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The city of towers and tunnels

  • Tallinn’s medieval fort dates back to the 14th century. Originally the limestone wall was 2.4km long, up to 16 meters high and three meters thick. Today about 1.9km is still intact and 20 of the original 46 observation towers have preserved, along with portions of two outer gates.
  • Under the Old Town is a labyrinth of 17th century tunnels. During World War II, Tallinn residents used some of the 17th-century tunnels under Old Town as bomb shelters. From March 2010 these tunnels with fascinating legends are open to the public as a tourist attraction - one of the most popular in Tallinn.
  • From 1549 to 1625 St. Olav's Church, with its 159-metre spire, was the tallest building in the world. After several fires and rebuilding the church stands today 123 m high. It is possible to climb the 258 steps to the top and enjoy the view. During Soviet times, KGB used the tall, metal spire of the Medieval St. Olav's Church as a radio transmission tower.

Medieval heritage

  • A wooden fortress built on Toompea Hill sometime in the 10th or 11th century was probably the first structure in what later became Tallinn. Toompea Castle now stands on the same spot. The first definite recorded mention of Tallinn dates to 1219, when Latvian Henrik described in his Chronicle the battle of Lindanise castle (today’s Toompea).
  • Throughout most of its history, Tallinn was known to the world by its German name, Reval. According to legend the origins of the old name comes from a deer hunt, when an animal fell off a cliff and perished. In German Reh-fall means ‘deer fall’. Many historians debate this theory and believe it more likely to derive from the old Estonian county called Revalia.
  • The Raeapteek on Town Hall Square is Europe's oldest continuously-operating pharmacy. It has been open since 1422.
  • Tallinn's Old Town was entered on UNESCO's list of World Heritage Sites in 1997 as an 'exceptionally complete and well preserved example of a medieval northern European trading city'.

Legends of Tallinn

  • One of the most famous symbols of Tallinn is the Old Thomas weather vane that stands atop the Town Hall Tower. According to the legend, there was once a peasant boy named Thomas who excelled at the springtime contests, organized by Tallinn's Baltic German elite of the time. Unable to receive a prize because of his low-born status, Toomas was rewarded with the job of town guard for life. In 1530 a weather vane was placed at the top of the tower which the people named 'Old Thomas' and he is considered to be the city´s defender ever since.
  • The Lake Ülemiste is the largest lake surrounding Tallinn. It is believed that in that lake lives the mythological Ülemiste Elder, who is waiting to flood the city when it´s finally ready. So if one meets the Elder asking about the readiness of Tallinn, the correct answer is that there is still much to be done. And that is why Tallinn is always growing and never going to be ready.
  • Chimney sweeps in Tallinn still wear old-fashioned, 19th-century-style uniforms. Touching their brass buttons is supposed to bring good luck.
  • Tallinn's most famous artwork is Danse Macabre (Dance with Death), which is believed to be an original part of Bernt Notke's 15th-century painting. This wall-sized spooky depiction of people dancing with skeletons is on display in St. Nicholas' Church.

Reliving the 20th century

  • During Soviet times, Tallinn / northern Estonia was the only place in the USSR where residents could pick up Western TV broadcasts.
  • Hidden on the top floor of downtown Tallinn's Sokos Hotel Viru is a radio room where, during the 1970s and 80s, coded messages were picked up from Soviet embassies in the Nordic countries and relayed to Moscow. The rooms were left as they were and those intrigued by the city's secret history can now take the guided tour at the KGB Museum there.
  • The eyes of the world were on Tallinn in 1980 when the city hosted the sailing events for the Moscow Olympics.
  • Estonia's break from Soviet rule, often called the “Singing Revolution,” gets its name from mass folk song events that took place in Tallinn's Song Festival Grounds in summer 1988.