Sunday, 17 July 2016


St Catherine's church

Parnu, the final stop of our Baltic tour, is Estonia's fourth biggest city with a population of 41,000 (the top three are Tallinn, Tartu and Narva - Tallinn is by far the biggest). It is located on the coast of Parnu Bay, in the Gulf of Livonia, part of the Baltic Sea. It's cool and raining when we arrive, but the rain eases after a while and we embark on a quick tour.

We are staying close to St Catherine's church, so we begin our walk there. It was built in 1768 in the Baroque style during the reign of Catherine the Great and funded by her for the city's garrison. The exterior has pleasingly restrained colour palate.

We head north along Vee (Estonian streets seem to mostly only have one word names) and cross an incongruous wide boulevard called Pikk (disconcertingly the same name as one of the most attractive streets in Tallinn). It is lined with apartment blocks and surely must be from the Soviet era.

A little further on however we come to a newly developed quarter where we will find the Parnu Concert Hall. It is a pleasing modern building. It seemed to me that the vertical elements echoed the pilasters of a Baroque or neo-classical building.

The statue in the foreground depicts Gustav Peter Fabergé, the founder of the famous jewellery house who was born in Parnu in 1814 and died in Dresden in 1893.

We walk down Hommiku to see the oldest building in Parnu, the possibly misnamed Red Tower, dating from the 15th century. We were perhaps a little disappointed: it's a small white circular building with a red roof. We reached the High St, Ruutli, and were rather taken with the first building we saw: this red-brick late 19th century number.

A little way along Ruutli I spotted the lovely art nouveau ironwork on the top storey of this shop.

I was delighted however to be directed by the Tourist Office map to the side street of Hospidali to a former almshouse. It is apparently the oldest plot in Parnu, dating from the 13th century. the building was converted into an almshouse in 1658, although this use ceased in 1816. The current building was restored in 1999. It raises an interesting thought. Almshouses seem to be a peculiarly English institution (although we did see some in Amsterdam), but perhaps they were used in other countries without surviving to the present day.

A further side street, Nikolai, brought us to the Town Hall, a harmonious neo-Classical building of 1797. It was originally a private dwelling  and then the residence of the city commander, only becoming the Town Hall in 1839. The tower at the back is part of the Town Hall extension of 1910. Our guidebook gives this an enthusiastic write up as "magnificent art nouveau extension". I think this is just nonsense: the date is within the art nouveau period of course, but the building shows no features of the art nouveau style.

Now we head south, passing another Baroque church, Elixabeth's to reach the exquisite Tallinn Gate. This is the only remaining part of the 17th century ramparts which surrounded the town. Before 1710 it was known as Gustav's Gate, in honour of the Swedish king who ruled over Estonia (or maybe just this part of Estonia, I am not sure) until then.

A bit further on, in Mere pst, was a bona fide art nouveau gem: Villa Ammende. It was built in 1905 by a rich merchant for the wedding of his daughter and later was variously a casino, a club, a sanatorium and a library. After a major renovation in 1999 it is now a hotel.

The main entrance is particularly fine.

Although it was by now raining quite hard we completed our itinerary by walking down to the beach. It all looked pretty bleak in the rain with the sea the colour of mud, but doubtless on another day the Ladies Beach would have been packed with Ladies sunbathing in the nude - this is apparently its distinguishing feature.

Our last sight was along the sea front, the impressive art deco Rannahotell (Beach Hotel) built 1935-37.

Conditions: grey and damp.

Distance: three miles or so.

Rating: four stars.

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