Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, is famous for its very well-preserved medieval legacy. Tallinn Old Town (or Vanallinn) has received the status as UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997, making it one of those must-visit places if you want to time travel to the Middle Ages.
Honestly, I had never heard the name of the city until around 2 weeks before I flew there 😂. I was already in Italy when I booked my flight to Tallinn, so obviously I was not prepared for the weather… There was snowfall one day before my arrival! Still, I was thrilled to set foot in Northern Europe for the first time in my life.
Some interesting facts about Tallinn:
- The local residents in Tallinn can use public transportation for free! How cool is that?
- The Old Town was one of the best fortified cities in Europe, and we can still see the remaining walls and 20 towers standing tall.
- The oldest records mentioning Tallinn that have ever been found were in the 12th century (1154) by an Arab cartographer who marked the area on his map and in the 13th century (1219) in the Chronicle of Latvian Henrik (the landing of King Valdemaar II of Denmark).
- Since the 13th century until 1918, the city was still known as ‘Reval’, most likely derived from an old Estonian county, Revalia. The word ‘Tallinn’ is derived from Estonian language, ‘taani linnus’, which means ‘Danish castle’.
TALLINN OLD TOWN
To get to the Old Town – also called Vanallinn – I usually took a tram not far from my place in Majaka Põik and stopped at Viru platform (there was a shopping mall nearby). Since I was not a resident, I decided to buy the e-tickets online on Tallinna Transport website.
There are several entry points to the Old Town, but the one I find most picturesque is Viru Gate. Look how gorgeous it is! It’s like taken straight from the fairy tale book!
The Old Town is divided into two areas, the lower town and upper town (Toompea Hill). Back in the medieval times, the lower town was where people carried out their activities and until now most of the buildings still exist in their original form (The Town Hall, monasteries, churches, shops and houses), while the limestone Toompea hill was the seat of power. Well, it still is until today since the Estonian parliament and government buildings are seated there.
St. Olav’s Church (Oleviste Kirik)
Situated in the lower town, you can see even from outside the Old Town area its 124-meter tower soaring to the sky. It was after all claimed as the tallest building in the world back in the Middle Age. The tower was so tall that its spire has been struck by lightning, not once or twice, but TEN times, three of which led to fire that burned down the building.
The now Baptist Gothic church is believed to be built for the first time in the 12th century and named after the canonized Norwegian King Olav II Haraldsson (995-1030 AD). The earliest record mentioning this church dates back to year 1267 after the arrival of the Danes. It is still open for Sunday service and the entrance is free, except for climbing up the tower that will cost a few Euros. I didn’t do the climbing, though, it was already pretty enough from the outside.
Town Square (Raekoja plats)
I definitely got the “medieval vibe” when I was here. It was the perfect spot for just sitting around under the parasols, drinking some coffee and watching people passing by. There were even street vendors in their middle age costumes selling roasted nuts in carts. The Town Hall itself was completed in 1404 and used as a meeting place for the city council. It is open as a museum in summer (July – August) and the visitors can climb to the top of the tower for some amazing city viewing.
Interesting fact: the world’s first decorated Christmas tree was erected here back in 1441 by the Brotherhood of the Blackheads. But there is another claim that said the first one was actually erected by the same guild in Riga, Latvia in 1510.
And if you are hungry, you can choose one of the restaurants or café around the Square. Or head over to Olde Hansa a few meters from the Town Square to taste the authentic Hanseatic meals and drinks! I did not eat there but I did swing by “Ill Drakoon”, a small, dark, candle-lit bar with medieval decor in the Town Hall, to sip their mulled wine. 🥂
Museum of Medieval Torture Instruments
My friend and I were on our way leaving the Old Town when we saw two guys in medieval outfits handing out fliers about this museum. I had always wanted to see stuff like this, so we decided to have a look. The museum was not as big as I had expected, it was a 2-floor small rooms that displayed some creepy torturing devices from the medieval times.
It still gave goosebumps, though, imagining that hundreds of years ago, people were so much into sadistic corporal punishment and pain that they were creative enough to come up with such strange devices and methods to inflict pain in other human beings. For example, there was a device called the Judas Cradle. It is like a stool with a sharp pyramid top onto which the victim would be slowly dropped and tortured repeatedly. That alone made me thankful to be living in this century!
Next: Toompea Hill