Old and New in Estonia
by Don Barker
In the expressive silhouette of Tallinn, Estonia's capital city and largest port, visitors approaching from the Baltic Sea see a distinct personality split into the new and the old. The split can be traced back to 1227, when the medieval town in northeastern Europe was conceded to an order of crusading knights.
The Brothers of the Sword divided the colony into the fortress (the upper old town with colorful cobble-stoned streets and an array of castles and churches) and the lower town, which is now developing a modern persona.
The city's numerous verticals depict a rich trading past and its journey into the 21st century. The most important and original monument of Estonian Gothic is the old town of Tallinn itself, which is listed as a World Heritage site.
A Tour through Old Tallinn
The 10th-century medieval "old town" rises up on the chalk-based Toompea Hill. The 454 properties include medieval warehouses and the dwellings of merchants and artisans. All have been preserved along with the important public buildings from the Middle Ages such as the Town Hall.
In the old city of Tallinn, the facades of the medieval houses have been redesigned according to later styles of fashion. However, behind them the old building constructions, and the Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque interior elements, have been preserved.
The massive, fortified churches in Estonia are characteristic of the Roman style, in spite of their sharply arched portals and arches. There is, however, no actual Romanesque architecture in Estonia. It exists more in the small detail of the churches erected when the Gothic influences prevailed, from the 13th century to the 16th.