Legends and tales of old Tallinn 9789949933433

The book that reaches you in its English version cannot completely cover everything that time has preserved, whether in

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English Pages 176 [175] Year 2010

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Polecaj historie

Legends and tales of old Tallinn

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JO r l. K u u Sek e m a a

Juri Kuuskemaa (born 1942) graduated in Art History from the University of Tartu . While still a student he was assigned to undergo museum practical training at the Kadriorg Palace, where he later on worked for many years as the curator oftheArtMuseum of Estonia. From 1974hestudied the history of Kadriorg (Catherinethal- 'Catherine's valley') in the archives of Tallinn, Tartu, Moscow and Saint Petersburg. He compiled historical backgrounds of the palace and its wings, of the palace kitchen and the ice house, of the gardener's house, as well as of the flower garden and the so called Lower garden. All of these materials were used during the drafting of restoration projects. Kuuskemaa published the book Peter I and Catherine I in Tallinn {2009) . Together with research activities, Ji.iri Kuuskemaa also promotes history and Estonian cultural monuments on radio, television and in print. For his services he was awarded the Order of the White Star, IV Class (Estonia), as well as Orders of Germany, the Netherlands and Portugal. Knight of the French Legion of Honour (Chevalier de la Legion d'honneur). Honorary Citizen of Tallinn (Order of Merit, Badge of Honour, Medal of the Magistrate). Currently he is Counsellor for Cultural Affairs to the mayor of Tallinn. ISBN 978-9949-9334-3-3

9 789949 933433

Origina l title: IOp1-1 KyyCKeMaa. nereHAbl 1,1 6b1m1 Craporo Tanm-1HHa. Tallinn: Aleksandra, 2010 - 176 c.

Edited by Elena Kallonen ISBN 978-9949-9334-3-3

© Publisher" Aleksandra", 2012 JUri Kuuskemaa. Text, 2012 © Andrei Danilo. Translation, 2012 © Viktoria Baranova. Design, 2012



Ruben Igitkhanyan. Photography, 2012



Legends and Tales of Old Tallinn Andrei Danilo Design Viktoria Baranova Photography Ruben Igitkhanyan


-'11 leksandra r~ Tallinn 2012

note from the author I was really surprised when a few years ago Aleksandra publishing offered me to publish my 'antique feuilletons', which were actually written almost a quarter of a century ago, as a book. But haven't they become outdated already? I searched through my home archive for Soviet-era magazines with yellowed pages and reread these stories. It was a pleasant surprise for me that they remain readable even to this day. When writing them I disregarded the recurrent ideological considerations, which harassed the majority of Soviet-era historical works. The book that reaches you in its English version cannot, of course, completely cover everything that time has preserved, whether in the form of legends, traditions or genuine historical documents. After all, Tallinn/Reva[ was since the times of the Vikings akin to a rich and beautiful bride with a large number of suitors, who wished to gain control over the strategic military and trade routes that pass through here and shape our mindsets to serve their interests. Thus, we had a wide range of foreign landlords - Danes, Germans, Swedes, Russians, all of whom were trying to shape our mindset according to their will. However, each foreign power has also left behind its own cultural heritage. Especially in the Middle Ages, when Tallinn/Reva[ was a part of the Hanseatic League (1285-1558) and became a prosperous port city and trade centre, rising to affluence due to being located on the London-Novgorod-Moscow trade route . The whole area inside the town walls was extensively filled with stone buildings already by the time of the Lutheran Reformation and the city had a total of 67 limestone defence towers for protection against foreign enemies. The Middle Ages were followed by less prosperous and increasingly warfilled centuries, when moderate poverty helped preserve the Gothic medieval core of the city and the main accents in city planning. Nevertheless, the Renaissance, Baroque, Classicism and subsequent architectural styles have left their traces upon the face of Tallinn . Althoug the Second World War destroyed one third ofTallinn's city centre, yet the historical Old Town was lucky com pared to many other medieval cities . During the Nazi German occupation Stalin's Red Air Force destroyed only 11% of the Old Town in the spring of 1944. Some of the new post-war buildings that were constructed on the sites of the ruins do have a unique appearance . However, it is the heritage of the earlier centuries that still remains dominant in the Old Town. This is why Tallinn nowadays attracts attention as a place where cultures, eras and styles fuse together, and in which influences of most European nations can be found, as well as some unique, yet clearly perceptible characteristics. The Old Town in Tallinn has held the title of a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997. I sincerely hope that my book will aid your understanding of both the multicultural characteristic and the individuality of our city.

awards a single name

The Estonian History Museum was once visited by an elderly descendant of Baltic-German nobility, who was currently residing in Germany. He was interested in his ancestors. The guest was readily shown the materials he wished to see and remained quite satisfied.

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When it was time for him to take leave, the respectable gentleman who spoke Estonian freely, began to sign a book intended as a gift for a member of the museum's staff. At some point he became hesitant: "How should I write: in Reval or in Tallinn?" - he asked. "In Tallinn, of course", - replied the young woman. For some reason the visitor felt not at ease; it was obvious he was taking his time to write down the inscription. Having overcome himself, he finally spoke with dignity: "Fine, Let it be your way. But please bear in mind that this is a serious concession on my part. My personal sympathy for you is the sole reason I am doing it."

I did not happen to witness this conversation, yet I can vividly picture the museum employee's astonishment at such a turn of events. Surely enough, she managed to control her emotions that could easily offend the elderly foreign guest. This was the end of the story. The inscription said: "In Tallinn, on such a day of such a month." The case is that the majority of Germans born in Estonia, who have Later on migrated to Germany, still cannot actually pronounce the word Tallinn. Quarrels between the representatives of Tallinn's various ethnic groups were quite a common occurrence at some point in time. For a better understanding of those age-old disputes we have to trace the footsteps of chronographers and philosophers, immerse ourselves in the XIII century and partly into an even more distant past.

allinn: or ? The name Tallinn first appeared in print in the XVII century, when book printing in Estonian language finally began in the city, which was at that time the capital of the Swedish duchy of Estonia. On the books' title pages the place of publishing has already been written in accordance with present-day spelling. For some strange reason Tallinn became a common standard in Estonian speech and writing, while Reva/ remained solid on official seals of the magistrate and the city's institutions. Reva/ was common in speech among German and Scandinavian settlers and their descendants, who considered themselves native citizens ofTallinn (or should we say Reval).










There are two ways to explain the name Tallinn. The old and generally accepted version concerns the fortress on Toompea hill, which was built by the Danes after 1219 on the ruins of an ancient Estonian settlement. The conquered Aesti allegedly called their new fortress Taani /inn (Danish town). This name couldn't have appeared at a later date, since the Danes sold their overseas colony to the Teutonic Order in 1346. Subsequently, one syllable was dropped from Taam"linn for the sake of pronunciation convenience, according to the phonetic laws, which resulted in what we have today - Tallinn.



Though this explanation seems fairly reasonable, there are, nevertheless, :::::: ":::! two ways to prove it wrong. The first ~ '::l is based on national psychology: ~~

as we know from history, the Danes did not conquer a barren wasteland, but a populated settlement. It is suggested, that the settlement consisted of four separate parts: the Aesti forts on a rocky mound, settlements of Estonian merchants and craftsmen around what today

is the Town Hall Square, the Scandinavian market with their own church and the market of the Russian merchants, the latter taking up residence South of where Fat Margaret's Tower stands nowadays. Therefore, there could be a total of four settlements by the beginning of the XIII century. The causes of the formation of such a 'trading place' were both international trade and seafaring.

By the beginning of the XIII century the fortress, which towered over other districts, should have become the main and most noticeable part of the 'proto-town'. Thus, it could not have been named Taam· /inn until 1219. An interesting version was proposed by the linguist Roos, according to whom Tallinn used to sound like Tali Linn (winter town). A title of such kind could only be applied to a fort, which was used temporarily, only during a threat of war or as a shelter during winters, for

example. This does not contradict the facts about other ancient Estonian settlements, given the fact that it was not completely reasonable to walk up and drive the cattle down the steep slope of Pikk jalg Street every single day, from where pedestrians and wagons used to fall and crash frequently as early as the XV century. According to this version, the main residential area of the ancient settlement must have been located at the foot of the cliff with the fortress on top, which is confirmed by archaeological excavations at the Town Hall Square.