On Marina’s recent stop in Estonia, guests visiting the Old Town at the heart of Tallinn were greeted appropriately by this knight in (not so) shining armor. On the UNESCO World Heritage list, Tallinn is considered one of the best-preserved medieval town centers in Europe. With cobblestone streets and beautifully preserved buildings dating from the 11th century and earlier, it is easy to be transported to a different time.
Many of the state buildings, churches and original residences date from the medieval period and have been preserved in their basic original form. The cobbled square has been at the heart of Tallinn life since the 11th century and is dominated by one of the most famous symbols of Tallinn, the Gothic town hall, dating from the early 14th century. The town hall has been meticulously preserved down to the ornate dragon rainspouts.
A particularly delightful aspect of the Old Town is the little shops and open-air markets where visitors can buy local handmade crafts like these hand-knitted sweaters and pullovers with traditional Estonian folk patterns and these souvenir bells with hand-painted scenes of Tallinn.
One of the more popular attractions in Old Town is the 19th century Russian Orthodox cathedral, Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. Slightly out of place in this medieval city, it has been viewed by locals as a symbol of Estonia’s history of oppression and was nearly torn down in 1924 during a brief period of independence. After neglect during Soviet rule, the Cathedral was restored to its former beauty and now this classic onion-domed cathedral serves as one of Tallinn’s more famous tourist icons.
To get above the scene, guests visited Toompea Castle atop Toompea Hill. The original wood structure was built in the 9th century, and the stone structure was added in the Middle Ages. Substantially reconstructed over the years, it still retains its original shape and currently is home to the Estonian Parliament. Near the castle, there were archery pits set up for visitors to take target practice, offering insight into the peaceful and relaxed atmosphere of this region, for how often does one find weapons available for public use in close proximity to a government building?
The views from Toompea Hill of the Old Town and its beautiful colorful buildings with red roofs were gorgeous on an equally gorgeous day.
Guests also visited the oldest church in Tallinn and mainland Estonia, Toomkirk, also called St. Mary’s Cathedral. Originally a Catholic cathedral, it became Lutheran in the 1500s and now belongs to the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church. Established in the 13th century by the Danes, the Baroque dome was not added until the 18th century. Over a hundred medieval coats of arms line the interior walls of the church.
No trip back to medieval times would be complete without fire breathing and a meal inspired by ancient history. At Old Hansa Restaurant, guests are treated to a medieval-themed experience with servers in medieval dress and music and entertainment from centuries ago. The food was simple and delicious: fresh baked bread, Hansa House smoked herring, juniper cheese spread and dark honey beer in a big ceramic tankard (what Old Hansa calls women’s size!).
Tallinn was a lovely escape into the past, made all the more wonderful when Marina guests returned to their thoroughly modern, immensely comfortable home on the sea.
Photos by Vanessa Cordo