The Lutheran St John’s Church of Haapsalu was built in times of the Reformation in the 16th century with some later changes. Its basement was an ancient storage house. Note the altar with a 17th century stone retable and the woodcarved 18th century pulpit.According to the inscriptions, the high altar is dated to 1630, the pulpit to 1707. Both were private donations.
The reliefs and sculptures of the altar show (from bottom to top): the baptism of Jesus, an angel's head, Christ praying in Gethsemane, the crucifix, and Christ resurrected.
This church is a relic of German culture in the Baltics. It is not only the inscriptions in German language. The art historian and church researcher in me is amazed how much the interior, not only the details of altar and pulpit but the whole layout, resembles churches in the Lutheran regions of Germany.
The church is presently (Sept 2009) undergoing restoration works which are indeed necessary. The interior photos show how wet and run down the walls are. However, after asking our guide who had a word with the workers we were able to go in and see it.
The 'square' is actually a triangle - is there a word for a triangular 'square' in English? Anyway, this location in the town centre used to be where the Swedes from the islands sold their produce. Haapsalu has a strong connection with Sweden and Swedes who settled in Estonia through history.
Among the trees in the middle a fountain with a cute sculpture has been put up: a boy with a fish.
The yellowish building with the red roof on the northern side is of particular interest to visitors. It contains an exhibition on Haapsalu's tradition in knitting, the famous Haapsalu scarves (see Local customs tip), and some arts and crafts shops where you can buy the products of local artisans, highest quality at affordable prices - herewith recommended for souvenir shopping.
Stroll and explore the narrow lanes of old Haapsalu with their little wooden houses and gardens. Bring your camera, there are many picturesque views. Due to Haapsalu's location on a peninsula, the water is never far away.
More photos in the travelogues.
Haapsalu has a beautiful waterside promenade along the bay, along the shore named Aafrika, and to the Kursaal. However, in 2009 this promenade is a construction site. Access is not allowed but the sign is in Estonian and we, including our local guide, pretended not to understand so we could at least have a quick look. We had no access to the Kursaal and Tchaikovsky's Bench, though. It was very muddy and there was a huge shovel approaching so we quickly retreated. The quay wall and the whole pavement are being renewed. I do not know how long these works are expected to take. Maybe in spring 2010 everything will be new and beautiful, maybe not.
Stalin's dictature hit Estonia with full force, just like the other territories that became part of the Soviet Union. After the occupation of Estonia in 1940, deportations set in. Estonians were sent to forced labour oin Siberia for the tiniest reason, or for no reason at all except that they were Estonians. There is hardly a family in today's Estonia without a story of a deported family member.
There is a train among the exhibition on the tracks behind the railway station that recalls these deportations under Stalin's regime. The locomotive is painted in camouflage grey like in the war. It pulls a row of narrow cargo wagons. Such wagons were used, people were crammed in them and transported all the way to Siberia.
Some returned after maybe 15 years. Others disappeared forever.
The train station was built in 1907 in all splendour as befits a building for the Russian Czar. Nikolaus II., the last Czar of Russia, liked Haapslau very much and often came to visit the seaside resort in summer, with a large entourage from the court in St. Petersburg. To make transportation for so many people easier and more comfortable, he had the railway line to Haapsalu built. The train station had the longest covered platform in Europe (in those times). Later it was nicknamed "the Czar's bowling alley".
In Soviet times the railway line was closed down and partly demolished. The train station is not in use any more but has been beautifully restored and turned into a railway museum. The tracks assemble historical locomotives and train cars. Visiting the station and the museum is free except the restroom, which however should not be missed (see separate tip).
The railway first was built in Estonia in 1870. In 1905 it reached Haapsalu. The town was one of official resorts for royal family. So the station was designed with a great chic. The building has 4 parts- the Emperor's Pavillion and passengers waiting hall are divided by roofed hall and they are set along roofed platform. Beautifully decorated wooden platform was one of the longest platforms in the world when built - it is 216 m long. In 1970 the railway was closed in Haapsalu and museum was established in the station building. Often the old platform and the building are used as film scenery, for example once it "played" Moscow railway station when Anna Karenina was jumping under the train.
The main touristic object in Haapsalu is the old Bishops castle. When built it was one of the strongest fortresses in area, it's walls are about 1.5m thick. Castle was built in the middle of XIII century when Haapsalu still had no town bylaws......Well- they should thank my fellow-countrymen Lithuanians that destroid former Bishop residence in Vana-Parnu, so the center of Bishopric was moved to Haapsalu. The cathedral was built first and then stronghold around it. During the centuries some improvements were made according to the change of weapons. In XVII century the castle lost it's importance as a defence fortress.
The st. Nicholas Dome was the start of the fortress building. Although it was damaged many times it still stands and serves the churchgoers. Built in Gothic-Roman style it's the biggest single-naved church in Baltic countries. Round baptismal chapel is built at the church side and every August lots of people gather in the castle yard to see the Ghost of White Lady in the chapel window. Legend says that there was a young girl who felt in love with one of the monks. But it was forbidden for women to enter the monastery grounds. She dressed up like a boy but she got caught .She was burried alive in stone walls. And now her ghost appears in the window of the chapel during the nights of full-moon in August.
But even during other months of the year Haapsalu castle is nice place for visiting. People can walk around the park, visit the museum, have some coffee in castle restaurant, play gigantic chess in the yard.....
There are several beaches around town, the largest is Paralepa which is close to the bus station, we found a quiet small beach on Lahe close to our hotel, even went into the sea which was surprisingly warm, lovely and clear too.
Haapsalu is a bird watchers paradise, there is a tower by the sea to watch in comfort. The area attracts many different species, we saw and heard lots, espacially early morning!
Here's a mother swan proudly displaying her cygnets.
Even if you have no interest in trains it's worth visiting the old station just to see what a beautiful building it is. The platform is long and under cover to keep the Royal family out of the rain on their visits to town - many years ago.
The railway museum is here too.
Haapsalu is no longer served by Estonian Railways but , the beautiful old station is now the home of the national railway museum.
It's a well presented display of old railway items and videos inside and outside there are several old locos. At just 15 krooni entrance fee, well worth it.
More photos on t'logue.
The composer visited Haapsalu and worked there for a while this bench was built to commemorate this. As you approach it plays some of his music to you, good to hear, lots of info in many languages available too. Mrs Bonio very impressed, me too!
Beautiful old buildings and grounds to walk around, happily spent a couple of hours there, a must see if you visit Haapsalu. There s a cafe and openair concerts are held in the summer, just missed one ourselves. More photos in a t'logue.
Tchaikovsky used to summer in Haapsalu. Apparently he had a favourite bench on the littoral where he would look out at the sea. This bench is located in the same spot and has inscribed on it the first line of the movement he composed here on his vacation.