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 architect ...
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 ...
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

Porta Nigra

The Porta Nigra (Latin for black gate) is the largest Roman city gate north of the Alps. It is designated as part of the Roman Monuments, Cathedral of St. Peter and Church of Our Lady in Trier UNESCO World Heritage Site. The name Porta Nigra originated in the Middle Ages due to the darkened colour of its stone; the original Roman name has not been preserved. Locals commonly refer to the Porta Nigra simply as Porta.

The Porta Nigra was built in grey sandstone between 186 and 200 AD. The original gate consisted of two four-storied towers, projecting as near semicircles on the outer side. A narrow courtyard separated the two gate openings on either side. For unknown reasons, however, the construction of the gate remained unfinished. For example, the stones at the northern (outer) side of the gate were never abraded, and the protruding stones would have made it impossible to install movable gates. Nonetheless, the gate was used for several centuries until the end of the Roman era in Trier.

In Roman times, the Porta Nigra was part of a system of four city gates, one of which stood at each side of the roughly rectangular Roman city. The Porta Nigra guarded the northern entry to the Roman city, while the Porta Alba (White Gate) was built in the east, the Porta Media (Middle Gate) in the south, and the Porta Inclyta (Famous Gate) in the west, next to the Roman bridge across the Moselle. The gates stood at the ends of the two main streets of the Roman Trier, one of which led north-south and the other east-west. Of these gates, only the Porta Nigra still exists today.

In the early Middle Ages the Roman city gates were no longer used for their original function and their stones were taken and reused for other buildings. Also iron and lead braces were broken out of the walls of the Porta Nigra for reuse. Traces of this destruction are still clearly visible on the north side of the gate.

After 1028, the Greek monk Simeon lived as a hermit in the ruins of the Porta Nigra. After his death (1035) and sanctification, the Simeonstift monastery was built next to the Porta Nigra to honor him. Saving it from further destruction, the Porta Nigra was transformed into a church: The inner court of the gate was roofed and intermediate ceilings were inserted. The two middle storeys of the former gate were converted into church naves: the upper storey being for the monks and the lower storey for the general public. The ground floor with the large gates was sealed, and a large outside staircase was constructed alongside the south side (the town side) of the gate, up to the lower storey of the church. A small staircase led further up to the upper storey. The church rooms were accessible through former windows of the western tower of the Porta Nigra that were enlarged to become entrance doors (still visible today). The top floor of the western tower was used as church tower, the eastern tower was leveled, and an apse added at its east side. An additional gate - the much smaller Simeon Gate - was built adjacent to the East side of the Porta Nigra and served as a city gate in medieval times.

In 1802 Napoleon Bonaparte dissolved the church in the Porta Nigra and the monastery beside it, along with the vast majority of Trier"s numerous churches and monasteries. On his visit to Trier in 1804, Napoleon ordered that the Porta Nigra be converted back to its Roman form. Only the apse was kept; but the eastern tower was not rebuilt to its original height. Local legend has it that Napoleon originally wanted to completely tear down the church, but locals convinced him that the church had actually been a Gaulish festival hall before being turned into a church. Another version of the story is that they told him about its Roman origins, persuading him to convert the gate back to its original form.

In 1986 the Porta Nigra was designated a World Heritage Site, along with other Roman monuments in Trier and its surroundings. The modern appearance of the Porta Nigra goes back almost unchanged to the reconstruction ordered by Napoleon. At the south side of the Porta Nigra, remains of Roman columns line the last 100 m of the street leading to the gate. Positioned where they had stood in Roman times, they give a slight impression of the aspect of the original Roman street that was lined with colonnades. The Porta Nigra, including the upper floors, is open to visitors.