the " virgin city ", a sophisticated avant garde model that keeps its medieval soul


Tallin StOlav Trompea hills

“One or two labels do not suffice to impart its uniqueness. Tallinn is an ancient city, a sea city, a stony city, a city of towers, a capital city.”

Jaan Kaplinski

Tallin StOlav Trompea hills

After landing in Tallinn on a rainy August evening, I got to my hotel and looked out the window, to have my senses reeled by the beauty of the clouds floating softly around the tower of the city’s iconic Church of St. Olav. From 1549 to 1625 Olav’s Gothic church, with its 150 meter spire, was the tallest building in the world, serving as a guidepost for approaching ships.
According to one legend Tallinn was named the “virgin city”, because no enemies had been able to conquer it. In medieval times the city gates were tightly shut each evening at 9 pm, and in the 16th century Tallinn boasted one of the most powerful and strongest defense systems in northern Europe. Tallinn experienced great prosperity as a member of the powerful Hanseatic League, being one of the valuable commercial ports on the sea route linking Western Europe with Russia.  Tallin StOlav Trompea hills
Modern day Tallinn has acquired a sophisticated and modern air, becoming an avant garde model for using new technologies to optimize and simplify the daily lives of its 430,000 inhabitants. Doing taxes, voting, starting a company, signing documents, all this happens online in the capital of Estonia, and public transport is free for its residents.
Despite its swift and profound evolution over the centuries, the city of Tallinn has kept its medieval soul very much intact, resulting in a fairy tale-like setting. Still wrapped and protected by its walls and guard towers, the poet Lydia Koidula succinctly captures the feel of the Estonian city:
“In Tallinn tall towers / Rise to the sky, / Alert guards stand at its gates, / Proudly keeping watch.”
Passing through the ancient city wall, I started my tour of  “Vanalinn”, the  Old Town, on ” Pikk tanav “, or Long Street, that led me to the central square, “Raekoja plats”And had it not been for a group of anti-Putin protesters, I could have easily imagined myself back in the Middle Ages, as the entire Old Town of Tallinn is paved with cobblestone streets. These and the colorful palaces and facades of the gothic houses form a harmonious and pleasing ensemble, one designated by UNESCO as a world heritage site.
The silent night in the upper Old Town, the majestic presences of the Orthodox cathedral of Alexandre Nevski and the Cathedral of Saint Mary the Virgin in Tallinn completed the dreamlike tableau.
From Toompea Hill, I took in the spectacle of the Estonian capital skyline, the pointed roofs contrasting with the avant-garde new architecture, the Baltic Sea behind, and experienced what the Estonian poet Marie Under described in her poem “Ecstasy”: “My every nerve vibrates to rapt delight, And I distrain my life of its last treasure.”

Milan , May 2018 © Pablo Munini

Tallin StOlav Trompea hills

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