In the interest of expediency, here are some excerpts from the Lonely Planet Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania chapter on Estonia:
If you’re labouring under the misconception that ‘former Soviet’ means dull and grey and that all tourist traps are soulless, Tallinn will delight in proving you wrong. This city has charm by the bucket load, fusing the modern and medieval to come up with a vibrant vibe all of its own. It’s an intoxicating mix of ancient church spires, glass skyscrapers, baroque palaces, appealing eateries, brooding battlements, shiny shopping malls, run-down wooden houses, and cafes set on sunny squares – with a few Soviet throw- backs in the mix, for added spice.
Despite the boom of 21st-century development, Tallinn remains loyal to the fairy-tale charms of its two-tiered Old Town – one of Europe’s most beguiling walled cities.
The site of Tallinn is thought to have been settled by Finno-Ugric people around 2500 BC. There was probably an Estonian trading settlement here from around the 9th century AD and a wooden stronghold was built on Toompea (tawm-pe-ah; the hill dominating Tallinn) in the 11th century.
German traders arrived from Visby on the Baltic island of Gotland and founded a colony of about 200 people beneath the fortress. In 1285 it joined the German-dominated Hanseatic League as a channel for trade between Russia and the West. Furs, honey, leather and seal fat moved west; salt, cloth, herring and wine went east. Tallinn’s German name, Reval, coexisted with the local name until 1918.
Prosperity faded in the 16th century. The Hanseatic League had weakened, and Russians, Swedes, Danes, Poles and Lithuanians fought over the Baltic region. Tallinn survived a 29-week siege by Russia’s Ivan the Terrible between 1570 and 1571. It was held by Sweden from 1561 to 1710, when, decimated by plague, Tallinn surrendered to Russia’s Peter the Great.
In 1870 a railway was completed from St Petersburg, and Tallinn became a chief port of the Russian empire. Freed peasants converged on the city from the countryside, increasing the percentage of Estonians in its population from 52% to 89% in 1897. By WWI, Tallinn had big shipyards and a working class of over 100,000.
Tallinn suffered badly in WWII, with thousands of buildings destroyed during Soviet bombing in 1944. The 1990s saw the city transformed into a contemporary midsized city, with a restored Old Town and a modern business district. Tallinn shows a taste for all things new, extending to IT-driven business at the fore of the new economy and an e-savvy, WiFi-connected populace embracing a brighter future. Meanwhile, the outskirts of the city have yet to get the facelift that the centre has received. In those parts that few tourists see, poverty and unemployment is more evident.
KAPOORS ON THE ROAD