Saturday, July 3
The next day, we arrived in Estonia. The name Estonia seems to derive from Aestii, used by a Roman chronicler in 100 BC to describe all the tribes east of Germany. Its capital, Tallinn, was first mentioned in written chronicles in 1154 by a famous Arab explorer Alldrisi, who back then marked it on his world map as Kolovan. The present day Tallinn was first inhabited in the 10th century when a stronghold was built on Toompea Hill, which ever since remained the seat of the ruling power and the church authorities. The location was chosen by the first settlers for its favorable geographical position – a hillside in the immediate vicinity of the port, which conveniently remained on the East-West trading route. The advantageous position of the town was an object of desire to many neighboring nations, which, at the end, turned to be motive for continuous warfare.
Tallinn is a historic city dating back to the medieval times and it was first recorded on a world map in 1154, although the first fortress was built on Toompea in 1050. In 1219, the city was conquered by Valdemar II of Denmark, but it was soon sold to the German Teutonic Order for 19,000 silver marks. in 1285. The city, known as Reval at the time, prospered as a trading town in the 14th century, and much of Tallinn's historic center was built at this time.
Tallinn then became a pawn in the geopolitical games of its big neighbors, passing into Swedish hands in 1561 and then to Russia under Peter the Great in 1710. By World War I and the ensuing brief Estonian independence (starting 1918) Tallinn's population had reached 150,000.
Estonia was eventually occupied by the Soviet Union in 1940, only to be conquered by Nazi Germany (1941-44) and then retaken by the Soviets. In World War II, the city was quite extensively bombed by the Soviets, even though luckily the medieval town remains. The Soviet Union undertook a program of massive Slavic migration, and just over 40% of Tallinn's current inhabitants are Slavic (compared to an average of 28% for the entire country). On Aug 20, 1991, Estonia declared independence and Tallinn became its capital once again.
We started the day with a tour of Tallin. Tallin means “danish city”. Alas, the new town sprawling all around is largely built in typical concrete Soviet style, now joined with glass-and-steel cubes celebrating the post-Soviet economic boom. The new centre of town is Vabaduse väljak (Freedom Square) at the edge of the old town, and nearby is the giant matchbox of Hotel Viru, the former Intourist flagship and notorious den of Cold War intrigue (every room was tapped and monitored by the KGB!).
Close to 50 percent of the land is covered by forest, so forestry is a big industry, as well as tourism. Most of the tourism is by Finnish people. Finland is only 80 km away and the prices are much lower in Estonia than in Finland. We also learned that the average monthly salary is about 800 euros, the average pension is 400 euros, taxes are 20 percent, and education and health care costs are included in taxes.
We first visited the song festival grounds. It is an outdoor stage that accommodates up to 30,000 singers. They have a three day festival every five years during the first week of July. Although we were visiting during the first week of July, they just had the last festival last year. They sing traditional folk music, which sounds like church coir music.
On our way to the city center, we passed by Kadriorg Palace, an imperial Russian summer residence built by Italian architect Niccolo Michetti for Tsar Peter the Great in 1718. It is situated in a 90 ha (222 acre) park in the eastern part of the city. The Tsar himself, a classic and mysterious Russian soul, preferred to stay in a modest house nearby. This event signified the beginning of Tallinn's fame as a summer resort for noble and rich Russians for most of the 18th and 19th centuries. Currently the palace is housing some paint collections and other art. A portion of the complex is now occupied by the Office of the President and not available to the public.
The next visit was to the old town. The old town is split between the upper town at the top of Toompea Hill and the lower town. The noblemen lived in upper town while merchants, craftsmen, and peasants lived in lower town. This distinction still exists today. Government buildings, churches, etc are in the upper town, while shops, pubs, etc are in the lower town. The bus dropped us at the top of Toompea Hill. According to myth, the hill was built on top of the grave of legendary Estonian king Kalev, but more historically, it's solid limestone and the site of the Danish castle that founded the city in 1219. Toompea was the home of the Danish aristocracy and relations between the toffs and the plebs were often inflamed, which is why it's surrounded by thick walls and there's a gate tower (1380) guarding the entrance. The Upper Town was completely destroyed by a fire in 1684 when all the wooden structures burned down.
We stood in a large square with a long pink building one side and a beautiful church on the other side. The pink building is the Parliament House. It is known as the old castle because it is built on the former site of the old castle. Some of the remnants of the old castle like a stone wall and turret still remain and sit directly adjacent to the Parliament building. The church standing across from the Parliament House is the Russian Orthodox Church also known as the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is a classic onion-domed 19th-century Russian Orthodox church that has become a touristy symbol of the city, much to the annoyance of nationalist types who regard it as a symbol of oppression. It was almost demolished in 1924 during Estonia's first brief spell of independence, but the Soviets left it to moulder and it has been restored to its former glory. It was built in 1900 and is the largest church in Estonia. Only 10 percent of Estonians are religious and most are Lutheran. So the church is predominantly for the Russian community (about 40 percent of the population). Masses are every morning and evening. The main mass is on Sunday morning and lasts 3-4 hours. It was interesting to see that there are no pews in the church (imagine standing through a 4 hour mass!)
We next visited the Estonian Lutheran Church (also known as the Cathedral of the Holy Virgin). The Cathedral of the Holy Virgin was mentioned in chronicles in 1233 and is the oldest church in Estonia. After the fire of 1684 destroyed the church, the Swedish King ordered that it be rebuilt and even donated money for this purpose. The new church was completed in 1686. The best carpenters worked to build it. The pulpit and the frame of the altarpiece, decorated with woodcarvings, were made by the celebrated craftsman Christian Ackermann. This church started as a Catholic Church and was converted to Lutheran in 1517 when Martin Luther brought Lutheranism to Estonia. It was interesting to see that there are tall separations between the pews. Masses are on Sunday morning only and last 45 min. We saw that the walls were decorated with incredibly intricate wooden carvings of the coats of arms of the old guilds of the time. These woodcarvings were also made by Christian Ackermann.
We walked down into the lower town via Long Leg Street. There is also a parallel street called Short Leg, which is why Tallin is known as the limping town.
We had lunch at a restaurant called Le Chateau and had beef stew with boiled potatoes, a traditional dish. Afterwards, we walked around the lower town and admired the old medieval buildings. Afterwards we visited the town hall square and then walked down St. Catherines Street for a concert of medieval music and dance.
We ended the tour going through Viro Gate, one of the original medieval gates of the city. Viro gate is the entrance to Viro Street, the main street of the lower town.
We took the bus back to the ship, got the kids from the kids corner, and spent the rest of the afternoon in the pool. It was a great, sunny afternoon. The pool water was so warm that it was more refreshing to get out of the pool than to go in. We watched the second half of the Germany vs Argentina match (Germany won 4 to 0) before sitting down for dinner with the McDonalds. We ate at the specialty steakhouse restaurant. We had huge shrimp cocktails and huge filet mignons - well worth the 25 cover charge.