I first laid my eyes on Tallinn last December. At the time, I was on my trip to Helsinki, the Finnish capital two hours away by ferry from Tallinn. Given their close proximity and shared heritage, these two cities are often referred to as twin capitals, Baltic sisters, or simply Talsinki. Castles and other churches and buildings lie scattered all over this tiny country. Then there’s the aftermath of two World Wars and the Cold War, as well as Soviet occupation and withdrawal, making it a fascinating country to visit.
Tallinn’s old town is just marvellous. Visiting there is like stepping back a few centuries and they have done a good job of preserving their history and medieval structures. I walked around there shuffling down cobblestone paths which are lined with medieval homes and ancient churches. Tiny alleys lead to tinier lanes, where you find cloistered yards. The city is still ringed by much of its original stone wall and many guard towers. It’s breathtaking.
I don't really use a map nor an itinerary to discover it. I realise just going by foot everywhere and stumbling on interesting things is fulfilling enough. I like medieval towns to be empty and quiet. It personally helps me appreciate them more. Medieval towns are much better when they are empty and peaceful. In winter, the narrow cobbled streets that take you past grand merchants houses, medieval walls and hidden courtyards are almost deserted.
由于爱沙尼亚的首都塔林 (Tallinn) 就在赫尔辛基 (Helsinki) 两小时的船程范围内，于是我便贪心地把塔林这城市都加插在我芬兰旅行程之内。在港口便望见一大片白墙红顶、高矮参差错落有致的房屋，间或有一个个突起的墨绿色尖铜顶刺向天空，勾画出一道耐人寻味的天际线。那里就是塔林的老城区。单是听名字，已经觉得浪漫。塔林老城是欧洲唯一保持着中世纪外貌和格调的城市，因此被列入世界文化遗产。
Tallinn’s UNESCO-listed Old Town is divided into two sections – the Upper Town, more commonly referred to as Toompea, and the Lower Town. Toompea has always been where the central power of Estonia is seated, regardless of the nation’s ruler at the time. After walking around those pretty streets of the Old city, I wanted to take a look at those pointy spires and red-tiled turrets from above and so i went to the St. Olaf’s Church which is one of the best places to do so. I took the above view to the whole city from there, absolutely stunning. Be prepared to climb some stairs, but at the end, it is worth the view.
Aside from the Toompea Castle, this hill is also the site of two stunning cathedrals, Cathedral of Saint Mary the Virgin and St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. The Cathedral of Saint Mary the Virgin, also called the Dome Church, was founded in the 13th century and has been rebuilt many times since. This lavish church once served Tallinn’s nobles and its repeated rebuilding has led to a variety of architectural styles including a Gothic nave and a Baroque spire. While the architecture was fascinating, I was even more impressed by the extravagant coats of arms being displayed on the interior walls of the church.
In sharp contrast to Estonia’s main Lutheran church, the St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is a Russian-style onion-domed structure built in 1900 and is Estonia’s main Russian Orthodox church. An ensemble of 11 bells sit within the towers of the church and play before each service, and the walls are beautifully decorated with mosaics and icons – all the more reason to visit since photos are not allowed inside.
The Russian influence on Tallinn is most obvious in the form of St Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, the Russian Orthodox church that sits on top of Toompea Hill. The cathedral is beautiful, with white and coloured exterior and the big onion shaped spires on the top. You can go inside and see the mosaic designs on the walls, and hear the bells ring.
it is the first former-Soviet country I have ever visited. I didn’t really know what to expect going in. Even now, I can’t quite describe the feeling articulately. There is a distinct energy in the air, a pride in the resilience and independence of modern Estonia. But the relics of the Soviet era still surround you - decrepit watchtowers, Soviet-style architecture, reminding you that the presence of their behemoth neighbourhood always looms over this tiny city.
If you walk around Tallinn long enough you’re guaranteed to end up in the Old Town Hall Square. This was the heart of medieval Tallinn and started life as a market for the city’s Hanseatic merchants. They built their houses and warehouses around it. In December it’s filled with Christmas market stalls.
I got lost in all those little streets around the cathedral. All in all, sometimes it felt like being in a fairytale. There were pretty doorways and colourful corners everywhere I turned, and the charm of the place brought me back through the same streets so many times, not just to photograph but to actually just enjoy being in such a charming place.
There are parts of the place that look like a cross between Game of Thrones and Harry Potter, and I searched to see if any filming was done here as I was so sure it would have been, but apparently not. I’d definitely describe it as one of the most medieval cities I’ve ever been to.
A lot of the cellars of the merchants’ houses have been turned into souvenir shops, cafes and restaurants, with the domed ceilings and candlelight making them a cosy escape from the winter chill.
Another highlight of Toompea hill is its array of breathtaking viewing platforms. Back in the day, Estonia’s rulers would use their position on the hill to keep a close eye on the town and its inhabitants below. Today, these platforms provide some of the best views of the capital and the harbor.
This is the emblematic place where you will find a wall with this sentence “The Times we had”. I can assure you that these four words will stay forever in your memory. From this place you have one of the most beautiful views of the amazing city of Tallinn. You absolutely have to go there.
当我站在观景台上俯瞰塔林老城的第一眼，我便彻底爱上了这座城市。白云下的教堂塔尖，红顶下的青石厚墙，在薄雾和绿树的掩映下，感觉似乎穿越到了中世纪，非常漂亮。一切都如同一个童话世界，一个从中世纪走来的童话，却又明明是另外一种风味，就像时间从来没有从这里走过。观景台上的红墙上写的 “The Times we had” ，这句话让人浮想联翩，爱沙尼亚人的这句话到底想要表达什么，我也无法搞清楚。不过，在若干年以后，或许那个时候你已经不再是那个风华正茂的少年少女，当你再次来到这个地方，再次看到墙上这句话时你一定会很感动，会很怀念曾经你拥有的这段美好的时光吧。一辈子很短，且行且珍惜。
This picture was taken from one of the many lookouts over Tallinn on the medieval city walls. This viewpoint is one of my favourite spots, simply for the graffiti – “SAVE ON THE CAMERA, HONEY. ENJOY THE VIEW.” Whenever I get too snap happy with a camera on my travels (that’s most days) I always think back to this, because it is important to remember to live in the moment and capture the image with your eyes and other senses: not just with a camera lens.
后来走下半腰，我看到墙上又有一个涂鸦，写着：“SAVE THE CAMERA, HONEY. ENJOY THE VIEW.” 我又觉得好幸福好感动了。塔林真的是个魔法城，此时此刻的塔林老城，是被冰雪皇后施了魔法的童话世界。
I was personally more swept away by the views from that platform since the platform sits directly above the old town rather than off to the side and I therefore received a different perspective of the neighbourhood. I fell in love with this city so hard and so fast that I was completely surprised by it.
The Old Town in Tallinn captured my heart. Until next time, Tallinn….I will be back.