• Registration Year

    1997

  • Registered Sector

    The Historic Centre (Old Town) of Tallinn

  • Historical Function

    Commercial port.

  • Administrative Status

    Capital of Estonia.

Location and site

Situated on the south coast of the Gulf of Finland, in northern Estonia, the town spreads around Toompea Hill.

Urban Morphology

The chalk hill of Toompea is both at the root of the town’s history and its most striking feature. On the west part of the plateau is the ancient castle with its imposing tower known as “Grand Herman.” Tsarist Russia chose this elevated site for its provincial parliament building, which still serves as the Estonian Parliament. The fortifications, destroyed by fire in 1648 and then rebuilt, give the skyline a particular shape with their immense artillery towers. Inside the walls is the cathedral, which has kept its Gothic style in spite of frequent modifications.

The urban fabric of the lower town, with its medieval narrow winding streets, churches and convents, is remarkable well preserved; so are several precious medieval buildings such as the city hall (fourteenth century) and many private houses, with their original building materials, such as the exposed beams, still intact. There are also numerous guildhalls in Tallinn, evidence of the prosperity of the Hansa era. The Grand Guildhall (1410) is one of the most sumptuous examples of Northern Gothic architecture.

Tallinn is one of the best preserved medieval towns in Northern Europe. It offers a unique example of a feudal stronghold coexisting with Hanseatic trading post, together protected by a system of ramparts and fortifications.

Registration Criteria

Having preserved the most salient features of its socio-economic history, Tallinn is a remarkable and largely complete example of a Northern European medieval commercial city (criteria ii and iv).

Historical Reference

  • Tallinn originated on the limestone plateau of Toompea, where the Finno-Ugric inhabitants built a fort in the tenth century. Later a trading post and a port were established at the foot of Toompea, serving the Viking trading route.
  • In 1219 the Danes, under King Waldemar, conquered the area, reinforcing the battlements around the hill and building the first church.
  • After falling under direct papal authority in 1226 to 1227, the town was ceded to the Brothers of the Sword, an order of crusading knights, who divided the colony into two: the fortress (the castrum) and the lower town (suburbum). Following orders of knights, religious orders such as the Dominicans and the Cistercians established themselves in Tallinn.
  • In 1248 after establishing an alliance with Lubeck, Tallinn (then called “Reval” by the Germans and Danes) became a member of the Hanseatic League and from thenceforth was the principal commercial centre of the Eastern seas. Tallinn’s prosperity during its participation in the Hansa is reflected in its urban architecture. From 1310 onwards, work began on immense earthworks that surrounded both the feudal manor and the little commercial streets.
  • When Visby, the commercial centre of Gotland, lost its metropolitan status in the fourteenth century, Tallinn and Riga took its place in the regional economy. Even when the Hansa began to weaken in the fifteenth century, Tallinn managed to keep its commercial role and continued to grow and improve.
  • When Sweden annexed the town in 1561, the fortifications on Toompea Hill were enlarged and reinforced. After falling to the Russians in 1710 the town went through a period of economic stagnation, but managed to keep its status as provincial administrative centre. The number of Russians in the town increased as the number of Germanic residents fell.
  • After a brief period of independence between 1918 and 1940, Tallinn again found itself under German rule during the Second World War and was badly damaged by bombs in in 1944. In spite of their Stalinesque style, postwar reconstruction largely respected the town’s historic character.
Mr. Edgar Savisaar
Mayor
Tallinn City Government
Vabaduse väljak 7, 15199
10 146 Tallinn, Estonia
Tel:
+372 640 4100
Fax:
+372 640 4327
Email:
edgar.savisaar@tallinnlv.ee
Ms. Liina Jänes
Head specialist
Tallinn Cultural Heritage Department
Raekoja plats 12, 10146
Tallinn, Estonia
Tel:
+372 645 7189
Fax:
+372 645 7180
Email:
Ms. Heili Luik
Head
Foreign Relations Department
Vabaduse väljak 7, 15199 Vabaduse väljak 7
EE-0001 Tallinn, Estonia
Tel:
+372 640.4158/59/60/61
Fax:
+372 640.4162
Email:
heili.luik@tallinnlv.ee
Ms Kais Matteus
Senior Specialist
Tallinn cultural Heritage Department, Heritage Protection
Raekoja plats 12
Tallinn, Estonia
10146
Tel:
(+372)6457189
Fax:
(+372)6457180
Email:
kais.matteus@tallinnlv.ee
Tallinn: Christmas Market on Town Hall Square
Tallinn: Passage in the Old Town
Tallinn: Pikk Jalg Street
Tallinn: Town Wall
Tallinn: Three Sisters in Old Town
Tallinn: Aerial view of Tallinn Old Town
Tallinn: Towers of the City Wall
Tallinn: Panoramic view of Old Town from sea
Tallinn: Ice Rink in Old Town
Tallinn: Old rainwater pipe on Town Hall
Tallinn: Clock of the Holy Spirit Church.