Before I got stuck into recounting our adventures in Estonia’s capital Tallinn, it struck me that a bit of information on this still little known country in the Gulf of Finland might be useful, so here is my potted history of the place.
Tallinn was founded by the Danes when they went to “civilise” the pagan Estonians in 1219. The Vikings had been trading with Estonians for herring and wax for many years by then, but the prospect of saving so many lost pagan souls from damnation presented the newly Christian Danes just cause to take the land away from those sinful pagans, especially as it had been sanctioned by the Pope. The new city became the northernmost city of the Hanseatic Leage, a confederation of northern European trading nations stretching from the Baltic to England, in 1285, before being sold to the German Order of Teutonic Knights in 1346.
Following the Reformation most of the population converted to Lutheranism and then in 1561 Tallinn became a dominion of Sweden. The Great Northern War saw Tallinn ceded to Imperial Russia in 1710 when it became the capital of the Duchy of Estonia.
Industrialisation in the later half of the 19th century coincided with the start of enforced Russification, however the chaos following the First World War and the 1917 Russian Revolution presented the opportunity for independence. With support from Finnish and White Russian volunteers and the Royal Navy, the Red Army was defeated and in 1920 Estonia asserted it’s independence for the first time.
That lasted until 1940 when Ribbentrop and Molotov divided the Baltic states and Poland between the Nazis and the Soviets and Stalin’s tanks rolled in. Then the Nazis kicked the Russians out, but when the Russian’s came back in 1944 they stayed until the Soviet Union fell apart at the tail end of the 20th century. During this time the Soviets exchanged about a third of the population so there are now many ethnic Russian Estonians.
In 1991 the country was declared independent once more and in 2004 Estonia joined the European Union. It’s a melting pot of Scandinavian, German and Russian culture in terms of architecture, food and art. Tallinn old town is full of surprises including a medieval Dominican monastery and city walls, 17th century German merchant houses, Lutheran Churches, Russian palaces and Onion Dome Churches The statues of Lenin and Marx have now gone, while the Ladas and Trabants have long been replaced with Audis, BMWs and Range Rovers. I say go and see it now before it gets too expensive.
We flew easyJet from London Stansted, flight time two and a half hours. Estonia recently joined the Euro and prices seem to have risen substantially since our last visit in 2008, although they are still very reasonable compared to neighbours like Sweden and Russia! Tallinn is a very compact city so you won’t need to use any transport other than your feet aside from a taxi to and from the airport (about €7 each way).
Tallinn is one of the most switched on capitals in Europe. Most of the tourist attractions, hotels and restaurants are on the web, so advance booking is easy and recommended for popular restaurants like Olde Hansa. Most people speak excellent English.