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Tallinn is the capital of Estonia and with a population of approximately 440,000, the country's largest city; approximately one third of Estonia's population live here. It has a large sea port and is located on the Gulf of Finland, the easternmost arm of the Baltic Sea on the country's northern coast. The city is just 50 miles south, across the water, from Finland's capital city, Helsinki. Despite many years under Soviet rule, Tallinn has retained much charm with its two-tier old town, church spires, baroque palaces and historic fortified walls. Tallinn embraces the old with the new, welcoming the visitor with a cosmopolitan feel amongst its many appealing cafes, restaurants and shopping areas.

Above: Tallinn's medieval defensive walls and gates have still largely survived to the present day

Although Tallinn first appeared on a map in 1154, it's origins date back to the 13th century, when a castle was built there by the crusading knights of the Teutonic Order.  After being conquered by the Danes, it was known as Reval from the 13th century (right up until Estonia's independence was first declared in 1918 after WW I when it became known as Tallinn). The city became part of the Hanseatic League in 1285 and so played an important role in Baltic trading routes between Russia and Western Europe during the Middle Ages. Prior to the declaration of independence in 1918, Estonia underwent periods of rule by Sweden and by Russia. After Nazi occupation during WWII from 1941 to 1944 (during which time Tallinn was once again named Reval), Estonia became part of the USSR. The result of the Red army taking the city from the Nazis in 1944 was that it suffered heavy bombing by the Soviet Air Force.  After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Estonia became independent once again on 20th August 1991, with Tallinn returning once again as capital city of the restored republic. Estonia later joined the European Union in 2004. Today, Tallinn is ranked as a global city and in 2011 was a European Capital of Culture, along with Turku in Finland.

Above: The Tallinn Song Festival Grounds. Singing plays an important role in Estonia's cultural heritage. From 1987, mass demonstrations by Estonian nationalists took place in the form of singing national songs and hymns forbidden by the Soviets, alongside performing rock musicians. On June 10th and 11th, 1988, spontaneous mass night-singing pro-independence demonstrations took place here at the Tallinn Song Festival Grounds. This gave rise to the term 'The Singing Revolution', which is commonly used to describe the events up until 1991 that led to the restoration of independence of the three Baltic States, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

No first visit to Tallinn is complete without a look around Toompea, a tabletop limestone hill in the city centre. On this hill is the Riigikogu (parliament) located within a castle. The city has been a popular place for visitors throughout it's history; in the 19th century, it was a popular summer destination for the residents of St Petersburg and between the World Wars, a popular weekend escape from Moscow for Western Diplomats. During the Soviet era, many Russian visitors would venture here as foreign travel was frequently not an option. My visit, featured on this web page, was in the mid 90's and in more recent years the city has become an increasingly popular destination for visitors. With a plethora of new trendy cafes and restaurants popping up, set amongst newly restored and redecorated building facades, there is much to greet the tourist; Tallinn has become far more cosmopolitan and fashionable than it has ever been before. And, as one of the leading global digitized cities (and nations), the visitor won't be short of Wi-Fi! Several modern skyscrapers have also sprung up since the turn of the Millennium, so much has changed since my mid 90's visit - perhaps another trip is now overdue...

The thumbnail gallery photos below show a selection of the many sites the city has to offer and a brief description follows: Stenbock House seen from the Rahukohtu Street side [Photo 1], a neo-classical building located on Toompea hill and the official seat of the Government of Estonia; A restaurant on Toompea Hill [Photo 2]; The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral [Photo 3], an orthodox cathedral, which was built in a Russian Revival style between 1894 and 1900 when Estonia was part of the Russian Empire; St Mary's Cathedral [5], also known as Dome Church - this is a cathedral church located on Toompea and was established by Danes in the 13th century, making it the oldest church in Tallinn; Views of the city from Toompea [Photos 6 & 7]; St. Nicholas' Church [Photo 8], a medieval former church originally built in the 13th century, partially destroyed in the Soviet Bombing during World War II - it was restored and today forms part of the Art Museum of Estonia; Views showing the city's walls, for which it is famous for [Photos 9 & 10] - some further information on some of the old towers and gates along the walls may be found here (external web site); A street in the old town with the Town Hall in view [Photo 11]; Town Hall Square (Raekoja plats) [Photo 12], located in the heart of the old town - it regularly hosts markets with stalls selling souvenirs and also provides the venue for small festivals, music concerts and the annual Christmas Market; Tallinn Town Hall on Raekoja plats [Photo 13] - completed in 1404, it is the oldest town hall in the whole of the Baltic region; Tallinn Presidential Palace [Photo 14]; The graves of Konstantin Päts and his wife in Tallinn's Metsakalmistu cemetery [Photo 15] - he was the most influential politician of interwar Estonia, serving five times as the country's head of state; The grave of Georg Ots [Photo 16], a famous and influential Estonian singer who lived from 1920-75.

The Historic Centre (Old Town) of Tallinn is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. As Estonia's capital city, there are many other important sites to see in Tallinn not mentioned on this web page and so for anybody interested in finding out more and considering a visit to this city, I have included some links at the bottom of this web page.

References/Further Reading

1. Some interesting facts about the city here from VisitTallinn official city guide here

2. Tallinn In Your Pocket City Guide here (Fully downloadable PDF guide)

3. UNESCO web page here

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