Top historic sites in Tallinn

Tallinn Town Hall

Tallinn Town Hall, located in the main square, is the only surviving Gothic town hall in Northern Europe. The first recorded mention of the Town Hall dates from 1322. Its present form dates from 1402-1404, when the building was rebuilt. The spire was destroyed in an aerial bombing on March 9, 1944. It was rebuilt in 1950. The Town Hall is in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites with the Tallinn's Old Town. The buil ...
Founded: 1322 | Location: Tallinn, Estonia

The Church of Holy Spirit

The Church of Holy Spirit is the only sacred building from 14th-century Tallinn preserved its original form. The church was originally founded as part of the neighbouring Holy Spirit Almshouse, which tended to the town's sick and elderly. Throughout Medieval times it remained the primary church of the common folk. First Estonian-language sermons were held there, and the famous Livonian chronicler Balthasar Russow worked a ...
Founded: 1319 | Location: Tallinn, Estonia

Great Guild Hall

Since the 14th century craftmen’s guilds were significant brotherhoods who drove interests of their members. The big guild of Tallinn was an union of wealthy merchants. Their base was the Great Guild Hall in downtown, opposite the church of Holy Spirit. The building itself was built in 1407-1410 and is a well-preserved sample of Medieval construction. Today the Great Guild Hall houses a museum presenting Estonia's hist ...
Founded: 1407-1410 | Location: Tallinn, Estonia

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is an orthodox cathedral in Tallinn. It is built to a design by Mikhail Preobrazhensky in a typical Russian Revival style between 1894 and 1900, during the period when the country was part of the Russian Empire. The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is Tallinn's largest and grandest orthodox cupola cathedral. It is dedicated to Saint Alexander Nevsky who in 1242 won the Battle of the Ice on Lake Pe ...
Founded: 1894-1900 | Location: Tallinn, Estonia

St Mary's Cathedral

St Mary’s Cathedral was originally established by Danes on 13th century and it is the oldest church in Tallinn and mainland Estonia. It is also the only building in Toompea which survived a 17th century fire. The first church was made of wood and built there most likely already in 1219 when the Danes invaded Tallinn. In 1229 when the Dominican monks arrived, they started building a stone church replacing the old wooden ...
Founded: 1229 | Location: Tallinn, Estonia

St. Nicholas Church

St. Nicholas' Church (Niguliste kirik) is a medieval church in Tallinn. The church is dedicated to Saint Nicholas, the patron of the fishermen and sailors. It was founded and built around 1230-1275 by Westphalian merchants, who came from Gotland in the 13th century. While the city was still unfortified, the church had heavy bars for closing the entrances, loopholes and hiding places for refugees. When the fortificatio ...
Founded: 1230-1270 | Location: Tallinn, Estonia

House of the Brotherhood of Black Heads

The House of Black Heads (Estonian Mustpeade maja) is a Renaissance-style building in Tallinn old town. The building's name is derived from its developers, the Brotherhood of Black Heads which was the guild of foreign unmarried merchants. The Brotherhood was founded sometime around 1399 and was active in Estonia and Latvia. A 14th-century residential building probably occupied this site when the Black Heads bought ...
Founded: 1597 | Location: Tallinn, Estonia

Dominican Monastery

The Dominican monastery was founded in 1246 and it is the oldest one in the medieval old town. The center of monastery was St. Catherine's Church, which was completed in the late 1300s and was the largest church building in the lower town. The Monastery was expanded several times, most recently in the 16th century. St. Catherine's convent closed down in 1525, when the monks were expelled from Tallinn during the R ...
Founded: 1246 | Location: Tallinn, Estonia

Kiek in de Kök

Kiek in de Kök is an artillery tower built between 1475 and 1483. It is 38 m high and has walls 4 m thick. Cannon balls dating back to 1577 are still embedded in its outer walls. Compared to the other Tallinn towers Kiek in de Kök was predominant in its fire power, due to its 27 embrasures for cannons and 30 for handguns Kiek in de Kök (low German Peep into the Kitchen ) is an old German language nicknam ...
Founded: 1475-1483 | Location: Tallinn, Estonia

St. Olaf's Church

St. Olaf’s Church (Oleviste kirik) is believed to have been built in the 12th century and to have been the centre for old Tallinn's Scandinavian community prior to the conquest of Tallinn by Denmark in 1219. Its dedication relates to King Olaf II of Norway (a.k.a. Saint Olaf, 995-1030). The first known written records referring to the church date back to 1267, and it was extensively rebuilt during the 14th century. ...
Founded: 1267 | Location: Tallinn, Estonia

Toompea Castle

Toompea Castle is situated on the steep limestone hill in the central part of Tallinn. The first wooden castle is believed to have been built on the hill in either the 10th or 11th century by residents of the ancient Estonian county of Rävala. It was probably one of the first inhabited areas of what later became Tallinn. In 1219, the castle was taken over by Danish crusaders - led by Valdemar II. According to a legen ...
Founded: 13-14th century | Location: Tallinn, Estonia

Seaplane Harbour Museum

The Seaplane Harbour is the newest and one of the most exciting museums in Tallinn. It tells stories about the Estonian maritime and military history. The museum’s display, that comprises of more than a couple of hundred large exhibits, revitalizes the colourful history of Estonia. British built submarine Lembit weighing 600 tones is the centrepiece of the new museum. Built in 1936 for the Estonian navy, Lembit served ...
Founded: | Location: Tallinn, Estonia

Patarei Prison

In 1828 Nicholas I of Russia mandated the building of the sea fortress of Patarei. Completed in 1840, it is located on area of 4 hectares (10 acres). Over the years it has had different functions. Since 1867 Patarei functioned as barracks and in 1920 it was moved as a prison. It housed inmates until 2004, and has been left virtually untouched since. Visitors can explore the hallways to see cells, work areas, exercise yard ...
Founded: 1828-1840 | Location: Tallinn, Estonia

Kadriorg Palace

Catherinethal ("Catherine's valley") is a Petrine Baroque palace of Catherine I of Russia in Tallinn. It was built after the Great Northern War to Nicola Michetti's designs by Gaetano Chiaveri and Mikhail Zemtsov. In the 20th century the Estonian version of the name, Kadriorg, gained currency and came to be applied to the surrounding district. After the successful siege of Reval in 1710 Peter the Great of Russia b ...
Founded: 1718 | Location: Tallinn, Estonia

Pirita Convent

Pirita Convent (Pirita klooster) was a monastery, for both monks and nuns dedicated to St. Bridget. In 1407 two brothers from St. Bridget Order Convent in Vadstena, Sweden, had arrived to Tallinn to promote with advice and other assistance the expansion of order to Estonia. In 1417 finally the first limestone quarry permit was obtained from the town with the help of the Grandmaster of the Livonian Order and the building o ...
Founded: 1417 | Location: Tallinn, 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.