If Baltic giants existed in the Middle Ages then they must have lived in the city of Tallinn because the Estonian capital was clearly built with their dimensions in mind. Tallinn’s medieval Old Town and Toompea district are unquestionably picturesque …
Looking across Tallinn’s charming Old Town from Kohtuotsa vaateplats (Court Square lookout)
…but on my visit to Tallinn in May 2014, I quickly developed a crick in my neck from constantly looking up at the city’s beautifully preserved medieval buildings. Everything within the walls of the Old Town built between the thirteenth and sixteenth centuries is so remarkably tall.
The towering Old Town’s Viru gates with the tall, thin Town Hall belfry in the distance
I just about managed to capture the gates with my camera close up at street level without putting my back out of joint
The best preserved section of Tallinn’s medieval Lower Town walls and towers (has anyone got any Deep Heat cream for my neck?)
St Olaf’s church has stood on this spot since the thirteenth century. The present spire is a colossal 124 metres high, but was originally 159 metres in the sixteenth century making it the tallest building known to exist at the time (I really need a neck massage now)
The Kiek in de Kök (stop sniggering, it means ‘Peep in the Kitchen’, given the name because watchmen on its upper floors could spy on the goings-on in the houses below). One of Tallinn’s few remaining medieval cannon towers with nine of Ivan the Terrible’s cannon balls fired at the tower during the Livonian War, still embedded in its walls five hundred years later
‘Tis just a scratch. Ivan’s cannon balls (middle left) look almost insignificant against the tower’s mighty girth. The tower was in fact heavily damaged in the attack, but refused to collapse altogether
Surely this is proof that Medieval Estonians were far taller than most Europeans are today? Huge tombstones (in today’s average height terms) dating back to the Middle Ages. Relics from the churchyard of St Catherine of Alexandria that once stood near here
Estonians may have evolved to a height more in line with their European cousins in later centuries, but their taste for neck-wrenchingly tall buildings appeared to continue into the twentieth century. The stunning Russian Orthodox cathedral of St Alexander Nevsky in the Toompea district, completed in 1900 is the tallest modern church centre in Estonia
The infamous Hotel Viru just outside the Old Town in the New Town district. Built by the Soviet Union in the 1970s, it was Tallinn’s first skyscraper reaching twenty-three storeys in height, although the KGB would have you believe it was only twenty-two storeys high (see Tallinn … true tales of espionage to find out why)
Commemorating the Estonian War of Independence nearly a century ago, this huge, glass cross in Tallinn’s Freedom Square is … yes, you’ve guessed it, tall
Thankfully, not every building and monument in Tallinn requires bending one’s neck back by at least 70 degrees to savour its splendour. The medieval street of Pikk (Long Street) that runs through the Old Town is lined with a number of ornate buildings once belonging to the city’s guilds, traders and artisans of the time. One of the most striking of these buildings is at number 26, once the home of the Brotherhood of the Blackheads (Mustpeade Maja), a religious group of celibate men whose patron was the African born Saint Maurice.
Wow! Something medieval that’s at eye level
The beautiful, and rather cheery doors into the guildhall of the Brotherhood of the Blackheads
The Brotherhood of the Blackheads’ crest over the door with a likeness of their patron saint Saint Maurice featured on the shield between the lions
Alas, the reprieve given to my neck and back didn’t last long …
St Canute’s Guildhall (Kanuti Gildi Hoone) …
… topped with statues of St Canute and Martin Luther, really high up
A modern addition lining Pikk (but still requiring some neck straining to see it in its entirety). This Arc Deco Egyptian façade at number 18 was designed by Jacque Rosenbaum in 1910
Straining one’s neck proved not to be the only peril one endured whilst taking in the medieval delights of Tallinn.
These steep steps leading up to the Short Leg Gate Tower above are lethal! They are so smooth from hundreds of years of footfall, I slipped on them twice
If one’s neck is still intact after climbing those steps, then one might be frightened to death instead. The Short Leg Gate Tower is believed to be the most haunted building in the city. Is that a ghostly apparition in the shape of a seagull just under the roof? (bottom right)
As I was walking along Harju towards Freedom Square, I became so distracted looking up at the spire of St Nicolas’ Church museum that…
… I didn’t see these pigeon shaped bollards (a familiar sight around the city) and ended up tripping over one of them
Rest assured that is not my blood on the side of it
The Old Town is paved in ankle-snapping cobbles. So treacherous are they particularly along the sloping, long path of Pikk jalg (Long Leg), a more user-friendly slabbed path and hand-rail were added in recent years
Tired of risking my life at street level, I decided to go ‘up’ and view the city from a higher and hopefully safer viewpoint. The Old Town Hall in the centre of the Old City dates from the fourteenth century and is believed to be the only surviving Gothic town hall in northern Europe. Its belfry stands at a height of 64 metres and promises amazing views over the city.
Tallinn’s beautifully preserved Old Town Hall, 600 years young
And what views they are …
(From left to right) The Kiek in de Kök , St Nicolas’ Church museum and St Alexander Nevsky cathedral seen from the top (and safety) of the Old Town belfry
Raekoja plats (Old Town square) below, St Olaf’s church and the Baltic sea
Raekoja plats seen from another belfry window
However, even the belfry had an array of perils.
The viewing platform of the belfry was rather narrow, with room for only a handful of people at a time
I do hope that six hundred year old bell is secure
The stairway to the belfry viewing platform was equally as narrow and treacherous …
… with a huge width between steps, my legs could barely stretch far enough!
Resounding evidence I think you’ll agree, proving my theory that Medieval Estonians were definitely gigantic in height (but clearly, also rather thin)
One of the original belfry ‘toilets’ along the stairway, and from the smell coming out of it, it hasn’t been emptied in the six hundred years it has been here
Well, I managed not to break any limbs nor pull any muscles on my two day visit to Tallinn. The struggle to stay in one piece however was truly worth it. Tallinn’s Old Town is simply beautiful and remarkably well preserved. A must for any medieval enthusiast or just a lovely place to visit for a romantic weekend away.
Real Bond style gadgets …
… and giant sized Lady Gaga dolls … … are other delights to be found in Tallinn.
Or, escape the tourists in Tallinn … … and visit romantic Kadriorg Park