...is a suburb of Tallinn mainly known for its Marina, but also a popular destination for a walk. Pirita Tee (see separate tip), the road leading from central Tallinn to Pirita, is a coastal promenade frequented by joggers, bikers and skaters. In Pirita, you’ll find a couple of places to visit too. The ruins of the Pirita Convent were closed every time I was there (2007, 2011 and 2012), but at least I managed to have a look from outside. The soviet-style TV tower is just around 2 kms away. If you would like to stay around the Marina, keep an eye out for the sculptures along the water. At the marina, you will also find a monument erected after the 1980 olympic games which took place in Moscow. But as Moscow was not the perfect city for sailing competitions, they were moved to Pirita. You can still see the place where the Olympic Flame was once lit.
The pictures may be a little misleading - next to woods, the convent and the marina, Pirita has infrastructure as well. You'll have no problem in finding a supermarket or a café.
I have left writing this tip until last, because this is the aspect of Estonia's recent history that I found most touching and the place in Tallinn that held the greatest resonance for me.
The Estonian Song Festival was founded in 1869 by Johann Voldemar Jannsen (the man who wrote the words to the Estonian national anthem, 'Mu isamaa, mu õnn ja rõõm'). At this time Estonia was occupied by the Russians, and this festival contributed to the Estonian national awakening of the late 19th century which ultimately lead to Estonia's shortlived independence after World War I.
The Song Festival moved to its current location to the east of the city centre in 1959, with a stage purpose buit for a mass choir of over 15,000 singers and a nominal capacity of 150,000 (although it is estimated that up to half a million people gathered here during the XXI festival in 1990). It is also used for rock concerts and - when we visited in midwinter- the steep slopes facing the stage were a popular venue for toboganning and snowboarding.
The Song Festival Grounds are most famous for hosting the 'Singing Revolution', a series of mass acts of non-violent civil disobedience that ultimately led to the overthrow of Soviet rule. For the sake of context, Wikipedia offers the following summary of the key events:
"On 14 May 1988, the first expression of national feeling occurred during the Tartu Pop Music Festival. Five patriotic songs were first performed during this festival. People linked their hands together and a tradition had begun.
"In June the Old Town Festival was held in Tallinn, and after the official part of the festival, the participants moved to the Song Festival Grounds and similarly started to sing patriotic songs together spontaneously.
"On 26–28 August 1988, the Rock Summer Festival was held, and patriotic songs, composed by Alo Mattiisen, were played.
"On August 23, 1989, the fiftieth anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact [an agreement between the Russians and the Germans on how the Baltics would be carved up], the People's Fronts of all three Baltic countries held a huge demonstration of unity - the "Baltic Way". A 600 km long human "chain" from Tallinn through Riga to Vilnius was assembled. This was a symbolic demonstration of the people's call for independence from the Soviet Union.
"On 11 September 1988, a massive song festival, called "Song of Estonia", was held at the Tallinn Song Festival Arena. This time nearly 300,000 people came together, more than a quarter of all Estonians. On that day political leaders were participating actively, and were for the first time insisting on the restoration of independence."
Unlike neighbouring Lithuania (where pro-democracy protesters were mown down by tanks at the foot of the Vilnius TV tower) Estonians take pride in the fact that their transition to independence was achieved without a single loss of life.
Seated high on the slope overlooking the stage is a wonderful statue of Gustav Ernesaks, a celebrated Estonian composer and choir conductor who had the mixed distinction of not only composing the Anthem of Estonian SSR (used between 1945 and 1990), but also setting Lydia Koidula's poem 'Mu isamaa on minu arm' to music, which became an unofficial national anthem during the years of Soviet occupation. It is a marvellous piece of sculpture, and one can imagine that the old man would be proud to be able to sit there in perpetuity and appreciate the festival that he nurtured.
The Song Festival is held every five years and now also incorporates a dance festival: the next event is scheduled for 2014, and it must be an amazing thing to behold.
Visiting the showgrounds during the festival must be absolutely amazing, but in some ways, visiting when the venue is empty is more atmospheric, as you can conjur up the spirit of those brave people who had the courage to band together and demand their independence. The idea of a third of a country's entire population being gathered together in one place at one time (as it was in 1990) is almost impossible to conceive, and I have not been able to think of another instance where a greater proportion of a nations' population has come together. The closest that I can come is the funeral/crowning of a Pope in the Vatican (but that's more of a gathering at corporate headquarters!). If you can think of another, then I'd be fascinated to hear about it!
At the Botanic Gardens about 8000 species of plants can be found in several greenhouses. Only two of them were open when I visited in April, the palm house and the greenhouse with Japanese and Mediterranean plants.
The park covers an area of 1.2 sq km and here you can find an arboretum, rosary, rock garden and much more.
Admission was 45 EEK (April 2010).
The park is open between 11 - 19 daily. The Palmhouse and Glasshouses are open between 11 - 16 (4 Jan - 25 Apr), between 11 - 18 (26 Apr - 5 Sep) and between 11 - 16 (6 Sep - 19 Dec).
Stretching some three kilometers from the edge of Tallinn's main ferry port to Pirita is a long sea promenade popular with walkers, cyclists and joggers. It takes you past a number of interesting sights, including the Estonian History Museum in Maarjamäe Palace, and the huge concrete Soviet era war memorial. You'll also pass by the monument to Englishman (and honoury Estonian) Michael Park who died co-driving in Wales for Estonian world rally champion Markko Märtin.
You can enjoy the sea breeze while taking in a magnificent view of the Tallinn skyline. It's good for sunsets too.
Nobody comes to Tallinn for the sun, but it can get quite hot here in the summer. There are five official beaches in Tallinn, but if you want to cool your toes there's probably no better place in the city than the 2km stretch of sand called Pirita beach. This is the biggest beach in Tallinn, and has fantastic views of the Old Town. You can also watch the ferries come and go from the harbour, and feed the salt water swans.
Pirita, at the exit to Tallinn's main river of the same name, is one of the capital city's most exclusive districts. Home to big yachts and even bigger houses, this was the location of most of the sea events during Moscow's Olympics in 1980. Without many boycotting countries, the Soviets still did quite badly. Others suffering were the rural Estonians, who were barred from visiting the capital for the duration of the Olympics, presumably to keep them from being influenced by evil Western degeneracy.
The district also has a very popular beach, the biggest in Tallinn, and the beautiful ruins of St. Brigit's Convent.
Even when they are not in use Tallinn's Song Festival Grounds are impressive. The concave stage, flanked by a 42 meter fire tower, is massive, and can hold 15,000 singers. And that's just the stage. The viewing area can hold up to 80,000 people. The last big festival, held every five years, had over a hundred thousand people in the grounds. You can also flip the whole thing around, and put the audience on the stage and the singers on the grass.
The place also has an important history. On September 11th 1988, three years before Estonia's declaration of independence, 300,000 people turned up here to sing patriotic songs, in an act of open defiance against the Soviet regime that had banned them. An incredible event, considering that is a quarter of the Estonian population. These acts of singing became so famous the whole revolution became known as the Singing Revolution.
When not hosting revolutions and marathon singing events, the grounds have seen many big name acts, including Michael Jackson, Madonna and the Rolling Stones.
If only I brought my running shoes --- the coast (Tallinn Bay) looked so inviting to run alongside with as I saw some joggers and cyclists enjoying the cool breeze. Up north of the Pirita Tee is a Russian monument from several decades ago over the graves of soliders.
The Pirita Yacht Club is at the the place where the Pirita tee crosses the Pirita River, and this place is approximately where international regattas were held during the 1980 Moscow Olympics. I hear rowboats can be rented here...wish I had more time...
Tallinn's most popular beach is Pirita Tee which lies around 6km from the city centre. The clean sandy beach is easily reached by bus from the central bus terminus under Viru Centre.
The beach is popular with locals and visitors alike and on a sunny day the beach is filled with young Estonians, many enjoying one of the countries most popular sports - volleyball.
We visited at the end of May and were able to enjoy very warm weather (around 20-25 degress) which made Pirita an enjoyable place to spend a few hours.
On the western side of the beach is Pirita Harbour which is filled with sailing and pleasure boats and yachts. You can also rent a boat or pedal boat in Pirita for around 50Kr per hour and take it for a trip up the Pirita river.
I was brought to this outdoor theatre called the Song Festival Grounds where, in 1988, Estonians gathered at ( also known as Lauluväljak) to sing patriotic tunes of the Singing Revolution that led to the overthrow of Soviet rule.
My research says this new structure was built in 1959, and that the crouching statue (whose stance I copied goofily) is that of Gustav Ernesaks (Peningi, Harjumaa, November 12, 1908 - Tallinn, January 24, 1993) an Estonian composer. The statue was added in 2004.
Ernesaks was important during the Singing Revolution and was one of the father figures of the Estonian Song Festival tradition; one of his songs, set to Lydia Koidula's poem Mu isamaa on minu arm, became an unofficial national anthem during the Soviet occupation. But ironically, he was also the composer of the Anthem of Estonian SSR used between 1945 and 1990.
Although the structure was only completed in 1959, the Song Festival has a long history. In 1869 Johann Voldemar Jannsen established the Estonian Song Festival while the nation was still a province of the Russian Empire. It was responsible for fostering an Estonian national awakening. I guess the people of Estonia are really moved by music and it has been a tradition that these Song Festivals are held every five years.
Today, Tallinn's Song Festival Grounds hosts modern musicians, the Sundance Festival, and even the rock band of Metallica (which apparently just performed last week at the Jobing.com arena beside our home here in Metro Phoenix, AZ!)
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