Momboisse Family Adventures Baltic Sea - Tallinn, Estonia - (June 10, 2011)

Momboisse Family Adventures Baltic Sea
Norwegian Cruise Tour
 Self-Guided Tour
Tallinn, Estonia
Partly Cloudy 76F

Sunrise 4:08 am - Sunset 10:32 pm
June 10, 2011

Our Video of Tallinn
Our last stop on the Gulf of Finland is Tallinn, the capital of Estonia.  Tallinn, the old city which is surrounded by walls and towers began around 1050 with the first fortress built on Toompea Hill. 

The picture above is of the old town, which we took from our suite on the Norwegian Sun as she pulled into port.  

An Itsy Bitsy History of 
who Occupied Tallinn, 

Estonia and When 

The position of Tallinn on the Gulf of Finland made neighboring nations envious to the point of warfare.  In 1219 the Danish occupied the land, but they tired of internal rebellions and the continuing need to defend it from warring neighbors.  So they sold the land to the German Teutonic Order in 1346 for 19,000 silver Marks.  The Germans lost Tallinn to the Swedes in 1561, who then integrated their Swedish dominions of Estonia and Livonia into the Russian Empire in 1710.  After the Russian Revolution in 1917, Estonia declared its first independence February 24, 1918.  BUT, in the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, the Bolshevik (Russian) government gave Germany - Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.  February 25, 1918 German troops entered Tallinn, independence short lived; Tallinn, Estonia was back under German occupation.  Actually, Estonians consider themselves independent but occupied from 1918-1991. 

In November 1918, after the end of World War I, the German Revolution caused the replacement of Germany's imperial government with a republic.  At the same time, Germany formally handed over political power of Estonia to the Estonian Provisional Government.  Yeah, Estonia is not occupied.  Not quite. Russia begins a westward offensive to take back the lands (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, etc.) that they gave up under the Treaty of Brest-Lotovsk.  After all, apparently Germany doesn't want them anymore. 

The Estonians do not give up easily and on February 2, 1920, with the Tartu Peace Treaty, signed with Soviets, Russia finally acknowledges Estonia as an independent Republic with Tallinn named as the capital.  

BUT, alas poor Estonia, the Soviet Union after the start of World War II marched back occupying them in 1940.  The Soviets used #59 Pikk Street in Tallinn as the KGB headquarters for torture and interrogation and the tower of St. Olav's Church to block TV and radio signals. 

But wait, Nazi Germany countered by invading the Soviet Union June 22, 1941, reaching Estonia by July.  The Nazi's occupy Estonia until they retreat in 1944, after the Soviets having stood up to the German army at the Siege of Leningrad, push Germany back and take over Estonia once again. 

On August 20, 1991 (20 years ago), after the fall of the Soviet Union, Estonia declared its independent.  And that is Tallinn's history in a nut shell. 

We now set out to explore the quaint medieval Old Town of Tallinn, which has been attacked, sold, sacked, rebelled, razed, pillaged, conquered, and bombed.  In the course of the past 20 years they have managed to crate a lovely environment filled with history, adventure and lots of things to climb.  

Today is a bit overcast with a promise of clearing by midday.  We arrived in port to the sound of an Om Pa Pa band on the dock playing "Michael Row Your Boat Ashore." 

We have a short ten minute walk from the dock across Rannamae tee a main highway to the entrance of the Old Town and the Fat Margaret Gate.  Inside the walls look up, each corner features a camera. Smile someone is watching.  

We followed cobbled narrow streets to the foot of St. Olav's Church on Lai Street and looked straight up the 440 foot steeple.  During Soviet occupation the KGB used this steeple and spire as a radio tower and surveillance point to block non-soviet radio and television.  The steeple is so tall that it has been hit by lightning at least eight times, and the entire church has burned down three times since it was built in the 12th century.  The tower can be climbed, but was not open for another hour.  

We move on to the main street Pikk.  In one short city block we will pass historical buildings dating from the 15th to 20th century. 

#26 Pikk is the Blackheads society, used from 1440 to the 1900's by the members of the Blackhead Society.  These were the unmarried men of Estonia and Latvia.  If there was a fire in town it was the unmarried Blackheads who were responsible to fight the blaze. 

Across the street at #17 is the door of the Great Guild.  Once a member of the Blackhead Society married a local woman, he moved on up to the big time and membership in the Great Guild, no longer having to fight the fires of the town, except those under his own roof.  

#59 Pikk is the former KGB Headquarters.  The basement windows were bricked-up because, we are told, the KGB did not want anyone on the outside to see their methods of torture.  It was in the basement of this building that enemies of the state were interrogated.  From here, if they were still alive, they were sent to Siberian gulags. A plaque on the outside of this building reads "This building housed the headquarters of the organ of repression of the Soviet occupational power." 

We make a short stop inside the Lutheran Church of the Holy Ghost.  It has a distinguishing octagonal tower steeple, visible from our climbs throughout the day.  A painted clock on its outside wall is the oldest timepiece in Tallinn dating to the late 17th century.  Inside this church is decorated and constructed with carved wood.  

Down Dunkri we pass the Wheel Well also called the Cat's Well.  During Medieval time, residents came here to get their water.  Legend states that the well was inhabited by spirits who required regular animal sacrifices.  Sheep, cattle and yes, cat's were thrown into the well.  The well is plugged now.  Look down the shaft and all that is visible is garbage.  Nearby a cat wanders. 

Left on Rataskaevu to Niguliste Kirk (St. Nicholas Church) a 13th century Gothic church, was partially destroyed in 1944 (when Tallinn was occupied by the Germans) and the Russians bombed the Upper Town.  Today after renovation it became - you guessed it, a museum. 

We turn left up Luhike Jaig a really skinny street, one half stairs the other a steep climb.  At the top of Luhike Jaig is a fork in the road.  Straight ahead through the oak door is one of two gates that separates the Lower Town from the Upper Town.  This gate is still the ritual meeting point of the mayor of Tallinn and the prime minister whenever there is an important decision to be made between town and country.  

Danish King's Garden 

We take the fork and turn left entering a gate into the Danish King's Garden.  This are is the legendary birthplace of the Danish flag.  In 1219, King Valdemar II of Denmark and his troops were camped in this location before conquering Toompea Hill.  Both Estonian and Danish folklore recall that Valdemar's forces were losing their battle when the sky opened and a red flag with a white cross floated down from heaven.  King Vlademar took this as "a sign from heaven" that they were to win and spurred them on to eventual victory.  The Danish flag is called the Danneborg (meaning fell from the sky).  The restaurant at the top of the city wall here is also called the Danneborg.  

We use a rope lining the wall of the narrow stairway and climb pulling our weigh up four flights of extra tall stairs to the top of the wall overlooking the Danish Kings Garden below. 

To the horizon over the Lower Town are the cruise ships.  A very narrow area with tables and chairs lining a portion of the wall is the Dannenborg Restaurant.  

Slowly we maneuver back down the stairs out the side gate and we have arrived at the top of Toompea Hill outside the city wall.

To the left down Komandandi tee is Kiek in de Kok Tower, which means Peek in the Kitchen.  This is our next destination.

The tower gets its name from its location overlooking the Lower Town.  Apparently guards would "peek" out the windows of the tower into the "kitchens" of the houses below. What they were peeking at is anyone's guess.  Today it is a museum housing cannons, body armor, a floor map of the original location of all the towers and walls and lots of medieval items of body reconstruction (torture). 

This is also the location of the bastion passages.  Unfortunately the tour of the bastion passages below the tower takes two hours, more time than we can donate to this location.  

Back down Komandandi tee and right on Lossi plats brings us to the front of a large pink building that looks a bit out of place and much like the castle's of St. Petersburg. 

There is a reason for that.  During the Russian occupation of Estonia, Catherine the Great (of Tsarskoye Selo and Hermitage fame) had this built to the east side of the existing wooden tower and fortress in 1773.  Today it houses Riigikogu or Parliament of Estonia.  

Across the street is the ornate Estonian Orthodox Saint Alexander Nevsky Cathedral.  This church was built while under Russian occupation between 1895 and 1900 by Preobrazhnesky.  From 1918 to 1944 while Estonia went back and forth between Soviet and German occupation the Orthodox Church did its best to survive and perform divine services.  But priests and bishops were arrested and executed; it was a difficult time of persecution.  

In 1955 orthodoxy was still under persecution by Khrushchev, who prohibited baptizing and distribution of Sacraments.  Some churches were destroyed; Alexander Nevsky Cathedral was threatened with destruction, but thankfully was not.

Today this beautiful church is a fully functioning Estonian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate under the guidance of the sixtieth Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church, Kirill and falls under the umbrella of Eastern Orthodoxy. 

We lit candles here for our prayer petitions.  The only book we could find was written in Russian.  So the background of the mosaics that make up the facade  and the iconostasis screen that separates the nave from the sanctuary will remain a mystery.  This would be the last fully functioning Orthodox Church we would visit on our Baltic trip.  Our last chance until we return  home to be completely in the physical presence of Jesus. 

There are two viewpoints with actual names in Upper Town, Patkuli and Kohtuotsa.  We believe that we found both of them.  Take any short little unmarked side street off the main cobbled lane and you find yourself at a viewpoint looking out over the city wall to the modern town to the west or the medieval lower town to the east.  It is difficult to get lost in this area. Eventually we ended up on Pikk Jaig that leads back down to Town Square, just in time for lunch.  

Town Hall Square was once a place where traders sold their wares, knights showed off, and criminals were chained.  

Today it is a lovely marketplace with street performers, people in period dress, and numerous restaurants.  

After lunch we stop at what claims
to be the oldest functioning pharmacy
 dating back to 1422.  

Look through a decorative jar of blue liquid sitting on the window ledge and the Town Hall Tower across the street appears to be upside-down.  

This is our next destination, a climb of the 15th century Town Hall Tower.  

To climb, just push yourself one extra tall step in front of the other winding up a narrow stair case with a periodic barred window until you reach the end of the stairs and the top.

Your reward, a 360 degree view of all of Tallinn. Worth every step and all the pain we will feel tomorrow when our muscles remind us how many walls and towers we climbed.  We are greeted by the sun finally breaking through the clouds as we arrive at the top.  Okay, about face, reverse and carefully climb down holding the rope secured into the rock wall. 

From Town Square we head over to Vene Street and St. Peter and Paul Catholic Church.  It is closed but next door is the old Dominican St. Catherine's Monastery.  Founded by the Dominican monks around 1246 this monastery was built in Gothic Medieval style  After 1517, the Reformation spread through the Baltic and Estonia, and in 1524 the Dominican monastery was destroyed.  Years went by, German occupation, Soviet occupation, and finally in 1954 the former garden and cloister of the Dominican monastery were restored. The inside is lit only by candles, with very few windows and those that do exist covered with years of soot, dirt and paint, it was difficult to get clear pictures.  Still it had a contemplative feel. 

Our final stop is Epping Tower on Laboratooriumi in Lower Old Town.  This town wall tower has been preserved as a medieval interactive exhibition. 

Climb four flights of extra tall stars in a narrow passageway and  your reward is to try on chain mail, armor, gauntlets, helmets and hold weapons of medieval torture such as a mace.  No the spray kind.  

After this fun interactive experience we head back to our ship.  Tallinn is worth a second day, there is much more to see.  The video at the beginning of this post covers all the sites we visited.  Tomorrow Stockholm.      

For an interactive map and guided walking tour covering many of our tours please be sure to download the GPSmyCity App from the iTunes store. The App covers an extensive library of articles and walking tours from over 470 cities worldwide, and now features articles from Adventures of a Home Town Tourist covering Carmel and Monterey (with more cities on the way).

All photography or video by L A Momboisse and R M Momboisse unless listed below: 

Kiek in de Kok Tower - Use License