St Olaf's church must have been the first sight that Hanseatic merchants spotted on the skyline on their approach to Tallinn, and no wonder, as it had the distinction of being the tallest building in Europe between 1549 and 1625. These days, its 124m spire has long since been dwarfed by more recent structures, but it is still a sublime piece of architecture that is perfect in its simplicity.
Sadly St Olaf's was abused by the KGB during the Russian occupation, who used the tower to transmit radio signals from their nearby headquarters. In terms of winning the hearts and minds of Estonians in order to unite them into an integrated Soviet identity, it is clear that the occupying Russians were not only incompetent, but masters of offence - whether this is due to lamentable emotional intelligence on the part of decisionmakers or deliberate, calculated insult (or a combination of the two) is a matter for debate.
Unfortunately St Olaf's is closed to the public between October and April, except if you attend a service (see website below for details): I don't know whether it was just a function of the prevailing wind direction when we visited in December, but the street corner outside the entrance to St Olav's was consistently the windiest spot in the entire city, so you have been warned!
In the summer, you can tackle the 258 steps for a view that promises to be well worth the climb!
St. Olav’s Church is a Baptist church which dates back to 12th century and was dedicated King Olaf II of Norway, who was also a Saint. It is well-known for his huge 1500 bell-tower and spire: originally 159 metres tall. The purpose of this tower is not clear, but apparently it was used as a maritime signpost. What we know for sure is the purpose it had in more recent times: between 1944 and 1991 the KGB used it as a radio tower and surveillance point.
In my opinion it’s not worth to vist the church inside: it’s very plain and uninteresting. What is really worth doing, if you are not afraid of heights, is to climb the tower's viewing platform for excellent views. The tower is open from April through November, daily between 10:00 and 18:00. Admission is EEK 30kr (August 2010).
The spire of St Olaf’s Church is 124 metres tall and if you climb the 258 steps to the viewing point you will be rewarded with a great panorama view over Tallinn.
I climbed twice during my visit in Tallinn. First on the day I arrived and then on the day I left, as that was the first sunny day and it was clear. Luckily the spiral staircase change direction about halfway up the spire.
It is 30 EEK (April 2010) to climb the tower. It is open between 10 - 18, April - October.
Unlike the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, this is an Estonian church. The port lecturer told us we should look throughout Scandinavia for Olav/Olaf's. So I told the pedicab driver that I wanted to see this particular church. We didn't go in.
The 400 foot tall tower was once Europe's tallest until Cologne Cathedral was built. The church was named for the11th century Norwegian King Olaf II. However there is another similarly named person who is associated with this church - the architect Olev who offered to build the church for free if the people of Tallin could discover his name. According to legend, Olev died when he fell from the tower.
Once the tallest building in the world, but now just a little bit shorter, St. Olaf's continues the fishing theme of Tallinn's three main Protestant churches. This time the great height of the church's spire was designed to be seen far out to sea, and help the fisherman navigate their way back safely to port.
These days this isn't necessary, but the 232 steep narrow steps of the steeple can be climbed for great views of the city, if only during the summer months. During the rest of the year you can enjoy taking pictures of the church's slender, snow covered spire, now measuring 123 meters, down from its once record breaking height of 159 meters.
In addition to being used as a reference for seafarers, the church's great spire was used by the KGB for radio and surveillance purposes.
This was the tallest church in medieval Europe. Built in the 1500's, the building inspired visitors. At present, the Baptist congregation resides here. It's open Sun 10 a.m. to noon. Monday 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
The Oleviste Church near the end of Pikk Street, close to Fat Margaret, has a observation deck at 124 metres... it is a big climb, small steps in a narrow tower, but the sight from 124m is great, we had a good sunny day so we enjoyed our views!
Getting to the top is quite a climb - this tower is 120m high - but the views are stunning and well worth all the effort!
There are great views over the old town, Toompea Hill and out to the port and sea.
Only about 3 euro entrance fee.
I have to find my more indepth info but this church tower was once one of the highest in the world, ahead of its time.
Today it is an active evangelical church open to tourists and with stunning views over the old town and Toompea from the the top of the many steps up. Well worth the heart exercise to get to the top!
Apparently its architect, Olav or Olaf, fell to his death from its 120 metre tower!
About 3 euro entrance fee.
St Olaf's church, named after King Olav ll of Norway (who was pretty good at killing pagans, apparently).
There's been a church here since at least 1297, but it's famous because at one time it was the tallest building in the world. Well, so they say........I'm not sure if the pyramids weren't actually taller....maybe it should be 'the tallest building in Europe'?
The spire is 124m high now, but in the 1500s it was 159m: hardly surprising that it was hit by lightning at least 8 times between the 1600s and the 1800s!
You can climb the tower for excellent views of the city, if you like: the interior is really nothing special after its renovations in the mid-1800s.
Whilst I was there the copper roof was being replaced. If you look carefully at the second photo you'll see two tiny workmen climbing down it: rather a scary job, in my opinion!
At the rear, though the locked railings meant I couldn't get a close look, is the magnificently carved tomb of one Johann Ballivi, a plague victim who died in the fifteenth century.
Oleviste Church or St. Olaf's/St. Olav's is located in the Lower Old Town near the Great Coast Gate. A church has existed on this site since the 13th century and was once the world's tallest building! The tower of the church when it was completed in the early 16th century reached a height of 159 metres!
During it's history the church has been detroyed or severely damaged numerous times, having burnt down 3 times and been struck by lightning on multiple occasions. One of the fires resulted in the recondtruction of the tower to a shorter height of 124 metre tower. You can climb the tower to enjoy great views over the Old and New Town areas of tallinn and beyond. Be warned that the climb is steep and long!!! Entrance to the church is free but to climb the tower is 30 EEK.
The church is dedicated to King Olav II of Norway and coincidently was built by another Olav who was killed when he fell from the church tower. Legend has it that after he hit the ground and was killed a toad and a snake crawled from his mouth!
The church was for centuries a great aid to sailors who used the churches massive tower as a guide to the city of Tallinn.
Between 1549 and 1625, when the spire burnt down after a lightning strike, St. Olav's Church was the tallest building in the world. During the Soviet occupation from 1944 until 1991, the Soviet KGB used Oleviste’s spire as a radio tower and surveillance point. It currently continues as an active Baptist church.
I think everyone is impressed how tall this church is. Actually it was the tallest church in medieval Europe. Building was constructed in 13th century and it was 159 meters high. Now, after renovation is 1931 it is 123 meters high. It is given to Baptist community. Interior of church is nice, traditionally as in Lutheran churches not too much overcrowded by paintings, sculptures.
For small fee it is possible to go up to church tower (hard work:) to see panorama, that is, in my opinion, the best in Tallinn.
During the Soviet occupation the spire was used as a lookout by the KGB but now the views can be enjoyed by all, or at least those able to negotiate the winding stone staircase. It is an exhausting climb especially as the steps are quite deep and the staircase rather narrow, there are guide ropes to hang on to and they are a blessing – especially when you meet someone coming the opposite way! I’d advise wearing sensible walking shoes but on the morning we climbed up a girl managed it in 4 inch heels without seemingly breaking a sweat. All kudos to her!
The viewing gallery is also quite narrow and though enclosed by wire mesh it is quite dizzying looking over the edge or up towards the top of the spire above you. The views, however, are fantastic especially over Toompea and out towards the sea. They make the aching legs worth it!
The Tower is open between April and October
The 124m spire of Oleviste Kirik (St. Olaf’s Church) is another recognisable feature on the Tallinn skyline.
The spire used to be taller, 159 metres, and between 1549 and 1625 was the tallest building in the world and provided a beacon to ships far out to sea, an advantage for the maritime port of Tallinn. Legend says that the tower was built by a mysterious stranger who tempted the town elders by telling them he could build the spire higher and faster than anyone else. For this he asked for 10 bags of gold but with the proviso that if the townspeople found out his name before he had completed his work he would forfeit this payment. The elders, thinking that there was no way he could complete the work in the short time the man proposed agreed, thinking their gold was safe. However the man was true to his word and the work sped along, when it appeared that he was going to complete on time the elders did all they could to find out the man’s name. On the last day just as the elders were thinking the gold was lost they heard the man’s wife singing to her baby that soon her husband “Olev” would return with gifts for them. The elders rushed to the church and just as the man was about to finish the spire they shouted “Olev” to him upon hearing which he lost his footing and fell to his death. However upon hitting the ground a snake and a toad crawled out of his mouth proving that Olev was, in fact, in league with the devil – if not the devil himself. However the church still bears the name of the devilish spire builder!
Actually the truth is much more prosaic, the church is named after St. Olaf (King Olaf II of Norway), protector of seafarers. The spire, however, was not without problems – it has been struck by lightening 8 times and the church has burnt down 3 times, which makes one wonder if the mysterious Olev might be having his revenge.