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 one. The monks were killed in a conflict between the Knights of the Sword and vassals supporting the Pope’s legate in 1233 and the church was contaminated. A letter asking permission to consecrate it anew was sent to Rome in 1233 and this is the first record of the church’s existence.
The building was completed in 1240 and it was a one-aisled building with a rectangular chancel. In 1240 it was also named cathedral and consecrated in honour of Virgin Mary. In the beginning of 14th century, reconstructions of the church began with building a new chancel. The enlargement of the one-aisled building to a three-aisled building began in the 1330s. The construction work however lasted almost 100 years and the new, longitudinal, part of the church was completed in the 1430s. The nave’s rectangular pillars had been completed in the second half of the 14th century, though.
The church was greatly damaged in the great fire of 1684 when the entire wooden furnishing was destroyed. Some vaults collapsed and many stone-carved details were greatly damaged- especially in the chancel. In 1686, after the fire, the church was practically restored to what it had been before. Pulpit with figures of the apostles (1686) and the altarpiece (1696) were made by Estonian sculptor and carver Christian Ackermann.
The Dome Church’s exterior dates from the 15th century, the spire dates from the 18th century. Most of the church’s furnishings goes back to the 17th and 18th centuries. From 1778 to 1779 a new baroque spire was built in the western part of the nave.
One should also mention a numerous sum of different kinds of tombstones from 13th –18th century, the stone-carved sarcophagi from the 17th century, also the altar and chancel, chandeliers, numerous coats-of arms from the 17th – 20th centuries. Two of the church’s four bells date back to 17th century, two date to the 18th century. The organ was made in 1914.
Among the people buried in the cathedral are the Bohemian nobleman Jindrich Matyas Thurn, one of leaders of Protestant revolt against emperor Ferdinand II and in events that lead to the Thirty Years War, Swedish soldier Pontus De la Gardie and his wife Sophia (John III's daughter), as well as the Scotsman Samuel Greig (formerly Samuil Karlovich Greig of the Russian Navy) and the Russian navigator Adam Johann von Krusenstern.
Built around AD 90 to entertain the legionaries stationed at the fort of Caerleon (Isca), the impressive amphitheatre was the Roman equivalent of today’s multiplex cinema. Wooden benches provided seating for up to 6,000 spectators, who would gather to watch bloodthirsty displays featuring gladiatorial combat and exotic wild animals.
Long after the Romans left, the amphitheatre took on a new life in Arthurian legend. Geoffrey of Monmouth, the somewhat imaginative 12th-century scholar, wrote in his History of the Kings of Britain that Arthur was crowned in Caerleon and that the ruined amphitheatre was actually the remains of King Arthur’s Round Table.
Today it is the most complete Roman amphitheatre in Britain.