Botanic gardens are my favourite places to visit. Here, it is also a must. Established 1803, it is traditional and satisfying with its hills, lawns, foot paths, arched bridge and modern art in the grounds.
Open daily from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
St. John's Church, the gothich cathedral, was originally built at the beginning of the 14th century. It was badly damaged during the wars but is now fully renovated. With its heavy red brick walls it seemed too big for its location. There were houses surrounding it so close that I got a feeling of claustrofobia llooking at it from the narrow street.
As a continuation of Ülikooli street after Riia street, Kalevi street leads directlly to the Tartu Centre for Creative Industries. Here, one can discover a few of the most creative things in town: There are young people, who are building up their businesses. They bring colour to the region and live the spirit of Tartu!
The Centre for Creative Industries (Kalevi 13, 15, 17) comprises of three buildings - two of them being under construction right now. Here you can:
- buy special, truly Estonian souvenirs (made from local artists)
- eat delicious and fresh food (in Café Bianca)
- book workshops for incentive or leisure groups (a wide variety to chose from: pottery, organic cosmetics, soap stones, photos, and so on)
The railway from Tallinn to Tartu was opened in 1877, and ten years later the line from Tartu to Valga was finished. Until mid 1990s passanger traffic was important and Tartu Railway Station was busy. But when the line was privatised cargo came into focus, and passanger traffic has decreased. Nowadays there are only a few passanger trains every day in each direction. The condition of the line is not the best, which means speed is low, and many people prefer to go by bus.
Tartu Railway Station is an architectural pearl, and it is a pity to see the condition of the building today. I hope the owners of the building see it's historical value, and restore it to what it once was.
Interesting decorum on a probably neoclassical house in Raekoja plats opposite the town hall: The facade towards the square has obviously been redecorated under the Soviet regime. The stucco ornaments between ground and first floor include the Soviet emblem with hammer and sickle.
Most amazing: almost two decades after Estonia's independence it is still there.
The square in front of the town hall is the heart of Tartu - not only because of the fountain with the kissing students, LOL. The square is entirely pedestrianized and has outdoor seating of cafes and some shops around.
The town hall was built in the 1780s after the big fire that destroyed most of the town in 1775, and the majority of the other buildings around the square are from the same era. These include the leaning house (see separate tip).
Estonia's song festivals are more than just some music event. They are a centre of national culture. This becmes understandable when taking into consideration that until the early 19th century there was no poetry, literature, song in Estonian language. Estonian used to be the language of the peasants, the poor and the uneducated. Only around 1800 authors began to write in Estonian and the Estonian people began to feel as, well, a people.
In the 1860s Tartu, then still named Dorpat, became the centre of the young Estonian national movement. In 1865 a men's choir singing club was founded. This club organized the first song festival in 1869. Most songs had to be written extra for this festival because there were hardly any. Song festivals take place at regular intervals, nowadays every five years. The first festivals took place in Tartu but the song festival soon moved to Tallinn where festival grounds with a stage for 15,000 singers (!!) have been built.
The building of Tartu singing club, which also hosted the first Estonian theatre in 1870, has been turned into a museum which presents the history of the song festivals and their significance in national culture and politics. Estonia's first short period of independence after World War I was ended by the Soviet occupation in 1940. The Soviet regime aimed to "russify" the country and did not appreciate those song festivals at all but did not succeed in suppressing them. The festival of 1988 became the spark that started the revolution that lead to Estonia's independence in 1991 - Estonians call it the "Singing Revolution".
Check the museum website for up to date information on opening hours, entrance fees, temporary exhibitions and events.
Tartu's most popular sight, I assume...
The fountain with the kissing couple under the umbrella is in the most prominent location: in Raekoja plats in front of the town hall. Remember what monuments other cities have in their main squares... this one must turn mayor and dity council in a "loving" mood.
Once per year a contest is held in Tartu: Couples have to take the very same position as the sculpture and the couple who holds on longest is the winner. The position does not look too comfortable, especially for the girl who has to lift one foot in the air. Tricky. Give it a try if you are there in two.
The main church in the old town is one of the rare medieval buildings that survived the big fire of 1775. It is an example of brick gothic like the cathedral on the hill. The building is dated to the 14th century.
Its most remarkable feature are the hundreds of terracotta figures and busts on the facades. Nobody has so far found a convincing explanation for them.
Around the portal we find figures of praying saints and the apostles Peter and Paul, and Christ the Saviour in the mandorla at the top. The lower niches are empty.
Below the eaves a frieze with quatrefoils runs around the whole church; each quatrefoil holds a terracotta head.
Opening hours are limited. Unfortunately I was unlucky, so I cannot tell about the interior. Check the display outside the main portal for up to date opening hours.
The cathedral of Tartu was one of the earliest and most important brick gothic buildings in the Baltics. The church was destroyed in the Livonian War (First Nordic War, 1558-1583) and never repaired. The majestic ruin on top of Toome Hill gives an idea of its past splendour. It is surrounded by a park and can be accessed for free any time.
The ruin of the choir was repaired in the 19th century to install the university library. Now it hosts the museum of university history (see separate tip).
Photographers: The best views into the ruin can be caught from the windows on the upper floors of the historical museum. One reason more to visit this interesting museum.
The museum presents the history of Tartu University from the foundation to the present. Historical equipment and precious instruments represent the history of science. Student life throughout the centuries is also a topic.
To understand Tartu's history and culture, a visit to this museum is the key.
The seat of the msueum is the former choir of the cathedral on top of Toome hill. After the university's refoundation in 1802 the ruin of the choir was repaired and refurbished for the university library. When the library moved into a larger building it became museum.
The beautiful halls, ornated in neogothic style, are also used for conventions and concerts.
See the website for up to date information about opening hours, entrance fees, guided tours and events.
The house next to the main building of the university is looking at the students with several dozen learned eyes... The windows on the side towards the university entrance have been decorated with life-size photos of professors. The heads of the school, rector, chancellor etc., share the semi-circular window at the top in the gable. The others - one can only guess from their outfit and presentation which faculty they might belong to. I suppose Tartu's students know who is who.
I adore the Estonians' witty sense of humour!
Tartu's cutest museum. The toy museum is fun for big kids, too! The exhibition involves historical and contemporary toys from city and countryside, home-made toys, puppets and figures from TV programmes, dolls from all over the world, teddy bears and about everything kids play with. For the children there is also a play-house where they can really play, not only admuire things in glass showcases.
For "big kids" like me, the historical part was most fascinating, especially the hand-made toys. I adored the piglets, hand-knitted from leftover wool in the same multicolour patterns that are used to knit clothing. I would love the pattern - must give it a try to figure it out...
Karu Lillekäpp (Teddy Flower Paw) is the museum's mascot and symbol.
The Art Museum is actually a museum of archeology. The objects on display are mostly copies of famous ancient Greek and Roman art works, especially sculptures. The collection was originally assembled to teach students of archeology, art history and art about ancient art and give them models for their own work. Temporary exhibitions present other fields of art.
Nowadays university students buy a cheap ticket for a low cost carrier and fly over to Rome, Athens, Paris, London to see the originals. The collection of casts is visited by school classes for educational purposes.
The place claims to be Estonia's oldest museum. It was founded in 1803, thus has been open to visitors for more than 200 years. From today's point of view, its greatest treasure is the 19th century interior with wall paintings in Pompeian stlye.
The art museum also does the tours to the student lock-up and round the main university building including the aula.
In earlier days the university had strict rules concerning the behaviour of the students. Breaches and offences were punished with imprisonment in the lock-up between a day and several weeks. Such offences included, for example, being drunk, fighting in the streets, leaving the town unallowed, missing lectures, ofending professors.
This punishment was not as bad as it sounds, though. The prisoner had his room to himself with a desk and bed, an oven and a toilet cabinet. Food and heating were provided by the caretaker who also did the cleaning. Every day the inmate was allowed out for one hour to have lunch. To many, this was about the only period during the semester when they actually studied and wrote papers. Otherwise student life consisted mostly of drinking, fencing and other activities with their corporation.
Vivat Sequens - Long Live The Next
(Inscription over the door)
It seems students were rather proud than ashamed to have been in there. Many left drawings and verses on the walls which are now the main attraction. Around 1900 the main language was German, but we also find inscriptions in Latin, Italian etc. I have not seen any in Estonian, though.
The Kartser is located in the attic of the main university building. It can be visited; ask at the cash desk of the university art museum.