Estonia: A Little-Known Medieval Country
Many world-travelers have considered visiting Russia at least once for its contrasts between old and new, its beautiful architecture, and its history, but very few visitors stop to think about Russia’s intruguing sister, Estonia. For some reason, it is just not a country that has been placed in the public eye. Estonia is a name not often mentioned but it is certainly worth consideration for people planning to visit this area of the world.
Most of us have probably never heard the names of Estonia’s cities: Tallinn, Narva, and Paldiski are just a few. Some of these places have few attractions and much natural beauty; decide why you are visiting Estonia and determine if a place with many things to see and do is important. Once the decision has been made to see what this mysterious place has to offer, where should you start? The city of Tallinn is a good bet.
Many Things to Explore in Tallinn
Tallinn has an Old-World atmosphere akin to the type of feeling found in the medieval streets of Germany, Poland, and many other ancient European countries. Finding the center of Tallinn shouldn’t be a problem and even if the streets aren’t easy to navigate, it’s worth the effort. At the square, visitors can find history in every nook and cranny. This square rose to importance in the 1000s and has been used continually throughout the ages. At least one business (the old pharmacy) was used as early as the 15th century. Make sure to research the history of Tallinn ahead of time; it will be easier than having to memorize everything at the time of arrival.
Estonian explorers will be interested in Tallinn’s Toompea Hill. The whimsical name is attached to an old fortress that is over 1,000 years old. There are wonderful photo opportunities here; the view around Toompea Hill’s surrounding areas is stunning. Many will agree that there is something special about the architecture in this part of the world; the domes and towers of Orthodox churches and cathedrals are quite different than churches in other sections of the globe.
Don’t forget to stop by the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. The beautifully-decorated towers and front entrance are worth the trip. There are many other churches and religious structures in Tallinn, such as the Church of St. Nicholas, Oleviste Church (named for St. Olaf), and the Convent of St. Bridget. If churches aren’t a particular interest, there is always Alatskivi Castle. It was originally built prior to the early 17th century, as a manor house, and wasn’t really a medieval castle; it was an upper-class residence in its day. Later in time it was rebuilt until it reached the form it has today.
St. Mary’s Church is also located in this charming city. It is alternately known as the “Dome Church” and it soars above the medieval town. Even if the plain white sides don’t seem particularly beautiful, the huge black dome crowning the church lends an air of elegance. History is certainly St. Mary’s main attraction. The church is now Lutheran in affiliation and dates in large part to the 1400s, though the tower is newer. If these intriguing sites make you want to learn more about Tallinn’s fascinating history, visit Tallinn City Museum. Other museums include the Estonian Maritime Museum, the Peter the Great House Museum, and the Estonian Museum of Occupations.
For the little ones in the family, Tallinn has a great park, a zoo, a stadium, Kadriorg Tivoli Amusement Park, and (hide this information from the person in the family who possesses a sweet tooth) the Kalev Chocolate Factory Museum! Kids may not enjoy the candy box exhibit, but they will enjoy the factory tour. Rambunctious little boys may like the tower known fondly as “Peep into the Kitchen” (despite the odd name, it is a fascinating tour stop). Artillery shells are still visible in the building, and, interestingly enough, they’ve been there since the late 16th century. The Estonian name for this place is “Kiek in de Kok.” For kids who like military history, stop by the old tower called “Fat Margaret.” This is where you will find the Maritime Museum as well. The Estonian Open Air Museum is a great way to learn about what life was like “back in the day.”
Have a taste for the fancy? If so, check out Kadriorg Palace and Museum, which caters to art lovers. History enthusiasts can tell that this is a more modern building, but even so, it’s stood for almost 300 years and is an important part of Tallinn’s history and culture. Yes, it *is* bright pink, and yes, a man (a ruler, in fact) did have it built that way. It was actually constructed for Peter the Great’s wife Catherine. The gardens are particularly stunning even if architecture isn’t your thing. Check schedules so you won’t be disappointed, and make time to explore the grounds and surrounding areas, not just the palace itself.