Dec 16, 2011

Exploring Tallinn in Winter

Tallinn Christmas Market



The weather in Tallinn was pretty much as predicted: cloudy, snowy and cold.  And I am happy to report the wear to where selections I packed for the trip kept me perfectly warm while I shopped the Christmas market.

With just a handful of stalls in the main square selling sweaters, hats, gloves and Glögg - the Estonian version of mulled wine - the market is small. But set amongst medieval squares and cobbled streets, what it lacks in size it makes up for in charm.

 


Tallinn Specialty Spirits
These spirits give mulled wine a taste of Tallinn.

It wasn’t just the Christmas markets that charmed me, but the city as a whole. Not only is Tallinn the European City of Culture for 2011, its old town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The medieval town has two distinct areas: Toompea Hill and Lower Town. 

Toompea Hill is considered the birth place of Tallinn and though today the Estonian flag waves proudly above the Pikk Hermann Tower, it is acknowledged that the country's whose flag flies above the tower was the ruler of Estonia.  Over the centuries, the flags of Denmark, Sweden, Germany and Russia have all held a place atop the tower, and though the flags of these occupying countries no longer fly over Pikk Hermann Tower, just a few feet away are other prominent remnants of Estonia's foreign "guests". 


Toompea Castle in Tallinn  (image via Wikipedia)

Built in the 13th century during the Danish invasion, the Toompea Castle has been the seat of power for the the numeous foreign invaders and currently houses Estonia's parliment.  I kept thinking that the building was awfully, um, pink, then I was told that this section, which is the front of the castle was added in the 18th century and that if I went around the back I'd get a less Disney-fied view of it.
The Russian Orthodox church, Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Talllinn



Patriarch being helped up the steps of the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
Across the street from the Toompea Castle is the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral.  This Russian Orthodox cathedral was built in 1900 and is simply stunning.  Currently undergoing renovation, the building was in danger of being torn down after Estonia gained its independence, because it was a reminder of the Russian occupation, but in the end, the people decided that it was an historical symbol too important to destoy.

Kiek in de Kok is a 15th century cannon tower whose name translate to peep into the kitchen.  It came by this interesting name because medieval soldiers claimed they could see into the kitchens of the houses below.  It's now a museum,  and if you get there when it's open (unlike me),  it might be fun to see "what's cooking" in the Lower Town.  



The view from the top. Tallinn as seen from the viewing platform.
Don't leave Toompea Hill without going to the Kohtuotsa and Patkuli viewing platforms to see breath-taking views of Tallinn with its red-tiled roofs, towers and city walls. It's also the perfect background for that "I was in Tallinn" picture you want to take and post to Facebook, you know, if you're into that sort of thing.


I was in Tallinn!!
After taking in the views from the viewing platform, I headed for Lower Town, meandering my way down the winding, cobblestone streets.  The Town Hall Square is at the center of life in Tallinn, just as it was during medieval times.  The Gothic building dates from the 15th century, and Old Thomas, the weather vane that has been perched on top of the building since 1530, is the symbol of Tallinn.  
Christmas market at Town Hall Square in Tallinn
Records indicate that this pharmacy was on its third owner by 1422 making it one of the oldest in Europe.

Town Hall Square is the Christmas market is located, and it's also where you'll find one of Europe's oldest pharmacies.  The exact date of when the pharmacy opened isn't known, but records indicate that it was on its third owner by 1422.  It still serves as a pharmacy, but part of the shop is now also a museum.
St. Catherine's Passage in Tallinn

A wall of tombstones in the Old Town in Tallinn


Not far from Town Hall Square is the medieval passage way, St. Catherine's.  In this little walkway there are several artisan workshops, which offer much more unique findings than what was available at the Christmas market, and what remains of St. Catherine's Church, which is mostly tombstones that used to be inside the church. 
Hellemann Tower is one of the many medieval fortresses in Tallinn

When you walk out of the other side of St. Catherine's Passage, you'll be standing in front of Hellemann Tower.  One of the many  medieval fortresses in Tallinn, the tower now houses an art gallery.  I took the tower tour so in addition to the art gallery, I was able to walk along a section of the tower wall and get another cool view of Old Town.  



Viru Gate is the main entrance into Old Town in Tallinn

Viru Gate is the main entrance into Old Town.  When I saw these twin towers, I audibly oohh-ed. Along the side is a little flower market, cafes and a park, where you could just sit and look at this beautiful piece of architecture. I didn't because it was too cold, but you could. I passed by the gate again when it was dark and it was all lit up for Christmas. 



That almost made up for the fact that it was 3:30 in the afternoon.  Almost.





**Photo credits: 
Toompea Castle - Wikipedia
Christmas Market - Estonianworld.com