Tuesday, 12 July 2016


 The Town Hall

We have reached Tartu, Estonia's second city. Tomorrow has been set aside for a butterfly safari, so we spend the afternoon walking round the old part of the city, guided by a map from the excellent Information Centre. The walk starts in front of the beautiful neo-classical Town Hall of 1789, with the now famous Kissing Students fountain (designed by Mati Karmen in 1998) in front.

We head along Kuuni and turn right to pass a small square with a statue of the Russian Field Marshall Barclay de Tolly who defeated Napoleon. We saw a similar statue in Riga.

Carrying on uphill, we came upon this lovely statue of Wilde and Vilde. Eduard Vilde was a celebrated Estonian writer and diplomat, and although he was younger than Oscar Wilde, the sculpture is based on the idea that they could have met. The conversation doesn't to have really got going through.

We continued along the atmospheric Vallikravi, before turning right up a steep path to Toomemagi (Cathedral Hill, the home of Tartu University). We turned left and headed for the Old Observatory founded in 1810. For a while it was the home of the most powerful telescope in the world.

Soon after this we were in the main precincts of the University where we saw the Old Anatomical Theatre, the central part of which was built by J W Krause in 1803 (the side wings are successive later additions). Perhaps surprisingly, it continued as anatomical theatre until 1999. It is an exquisite building.

The University was re-founded in 1802 and the Angel's bridge over the road up from the town centre (Lossi), built in 1838, commemorates the first Rector.

The view down Lossi from the bridge is very attractive and gives a good sense of the character of the old town.

 A bit further on is what remains of the Cathedral which gives the hill its name. The cathedral dates to the 13th century, but was badly damaged during the Livonian War and finished off by fire in 1624. The re-founding of the University led to the choir being rebuilt as the University library by the same J R Krause who was responsible for the Anatomical Theatre. It is now the University museum. The ruined section is very impressive.

We headed downhill to re-enter the city and visit the University's main building, a very fine neo-classical structure.

Continuing along Jakobi, we turned right into Lutsu, noticing this fine house on the corner. I was delighted to spot a plaque saying that it dated from 1755 and was the most outstanding wooden house of that period in the city. It was the house of Pastor T Plasching and was the only similar house to survive the great fire of 1775.

At the end of the street was the magnificent St John's church. It was built in the 14th century, but wrecked during the Second World War and derelict for nearly 50 years afterwards. It was eventually restored and reopened in 2009-10.

 We turned left into Lai and continued down to the river Emajogi where we admired the modern Freedom Bridge.

We walked along the riverbank and crossed to re-enter Town Hall Square ...

... and then headed back to the start to take a nice aperitif in one of the bars on the right hand side. On the right of the square is the wonderful Leaning House, now a museuem. It was built in 1790 on uneven foundations and stabilised by Polish engineeers during the Soviet period.

Finally, I can't leave Tartu without mentioning this fantastic building, in the modern part of the city of course, near where we were staying. It looks like a roll of, say, film which has become unrolled. It is called Tigutorn (Snail-tower) and is the seventh tallest building in Estonia. A full account can be found on the Arch Daily website, but in brief it was completed in 2008 and was the work of Künnapu & Padrik Architects. The key design idea is that of the spiral. I think it is just wonderful.

Conditions: cloudy, reasonably warm.

Distance: maybe 3 miles.

Rating: four and half stars. A delightful city.

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