Tallinn turns 800 – a grand age for a gorgeous city!

Source: Kaupo Kalda

Tallinn turns 800 – a grand age for a gorgeous city!

In 2019, Tallinn celebrated a monumental anniversary – 800 years since the city was first mentioned in written texts and entered the historic arena in 1219. It's a respectable age, and to celebrate, let's take a look back at the history of this beautiful medieval city.

First signs of settlements

Although the first known signs of a settlement in the city territory originate from the Härjapea river area in Keldrimäe, there is no direct proof of their connection to the city itself. However, it is possible to connect the pre-history of Tallinn to Iru, where a fortress was built in the second half of the first millennia, along with a settlement that was abandoned in the middle of the 11th century.

A view of Toompea Hill through the fog

Photo by: Aivo Oblikas

Later Lindanise fortress (also known as Kolõvan fortress in the Russian sources) was built on current Toompea Hill, that can be considered to have been the centre of the ancient Rävala County. This is also where the German name for Tallinn, Reval, is likely to have originated from. However, the fortress was not yet permanently inhabited in the 13th century and was likely only meant to provide protection in the case of an enemy attack.

The trade routes within the Gulf of Finland got considerably busier in the 9th to 10th century, and that gave importance to the place where Tallinn harbour was situated. Scandinavian and Russian traders might have had their seasonal settlements in the current downtown in the beginning of the second millennia, but there is no direct evidence to support that claim.

The Estonian origins of the Danish flag

The first written mention of Tallinn was connected to Valdemar II of Denmark’s crusade to North-Estonia in June of 1219 and has become widely known primarily through the Livonian Chronicle of Henry.

On the 15th of June 1219, there was a battle between the Danish and Estonian forces on the spot where future Tallinn would be. Although the Danish won, their victory did not come easily. The legend tells that their luck only turned when the red Danish flag Dannebrog with its white cross fell from the sky.

Danish King's Garden

Photo by: Oliver Moosus, Visit Estonia

Throughout history, Tallinn has been ruled by the order of the Livonian Brothers of the Sword as well as by the Teutonic Order. In the middle of the 13th century, Tallinn was recognised by the Lübeck Law and joined the league of medieval German trade cities.

Medieval Hanseatic League City

During the end of the same century, Tallinn joined the Hanseatic League, and relations with Russian, especially Novgorod traders, became important. Due to that, a significant amount of trade movement between Western-Europe and Novgorod concentrated here. In time, the city’s role in the trade and politics of the Baltic Sea grew. By the 15th century, Tallinn blossomed as a medieval Hanseatic League City. Every summer, Tallinn turns back the clock and becomes a medieval city once again during the popular Tallinn Medieval Days. Don your finest medieval garb and join in the fun!

Tallinn's Town Hall is the oldest city hall in Northern Europe.

Photo by: Tanel Murd

The most important churches in Tallinn were established in the 13th century. The Toom School in Toompea also probably functioned during that time, but the first written mentions of that are from the beginning of the 14th century. In the beginning of the 15th century, the monastery of the Bridgettines Order or the Bridgettine Convent was founded to the east of the city.

Throughout history, Tallinn has been under Swedish as well as Russian rule and that has left its mark on the development of the city as well as on the cityscape. By the order of Peter I, a construction of a war harbour began and admiralty workshops were established to build and supply war ships.

The modern era and the winds of change

In 1805, Tallinn’s first elementary schools and Tallinn’s Governate Gymnasium were established. In 1819, Tallinn was divided into seven city districts. In addition to the suburbs, there were around 40 summer manors around the city.

In 1870, the Baltic Railway connecting Tallinn to St. Petersburg opened, meaning trade and industries could enliven and develop. So in the 19th century, the number of residents in Tallinn grew and the suburbs widened. In 1888, a tram started to service people in Tallinn, which during that time was a horse-powered tram or a horsecar.

Between the 19th and the 20th century, the level of education and the economic situation of Estonians had improved and the Estonian nationalism livened due to that. The first Estonian mayor, Voldemar Lender, was elected in 1906.

Both World Wars left their mark on the city, the number of residents plummeted and many buildings were damaged in World War II. In the years after the war, however, the number of residents started to rise quickly, industry and production grew, and new districts arose.

Today Tallinn is the largest city in Estonia and as such also the quickest to change – new streets and buildings are built and old buildings are restored, there are new malls and entertainment centres as well as museums and theatres. The local colourful culture life and contrasting atmosphere, wondrous Old Town and short distances lure in tens of thousands of guests every year.

Discover Tallinn!

Visit the largest local festival dedicated to the local community and cultural heritage – Tallinn Old Town Days. By hosting various new exhibitions, Tallinn City Museum  introduces our joint history with Denmark and the time Tallinn was founded.

Tallinn is a lively capital city, and there is always something new going on and you can take several themed tours to get to know the city better, either with a guide, on your bike or on your own, not to mention a costumed tour. Come visit us!

A walk down St. Catherine's passage will take you back in time.

Photo by: Rene Altrov

Source: Tallinn.ee

Last updated : 04.02.2023

In category: Tallinn, History & culture