since 1919. The main building of Tartu University is one of the most outsta ...
Founded: 1632 | Location: Tartu, Estonia

Uspensky Orthodox Church

Uspensky Church, which forms a uniform complex with a long priest house on the northern side, was built in 1783 and belongs to the early classical period. Uspensky Church is located in the same place as the St. Mary- Magdalena's Church of a Dominican monastery founded before 1300. The details of the building are typical of Russian early classicism. The interior of the church is relatively modest in terms of architecture. ...
Founded: 1783 | Location: Tartu, Estonia

Tartu Cathedral

Tartu Cathedral (Estonian Tartu toomkirik) is one of the landmarks of the city of Tartu. The building is now an imposing ruin overlooking the lower town. In the small part of it that has been renovated is now located the museum of the University of Tartu, which the university also uses for major receptions. The hill on which the cathedral later stood (Toomemägi or "cathedral hill") was one of the largest strongholds of ...
Founded: 1250-1300 | Location: Tartu, Estonia

St John's Church

St. John's Church was probably built in the first third of the 14th century as a three-nave basilica. The church was damaged in the Russian- Livonian War in the 16th century; lightning has set its spire on fire several times. Some parts of the church were destroyed in the Great Nordic War in 1708. In the end of 19th century external walls of St. John's Church were cleaned of limewash, the original shape of the ch ...
Founded: 1300-1330 | Location: Tartu, Estonia

Püssirohukelder

In 1763 Russian Empress Catherine II ordered to fortify Tartu again. It was decided to build a gunpowder magazine (Püssirohukelder) in the former city moat. The responsibility of the building was assigned to Field-Marshal General de Villebois. His engineers started to build magazine in 1768. The bricks are brought from the old Mary Church (about where the University Main Building is now) and the ruins of the bishop s ...
Founded: 1768-1778 | Location: Tartu, Estonia

Angel's Bridge

The Angel’s Bridge, located on Toome hill, was built in the 19th century and spans Lossi Street. The writing on the bridge, “otium reficit vires“ (rest restores strength), invites one to use Toome hill as a place of rejuvenation. The bridge, designed by J.W. Krause, was built in 1814-1816 and replaced an earlier temporary bridge. The bridge was thoroughly renovated in 1913, at which time a bust-portrait ...
Founded: 1814-1816 | Location: Tartu, Estonia

The Church of Virgin Mary

A beautifully proportioned neo-Historical red- brick Roman Catholic church (architect Wilhelm Scilling) was completed in 1899 and consecrated as Sinless Virgin Mary's Secret of Faith Church. The main altar was placed in the church 1904. Altar painting "Virgin Mary with Jesus" was painted by Ernst Friedrich von Liphardt. In 1934, a new modern organ was installed. In 1935, a large crucifix carved of linden was placed a ...
Founded: 1899 | Location: Tartu, Estonia

Tartu City Museum

The Tartu City Museum was established in 1955 for collecting, studying and displaying the objects connected with town history as well as other sources. The permanent exhibition “Dorpat. Yuryev. Tartu”, staged at the Tartu City Museum in 2001, is a museological interpretation of the history of Tartu. Also the exhibition of Tartu peace treaty of 1920 is updated to be a permanent. The museum building itself is a ...
Founded: 1790 | Location: Tartu, Estonia

A. Le Coq Beer Museum

Tartu is the birthplace of Estonian beer industry and has been a beer town for nearly a thousand years. In order to perpetuate the history of industrial brewing, the Beer Museum was opened on July 1, 2003. The Beer Museum is located on the territory of A. Le Coq in a malt tower, built in 1898. The museum is located on six floors and the total number of exhibits amounts to approximately 2000. The exhibition explains brewin ...
Founded: 2003 | Location: Tartu, Estonia

St. Peter's Church

St.Peter's congregation of Tartu was established on 27 October 1869 and the St. Peter's Church was consecrated in 1884. This pseudogothic imposing building was built pursuant to a design by E. Schröder. The location was symbolic of the time of the Estonian awakening: in the proximity of the square where the first general Estonian song festival took place. The church was finally completed in 1903, when the fre ...
Founded: 1884 | Location: Tartu, Estonia

KGB Cells Museum

During the 47 years of Soviet occupation in Estonia approximately 122,000 people fell victims to different repressions from the security organs and more than 30,000 of them lost their life. The South Centre of Soviet security service NKVD and later KGB was located in Tartu, in the so-called gray house. The dungeon was located in the basement and cells have been restored to the original appearance as part of the museum's ...
Founded: 2001 | Location: Tartu, Estonia

Raadi Cemetery

The Raadi cemetery is the oldest and largest burial ground in Tartu, dating back to 1773. Many prominent historical figures are buried there. It is also the largest Baltic German cemetery in Estonia after the destruction of Kopli cemetery in Tallinn. Until 1841, it was the only cemetery in the town. Between 1771 and 1772, Catherine the Great, Russian empress issued an edict which decreed that from that point on no-one wh ...
Founded: 1773 | Location: Tartu, Estonia

St. Alexander's Orthodox Church

A two-storey Orthodox church was built between 1914-1917. It is designed by the architect V. Lunski. Cupolas are inspired by the Old Russian church architecture. The church was reconsecrated in summer 2003. Reference: Visit Tartu
Founded: 1914-1917 | Location: Tartu, Estonia

Kärkna Abbey Ruins

Kärkna Abbey, now ruined, was a former Cistercian monastery in Estonia. The monastery was founded before 1233 by the Bishop of Dorpat, Hermann von Buxhoeveden, and settled by monks from Pforta Abbey, of the filiation of Morimond. An early destruction by heathen inhabitants of the district is mentioned in 1234. After attacks by Russian forces from the principality of Vladim ...
Founded: early 1200s | Location: Tartu, Estonia

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte

The Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte is a baroque French château built between 1658-1661 for Nicolas Fouquet. It was made for Marquis de Belle Île, Viscount of Melun and Vaux, the superintendent of finances of Louis XIV, the château was an influential work of architecture in mid-17th century Europe. At Vaux-le-Vicomte, the architect Louis Le Vau, the landscape architect André le Nôtre, and the painter-decorator Charles Le Brun worked together on a large-scale project for the first time. Their collaboration marked the beginning of the 'Louis XIV style' combining architecture, interior design and landscape design. The garden's pronounced visual axis is an example of this style.

To secure the necessary grounds for the elaborate plans for Vaux-le-Vicomte’s garden and castle, Fouquet purchased and demolished three villages. The displaced villagers were then employed in the upkeep and maintenance of the gardens. It was said to have employed eighteen thousand workers and cost as much as 16 million livres. The château and its patron became for a short time a focus for fine feasts, literature and arts. The poet La Fontaine and the playwright Molière were among the artists close to Fouquet. At the inauguration of Vaux-le-Vicomte, a Molière play was performed, along with a dinner event organized by François Vatel, and an impressive firework show.

After Fouquet was arrested and imprisoned for life, and his wife exiled, Vaux-le-Vicomte was placed under sequestration. The king seized, confiscated or purchased 120 tapestries, the statues, and all the orange trees from Vaux-le-Vicomte. He then sent the team of artists (Le Vau, Le Nôtre and Le Brun) to design what would be a much larger project than Vaux-le-Vicomte, the palace and gardens of Versailles.

The Marshal Villars became the new owner without first seeing the chateau. In 1764, the Marshal's son sold the estate to the Duke of Praslin, whose descendants would maintain the property for over a century. It is sometimes mistakenly reported that the château was the scene of a murder in 1847, when duke Charles de Choiseul-Praslin, killed his wife in her bedroom, but this did not happen at Vaux-le-Vicomte but at the Paris residence of the Duke.

In 1875, after thirty years of neglect, the estate was sold to Alfred Sommier in a public auction. The château was empty, some of the outbuildings had fallen into ruin, and the famous gardens were totally overgrown. The huge task of restoration and refurbishment began under the direction of the architect Gabriel-Hippolyte Destailleur, assisted by the landscape architect Elie Lainé. When Sommier died in 1908, the château and the gardens had recovered their original appearance. His son, Edme Sommier, and his daughter-in-law completed the task. Today, his descendants continue to preserve the château, which remains privately owned by Patrice and Cristina de Vogüé, the Count and Countess de Vogüé. It is now administered by their three sons Alexandre, Jean-Charles and Ascanio de Vogüé. Recognized by the state as a monument historique, it is open to the public regularly.

Architecture

The chateau is situated near the northern end of a 1.5-km long north-south axis with the entrance front facing north. Its elevations are perfectly symmetrical to either side of this axis. Somewhat surprisingly the interior plan is also nearly completely symmetrical with few differences between the eastern and western halves. The two rooms in the center, the entrance vestibule to the north and the oval salon to the south, were originally an open-air loggia, dividing the chateau into two distinct sections. The interior decoration of these two rooms was therefore more typical of an outdoor setting. Three sets of three arches, those on the entrance front, three more between the vestibule and the salon, and the three leading from the salon to the garden are all aligned and permitted the arriving visitor to see through to the central axis of the garden even before entering the chateau. The exterior arches could be closed with iron gates, and only later were they filled in with glass doors and the interior arches with mirrored doors. Since the loggia divided the building into two halves, there are two symmetrical staircases on either side of it, rather than a single staircase. The rooms in the eastern half of the house were intended for the use of the king, those in the western were for Fouquet. The provision of a suite of rooms for the king was normal practice in aristocratic houses of the time, since the king travelled frequently.

Another surprising feature of the plan is the thickness of the main body of the building (corps de logis), which consists of two rows of rooms running east and west. Traditionally the middle of the corps de logis of French chateaux consisted of a single row of rooms. Double-thick corps de logis had already been used in hôtels particuliers in Paris, including Le Vau's Hôtel Tambonneau, but Vaux was the first chateau to incorporate this change. Even more unusual, the main rooms are all on the ground floor rather than the first floor (the traditional piano nobile). This accounts for the lack of a grand staircase or a gallery, standard elements of most contemporary chateaux. Also noteworthy are corridors in the basement and on the first floor which run the length of house providing privacy to the rooms they access. Up to the middle of the 17th century, corridors were essentially unknown. Another feature of the plan, the four pavilions, one at each corner of the building, is more conventional.

Vaux-le-Vicomte was originally planned to be constructed in brick and stone, but after the mid-century, as the middle classes began to imitate this style, aristocratic circles began using stone exclusively. Rather late in the design process, Fouquet and Le Vau switched to stone, a decision that may have been influenced by the use of stone at François Mansart's Château de Maisons. The service buildings flanking the large avant-cour to the north of the house remained in brick and stone, and other structures preceding them were in rubble-stone and plaster, a social ranking of building materials that would be common in France for a considerable length of time thereafter.

The main chateau is constructed entirely on a moated platform, reached via two bridges, both aligned with the central axis and placed on the north and south sides. The moat is a picturesque holdover from medieval fortified residences, and is again a feature that Le Vau may have borrowed from Maisons. The moat at Vaux may also have been inspired by the previous chateau on the site, which Le Vau's work replaced.

Gardens

The château rises on an elevated platform in the middle of the woods and marks the border between unequal spaces, each treated in a different way. This effect is more distinctive today, as the woodlands are mature, than it was in the seventeenth century when the site had been farmland, and the plantations were new.

Le Nôtre's garden was the dominant structure of the great complex, stretching nearly a mile and a half (3 km), with a balanced composition of water basins and canals contained in stone curbs, fountains, gravel walks, and patterned parterres that remains more coherent than the vast display Le Nôtre was to create at Versailles.

Le Nôtre created a magnificent scene to be viewed from the house, using the laws of perspective. Le Notre used the natural terrain to his advantage. He placed the canal at the lowest part of the complex, thus hiding it from the main perspectival point of view. Past the canal, the garden ascends a large open lawn and ends with the Hercules column added in the 19th century. Shrubberies provided a picture frame to the garden that also served as a stage for royal fêtes.

From the top of the grand staircase, this gives the impression that the entire garden is revealed in one single glance. Initially, the view consists of symmetrical rows of shrubbery, avenues, fountains, statues, flowers and other pieces developed to imitate nature – these elements exemplify the Baroque desire to mold nature to fit its wishes, thus using nature to imitate nature. The centerpiece is a large reflecting pool flanked by grottos holding statues in their many niches. The grand sloping lawn is not visible until one begins to explore the garden, when the viewer is made aware of the optical elements involved and discovers that the garden is much larger than it looks.