Hidden Gems of Tallinn

Forrest Mallard

Urban Exploring in Tallinn

Skyline of Tallinn Estonia
Skyline of Tallinn Estonia

As a blog that promotes healthy, walking holidays, Trampasaurus Treks knows you sometimes want to get off the hiking trails and explore the city. In our URBAN EXPLORING series, we invite you to put on your walking shoes, hit the streets, and discover the Hidden Gems of Tallinn.

TALLINN: Once a home to wealthy merchants settling from Germany, Denmark and beyond, Tallinn Old Town today is enjoyed by locals and visitors alike, with restaurants, bars, museums and galleries bringing much life to this historical city centre.

Unlike many other capital cities in Europe, Tallinn has managed to wholly preserve its structure of medieval and Hanseatic origin. Due to its exceptionally intact 13th century city plan, the Old Town was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997, joining the ranks of the world’s most recognized landmarks. Here you’ll find original cobblestone streets dotted with medieval churches and grandiose merchant houses, barns and warehouses many of which date back to the Middle Ages.

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WHY URBAN EXPLORING?

Budget

When I travel, I like to travel for extremely long periods of time. This means that whatever money I have, I have to make it last as long as I possibly can. If I can keep my daily budget down to around $35, it means that I can travel for much longer.

Escape the Tourist Traps

By walking the streets and finding these hidden gems of Tallinn, you will be leaving the main tourist areas. This means that absolutely everything becomes cheaper. When you get hungry, you can pop into a local cafe and eat for a fraction of the price that you would be charged in the tourist area. (And the quality will probably be better as well.)

Experience the Local Culture

Chances are you have traveled a great distance to get to this city. A city overflowing with culture. When you explore the streets, you not only have the opportunity to find these secret local attractions listed in this article, you also have the opportunity to make your own discoveries. The cultural fabric of Tallinn is vibrant. Take advantage of the fact you are IN TALLINN and EXPLORE TALLINN!

Meet the Locals

Finding your way through a foreign city gives you the chance to ask a local for directions. They might even tell you about other hidden gems in Madrid you should check out.

Exercise

I’ve placed this URBAN EXPLORING / HIDDEN GEMS series in the ‘Trekking’ category for a reason. After exploring the city by foot, you will feel it.

After doing some Urban Exploring:

  • you’ll be full of rich experiences
  • learn much more about the city than you knew before
  • the chance to meet the locals
  • and you will not be broke

Chances are, you’ll also have some colorful adventure stories of your time exploring this city. These are the things your friends want to hear when you get home.


Tallinn Trivia

  • The original, German name for the city is ‘Reval,’ which is derived from the ancient Rävala County.
  • Tallinn‘ supposedly comes from the Estonian words ‘taani linn’, meaning ‘city of the Danes.’
  • In 1997 UNESCO listed Tallinn as a World Heritage Site.
Tallinn Old Town (Vanalinn) Estonia

Tallinn Old Town (Vanalinn)

Tallinn Old Town surprises us with the richness of its history. Stories and legends give some idea of its earlier customs, laws, and general way of life. There are colorful personalities and events, stories passed from mouth to mouth, whispers of terror and freight. Almost every stone in Tallinn Old Town, from the Hanseatic lower town to the aristocratic upper town, has ancient stories to tell.

Vanalinn is divided into two parts:

  • the Upper Town known as Toompea
  • and Lower Town known as All-Linn

It is fortunate that its medieval appearance has not been spoiled by development. For 700 years Tallinn belonged to the German culture sphere (which becomes obvious when you see the love for beer in this city). However, it also reflects the influence and heritage of other rulers who have governed Estonia. But the actual builders of the city, even in times of foreign rule, were Estonian craftsmen.

On the other hand, the culture of the local Germans incorporated many vernacular features borrowed from the indigenous people. That being the case, it is possible to see characteristics of two cultures in Tallinn, modern Estonian national culture and Baltic-German culture — a cultural mix formed in German settlers’ interrelation with people of different ethnic backgrounds in the Balkin lands.

HIDDEN GEMS OF TALLINN

Three-Handed Virgin Mary

Three-Handed Virgin Mary

In Tallinn, Estonia old town, on Laboratooriumi Street, is a little Ukrainian Greek-Orthodox Church, established in 1990, that probably will not show up on your list of top Tallin attractions. It is not only a church, but a bright and holy place for all sufferers – plants, people, and animals. It is open to people of all nationalities and denominations whose hearts support defenseless living beings. The church is consecrated to the defender of the innocents, the three-handed Virgin Mary who is traditionally the protector of all guiltless sufferers.

There was a personage for St. Olav’s Church at 37 Lai Street / 22 Laboratooriumi Street already in the 14th century. The medieval warehouse facing the Laboratooriumi Street was transformed into a church confirmation hall in 1894, around which time the building obtained its Neo-Gothic appearance on its courtyard side with pointed arch windows. During the Soviet era it was used as storage.

In 1998, the roof, plastered wooden vaultings and furnishings of the building were destroyed by fire. The building was renovated as the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church by 2000. A small bell tower was erected to replace the former chimney. The new interiors combining modern and archaic elements were designed by Ukrainian masters.

The church was consecrated to the Holy Mother of the Three Hands who protects the innocently condemned, deceived and persecuted, because the renovation work revealed a medieval limestone relief depicting a hand, not displayed on the wall of the church hall. The building also houses the Ukrainian Cultural Centre.

Holy Postbox

Holy-Post-Box-church-of-the-three-handed-virgin-mary-tallinn

In the limestone wall of the Laboratoormi Street is a holy postbox, where one can send news about people, plants, and animals unjustly treated. In the church, they pray for all of them. The artist painted a message in several languages for passersby that reads:

Church-quote-church-of-the-three-handed-virgin-mary-tallinn

Church to the Blessed Virgin with Three Hands. She is the protector of the innocent who have been wrongly convicted, deceived and sinned against. You can describe your problem and put a letter into the box. The priest will pray for settlement your question.”

Once you enter the tiny church complex, you will find yourself in a tiny inner courtyard where several rare plants grow. At the top of the trees here, migrating birds nest, as if they know that within these walls is a safe-haven.

Also inside of these walls is the monastic arts school, where ‘Labora‘, paper is made by medieval techniques, and ink is produced from ink mushrooms (shaggy mane, Lat. coprinus comatus). With this ink and on this ‘old’ paper are drawn Estonian plants in danger of extinction, and poems by Timo Maran accompany them, like little icons.

In late 1997, the church was destroyed by fire, with arson that ended a criminal trial. On 14 October 2000, the church was restored and consecrated in honor of the Virgin Mary. The ceremony was celebrated by Archbishop Ljubomõr Guzar of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, the church has paintings by the artist Lviv Petro Gumenjuk, and the interior was designed and built by one of his assistants Anatoly Ljutjuk.

All Masses are celebrated in Ukrainian language.

By ordering a tour in advance (fee to be negotiated upon reservation), you will see the church, the Ukrainian Cultural Centre school, Labora workshops, handmade paper and postcards, Tallinn toys, ornamented eggs, etc. It will also be possible to participate in a variety of master classes.

Why Does Mary Have Three Hands?

The answer is very simple. Many years ago, Russian painters misunderstood and misinterpreted an original Greek icon painting on which huge numbers of hand-painted copies were based. While it is true that the original icon had three hands, only two of them were intended to be Mary’s hands. That is something that the process of copying the icon repeatedly changed. Just as repeated copying of the Hebrew and Greek texts of the Bible resulted in great numbers of changes and variations in readings. The third now is said to belong to John of Damascus, a Syrian monk of the 7th to 8th century.

Over the years, there were so many copies of Mary with three hands, that it became its own thing.


Town Hall Pharmacy

The Raeapteek (Town Hall Pharmacy) is the oldest pharmacy in Europe that has continuously been in business in the same building. It is also the oldest commercial enterprise and the oldest medical establishment in Tallinn. The exact opening date is not known, but in 1422 the pharmacy already had its third owner.

Town Hall Pharmacy History

During the long history of the Raeapteek many honorable men have been pharmacists here. However, in 1580 a Hungarian named Johann Burchard Belfry de Sykava took up an apprenticeship in pharmacy, and for almost 300 years from that time (1582-1911), the pharmacy belonged to the ten generations of the Burchart family. The tradition of the family was that the eldest son was named Johann and he studied to be a pharmacist. So for three hundred years, the owner of this pharmacy was named Johann Burchart.

During the plague years there was not a single doctor left in the town, and so the apothecary had to be a doctor too. In 1725, as Peter the Great lay dying, he sent a messenger to the Revel (Tallinn’s former name) town doctor, Johann Burchard V. Unfortunately, the doctor arrived too late.

Johann Burchard VIII has a leading place in Estonian cultural history since he not only had art exhibitions in the rooms of the town pharmacy, but he also laid the stone for the local history museum ‘Mon faible.’

The medieval pharmacy was not only a place for fortifying body and soul but also a meeting place where people drank wine and chatted, comparable to today’s cafe where people have a cup of tea or coffee, hear the news and pass the news on to others.

Cakes, paper, playing cards, torches, sealing wax, ink, gunpowder, spices, and all sorts of remarkable concoctions were for sale. A special item was Mart’s bread, which in the rest of the world was known as marzipan. Marzipan was thought to have the power to relieve heartache and restore memory.

A price list TAXA of pharmacy goods of 1695 gives an idea of what was sold in the Raeapteek in the Middle Ages. The price list includes 54 different types of water, 25 fats, 32 balsams, 62 preserves, 128 different oils, 20 tinctures, 49 ointments, and 71 medicinal teas. In addition, there were such peculiar goods as burnt bees, stallion hoofs, burnt hedgehogs, earthworm oil, blanched dog feces, and human fat.

The spicy wine claret was made from a centuries’ old special recipe of the town apothecary and was also well known to the monks. This drink fell into oblivion for centuries and has been recently been reawakened to new life. It not only contains numerous healing herbs but also has a pleasant taste and also lifts the spirits.

Between the years 1911-1940, the Raeapteek belonged to the Lehbert and Schneider families. In 1907 Rudolph Lehbert started to produce an anti-anemia preparation ‘Ferratol’ in a corner of a laboratory. That can be considered as the pioneer product of Estonian pharmaceutical industry.

Apothecaries – The Doctor’s Cooks

The apothecary was not allowed to treat the sick or change a prescription or even find fault in it. He received a prescription from a doctor and accordingly had to prepare the medication in his laboratory. So he might as well have been called ‘the doctor’s cook.’

He was not allowed to sell potent drugs or make up complex prescriptions without the knowledge of a doctor, nor could he consult with foreign doctors. The strength of the ingredients and their proper storage was checked annually by the town doctor and a few councilors.

The Tallinn Council apothecary was obliged to send, every year at Christmas and New year, sweets and wine to the councilors and officials ‘for free tasting, and a sign of friendly recognition.’ The Council members entertained distinguished guests of the town with these and took them as precious gifts abroad.

During the 16th century, some burghers of Tallinn procured specialist literature for themselves, among them, medical works. They started to compose their own prescriptions according to the list in these books and to order these mixtures from the chemist. In 1596, the current Burchard apothecary grew indignant about this and said that every woman who has read a German book regards herself immediately as wise. ‘One should take these books and heat the stove with them and give the women spinning wheels so that can spin.’

The apothecary of medieval Tallinn was a distinguished burgher and dealt with all the ranks in the town. Up to the 18th century, one could purchase medicine from the apothecary around the clock, seven days a week. Here, on the outskirts of Europe, there were few trained doctors and chemists. So the burden of the apothecary was huge, and he was released from taxes and other duties. Although it was not properly his job, he sometimes had to stand in for the town doctor. The barber as well. The town apothecary had a monopoly for a long time – until the 17th century.

According to the prescription books that are still existing: medicines in the Middle Ages were composed using 90% herbs from healing plants. The herb garden in the town apothecary was mentioned for the first time in the 15th century. It was then in front of Harju Gate, then later in front of Nunnavärav (Nun’s Gate).

The most important rival of the apothecary were drugstores and spice shops. They sold not only medicines but also dangerous poisons. The Council allowed the old women who sold herbs to be driven from the marketplace. Still the apothecary complained again and again. ‘In the market every day there are crushed and uncrushed wild herbs and other medicines on offer’. So in the 17th century, the Tallinn Council dealt with this problem. They allowed only drugs and herbs which belonged in the kitchen to be sold in the market. It was not so easy to deal with the women, who moved from the marketplace to Saiakäk. Finally, in the middle of the 18th century, they were driven out of the town to sell their wares beside the town hay barn.

The Medieval Town Doctor

Pain was an inseparable companion of humanity in medieval times. Before the 13th century, medicine was learned in the monastery, and after that in universities. The medical personnel arriving in Tallinn had been educated in Europe and brought with them the newest methods and discoveries. Thus medicine here was of the same standard as in the rest of Europe.

The learned physician of the Middle Age was no practitioner. His knowledge was a mixture of philosophy, religion, astrology, magic, and anatomy. The real practitioners, until the 18th century, were the barbers, who functioned as surgeons. The doctor was an expert in human anatomy and was in a position to explain medical interventions. However, his only physical contact with patients was to take the pulse of the sick person. He concerned himself only with handling ‘inner’ sickness.

The doctor received patients in his home or made home visits. To arrive at a diagnosis he examined the patient’s urine and blood. The look, the smell and even the taste of the urine were authoritative in determining the health of the patient and the treatment necessary. For blood-letting, the doctor was accompanied by the bath attendant. Blood-letting was an overall treatment method, which was recommended to be performed six times per year. The astronomical system dictated the time and place for the procedure.

One needed a scalpel to open the vein, a tourniquet, and a candle. In a dark room, a candle was placed so that the shape of the vein would show up distinctly. The amount of blood to be let was determined by the patient or recommended by the bath attendant. Usually, it was two or three pounds of blood, measured with an ounce glass. A diagnosis was then determined, based on the color and coagulation of the blood.

If necessary, the doctor wrote a prescription, according to which, the apothecary produced the medicine. The first doctor in Tallinn was probably Conradus Medicus Senior in the 1340s. In the 15th century, there was a town doctor, Johann Molner, under the Council jurisdiction. His task was to treat Council soldiers and officials; to work as a forensic expert; to visit chemists and hospitals; conduct the war against the plague; and establish precepts for order in the town. He was not allowed to leave the confines of the town without the permission of the Council. To take on his office there was no examination required. One had to produce documents and take an oath of office.

Council apothecary Johann Burchart wrote: “When all is said and done, the inhabitants of Tallinn would rather die than let anything be done for their health. And when medical help is given the only reward is bad language.”

The Medieval Barber-Surgeon

Surgery was a bloody handicraft which the doctors left entirely to the barbers. The first guild of barbers in Tallinn was established in the 15th century. The statute refers to them only as surgeons. Which means the bath attendants probably performed jobs like cutting hair and beards.

The scope of the barbers was considerable: removing tumors, setting bones, letting blood, and pulling teach. At festival time there was additional work. A popular time for heads broken in two and arms torn from bodies. So the barber had enough to do day and night. At his house, a pole for hanging shaving bowls showed where the barber was to be found. Mostly in popular places like the neighborhood of the harbor or the marketplace.

Barbers also made house calls. There were 4 to 6 barbers in Tallinn in the Middle Ages. The most skillful was promoted to the post of town barber or Council surgeon. He was not allowed to leave the town without the town doctor’s permission. He did not have to pay taxes; received a salary and accommodation expenses and got still more for every first dressing applied. To his assignments belonged surgical assistants to the Council soldiers, officials and prisoners and performing post-mortem examinations for forensic purposes. In times of crisis such as wars or epidemics, barbers were scarce.

The role of women in medicine was concerned with helping at births. The first mention of a midwife in Tallinn was in the 14th century. As with the barbers, the custom was that the best of the midwives became a Council employee. The old records show that the work of Estonian midwives was appreciated.

The Town Hall Pharmacy Today

In addition to selling modern pharmaceuticals, the pharmacy also sells mementos of times past.

Perhaps you’d like a bottle of claret?

Make sure you explore the back room. Here you will find an exhibition on medicines and the pharmacy’s stocks from the 17th to the 20th centuries.

The most famous of herbs and their history are displayed in the museum.

In the basement, you can test various herbal tea blends, picked from local fields.

Younger apothecaries can try being apprentices and fulfill the same tasks as in the olden days.


Cobblestone Cross

Tallinn Town Hall Square

Tallinn has a lot of legends that sometimes get confused and often overshadow actual events. If you walk in the direction of Saikäik (Bun Passage), you can find two long, stones that form an “L.” This is meant to represent a cross.

At this location, mythology and factual events collide.

You may have a hard time finding this cobblestone cross because, in the summer, cafés extend their seating into the square and depending on their placement, the cafe flooring can partially or completely cover this interesting piece of history. In the above photo, you can see that a corner of the flooring had been cut away so as not to cover this juicy bit of history. However, the panels were laid in a way that partially covered the cross, and chairs were stacked on top of it as well.

If you can not find the cobblestone cross, just ask someone at Balthasar Restaurant to point it out to you.

Cobblestone Cross: Fiction

The Legend of Aristotle and Phyllis

Tallin has its own, unique version of a famous cautionary medieval tale about the triumph of a seductive woman, Phyllis, over the greatest male intellect, the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle. It is one of several ‘Power of Women’ stories that began in the 11th century. The story of the dominatrix and the famous intellectual was taken up by artists from the 12th century onwards, in media from stone sculpture in churches to panels of wood or ivory, textiles such as carpets and tapestries, engravings, oil paintings, brass jugs (aquamanile), and stained glass.

The original story varies slightly in the telling, but the core of it is as follows: Aristotle was captivated by his king’s seductive mistress, Phyllis. A very aggressive dominatrix, she managed to get one of the world’s greatest intellectuals to agree that she could ride him like a horse while whipping him with tree branches. Phyllis had secretly told one of Aristotle’s colleagues what to expect, and he witnessed Phyllis proving that a woman’s charms could overcome even the greatest philosopher’s will.

Estonia’s Unique Version of this Story

The version of the story in Tallin, Estonia has the exact same scenario, of a woman riding a man on all fours, but with a completely different story.

In Tallinn Town Hall there is a wooden memorial statue depicting a man on all fours with his wife on his back, with twigs in her hand. According to the local story, this man was a judge. This specific work of art has the following story.

The execution of those condemned to death never took place within the Tallinn town walls, the criminals were marched outside the town walls before the event took place. In the time of the Inquisition, criminals did not find out exactly how they were going to be executed until they arrived outside the town walls. Only at the execution site would they find out if they were to be beheaded, hanged, burned at the stake or put to death on the wheel.

A judge named Aristotle was well acquainted with a prisoner and let him know beforehand, out of pity, how he was going to die. Then, he went home and told his wife, Phyllis, what he had done. Phyllis was quite the gossip, and within a very short time, the entire town knew what the judge had done. The law at the time allowed no leniency in dealing with such serious matters.

Aristotle was made to strip nude and crawl the perimeter of the Town Hall Square three times on all fours, with reins in his mouth. His wife on his back, holding the reins in one hand and whipping Aristotle with branches in her other hand.

After finishing his third lap around the square, the judge was beheaded and buried in the marketplace in the location marked with the cobblestone cross.

The backrest of the Alderman’s Bench in Tallinn Town Hall, has a wood carving from the 15th century, reminding council of this particular version of Aristotle and Phyllis, and is meant to be a warning against wicked females, and that ‘what is said in this room must remain secret, even at home.’

Cobblestone Cross: Fact

Execution of a Priest

On a Sunday in January 1695, the priest, Elias Christian Panicke, entered the ‘Riga’ Tavern in the corner of the Town Hall Square, sat at the bar and ordered an ale. When the drink was served, he took one sip and then immediately threw the ale to the floor in disgust; the drink was warm. He demanded another beverage to replace the drink that had just been wasted – Sophie the barmaid obliged.

After taking a sip of this second beer, the priest was outraged to find the drink was, once again, warm. In his state of rage, he threw the ceramic tankard at Sophie who fell, cracked her skull on the bar and died.

The customers were so shocked and upset by what they had witnessed that they dragged the priest outside into the square while one of them went to the Town Hall asking for a warrant to kill this man for what he had done. Given that the crowd would most likely linch the priest anyway the Town Hall granted this request and Elias Christian Panicke was beheaded then and there in the Town Hall Square.

The cobblestone cross marks the spot where the priest fell. This is the only time there has been an execution within the walls of The Old Town.

Though the main part of the story is true, details surrounding the execution tend to differ. Some say Sophie was killed with an axe – because she had served lukewarm soup, and another version claims that Elias killed Sophie because he was unhappy with the taste of an omelet.


Hidden Gems of Madrid


The Navel of Tallinn

Tallinn Town Hall Square (Raekoja plats)

Picturesque Town Hall Square has been the undisputed hub of Old Town for the last eight centuries. Surrounded by elaborate merchant houses and, in summer, packed with café tables, it’s a natural magnet for tourists.

Historically it served as a market and meeting place and was the site of at least one execution. Today, the square remains the social heart of the city, a venue for open-air concerts, handicraft fairs and medieval markets. Each winter it’s home to the town’s Christmas tree (a tradition that stretches back to 1441) and a buzzing Christmas Market. In spring it hosts the Old Town Days festival. This is a modern version of a medieval carnival, where traditions from the Middle Ages are kept alive.

In the midst of the thousands of cobblestones within Tallinn Town Square, there are two round stones. One stone marks the spot of a medieval well.

There is another round stone on the east side of the Town Square marked with a compass rose. Standing on this stone, a visitor can take part in a little bit of the history of Tallinn.

The Legend

What good is a medieval landmark without a good dose of crazy mythology?

It is said that if you turn nine times on this stone, you will have a vision.

It is said that many have spun around on this spot and then suddenly had a psychic experience. This included visions. However, these visions will be immediately forgotten as soon as you pass outside of the Tallinn town walls.

Even if you don’t have a vision, at least you will be a source of entertainment to the rest of the tourists as they pass. This legend is not a secret, but it is also not discussed in any tourism information. So as you are spinning yourself sick, none of the other tourists will have any idea what it is you are trying to accomplish, and you are just going to look insane. I think that is good enough reason to do this!

Spot all of the Church Spires

After you are done spinning and possibly hallucinating (of having a vision, whatever), try to compose yourself and you will be ready for this next task.

From this spot you can see the tops all five of Old Town’s current church spires. In the past, you would be able to see nine spires with ease. Due to new buildings blocking views, today you can spot only 5 spires. OR CAN YOU?

With a little bending and standing on your tippytoes, you should be able to spot four church spires fairly easily. The fifth one is going to be a little tricky.

Fifth-Church-Steeple-Tallinn-Town-Square-Estonia

To spot the fifth church spire, look north (with the town hall behind you). You will see a little dent in the roof just above the Town Hall Pharmacy. What looks like an architectural flaw is actually intentional. When they reconstructed this rooftop, they left a space so people could see the spire of the Holy Spirit Church.


Wealthy Merchant House of Tallinn

Old-Hans-from-the-side-Tallinn-Estonia

Pakkhoone / Warehouse / Pakhaus

The mid-17th-century building at Vene 1, dominates the square in Old Town Tallinn. To make it easier for the Town Council to keep a close eye on foreign merchants’ activity, merchants were required to keep their goods in this Pakkhoone (warehouse). They were also only allowed to sell their goods at local shops during very limited hours. Tuesdays and Thursdays between 8 AM and 11 AM.

The architecture of the building still followed Late Gothic traditions – including a high sharp gable, dormers, loft hatches, buttresses, etc. The carved details are Early Baroque. The lion masks on the north façade and the half-length figures symbolizing justice are by Jacob Dam from a famous stone carvers’ family.

Looking-Down-on-Ground-Floor-Old-Hansa-Restaurant-Tallinn

Today Pakkhoone houses the Olde Hansa restaurant where medieval style food is served.

HOW THE GRAND MERCHANTS ATE AND DRANK

Medieval Dining Etiquet

Not much tableware was used. Food was brought to the table on big dishes. A slice of bread took the place of the plate, and next to it was a knife. One drank out of goblets. The meal began with ritual hand-washing and prayer. The hands and mouth could be wiped on the tablecloth. It was thought impolite to speak with one’s mouth full; wipe one’s nose on the tablecloth; clean one’s teeth with a knife; smack one’s lips; or slurp one’s drink.

Food in the Middle Ages

In medieval dishes, vinegar played an important role. It was used to preserve meat and fish. In time of plague, the use of vinegar was particularly recommended. Since sugar was a luxury, honey was used to sweeten foods. Instead of butter, pork fat was used. Cheese and wild game usually reached only the higher levels of society. Olives, almonds, figs, lemons, dates, oranges and walnuts belonged among luxury goods, not to speak of exotic spices which were even used instead of gold as a means of payment. The people of the Middle Ages knew no coffee, tea, tobacco or spirits: spices were the only practical luxury.

Drink in the Middle Ages

Spiced-Beer-Hansa-Restaurant-Tallinn-Old-Town-Estonia

When someone in the Middle Ages drank water, it was a sign of poverty. Beer was designated ‘liquid bread’ and it belonged to the daily diet. Mead brewed from honey, water and yeast, was a constant part of the festive table, as was wine – particularly Rhenish wine, Romanée, and malmsey. These could be sold only in the Council cellar and under the control of the Council. Alcoholic drinks counted as a means of payment and displayed the social position of the owner.

Olde Hansa Restaurant

Menu-Old-Hansa-Restaurant-Tallinn-Old-Town-Estonia

A Tallinn visit isn’t complete without dining at Olde Hansa in the Old Town. This medieval-themed restaurant features tapestries, candles and musicians playing lutes. Within Tallinn’s Old Town square, the Olde Hansa welcomes visitors to a repast of Middle Ages dining. All authentically reproduced in a setting reminiscent of Estonia’s past.

The medieval restaurant Olde Hansa is designed to portray the home of a rich merchant. Now guests enjoy delicious, authentic Hansa-era meals and drinks, true period music and friendly service. All of the dishes on the menu, including many wild game delicacies, are cooked using 15th-century recipes and methods. Medieval musicians delight the guests every night of the week except Mondays.

Olde Hansa is not only medieval in theme, the concept of the restaurant specifically focusses on the lifestyle of Hanseatic merchants in the 17th Century. The restaurant respectfully follows the heritage and has so far been established in Tallinn, Estonia, and Bergen, Norway. Olde Hansa considers authenticity most important and works hand-in-hand with historians, architects, and local authorities.

Popular with everyone, Olde Hansa has experienced exceptional success among both locals and travelers. Historians, artists, and craftsmen have created the atmosphere of the middle-ages. Beautiful wall-paintings, hand-made furniture and tableware, cozy candlelight and medieval music are all part of the atmosphere.

Menu-1-Old-Hansa-Restaurant-Tallinn-Old-Town-Estonia

Medieval feasts with an abundance of dishes, special drinks and friendly servants in middle-age dress fill your stomach and amuse your mind with funny stories. Olde Hansa success story is a rare combination of a profitable business and genuine medieval atmosphere – an example of friendly service and rational production. Every single one of the restaurant staff spoke in character as if they were taking care of guests hundreds of years ago. Everyone was bright and cheerful, and they didn’t mind at all that I was walking around taking photos of absolutely everything in the building. They even entertained my endless questions with a smile on their face.

Beers-Old-Hansa-Restaurant-Tallinn-Old-Town-Estonia

As for the food; the recipes and ingredients have been meticulously researched so that your dinner tastes exactly the same as in times yore – even the cooking methods have been copied! Throw in a few buxom wenches in silly costumes and you’ve got a banqueting experience more medieval than Sir Lancelot’s codpiece.

For large groups, book one of the Olde Hansa Grand Feasts and allot at least two hours for the experience. Select from the Game Feast, Saturday Feast, Merchant’s Feast, or Royal Hunting Feast. This feast includes a number of appetizers and breads, as well as Wild Birds, fillet of elk, and other well-prepared dishes. Olde Hansa feasts are as close to a medieval buffet as a visitor will get.

A Tourist Trap – But Also a Real Treat!

If would have been very easy for this place to come off as over touristy and cheesy. But what I think they got right is that instead of turning this into a medieval Disney attraction, they simply focused on being as authentic as possible, and it works.

I particularly loved the SPICED BEER and the HONEY BEER.

Even going to the bathroom is a medieval treat.


Ungern-Sternberg Palace

Ungern-Sternberg Palace Entrance

The Count of Ungru

Once there was a man named Otto Reinhold Ludwig von Ungern-Sternberg.
Born: August 16, 1744, Vastse-Kuuste Parish, Estonia

The Count of Ungru

His family was going broke, and they were getting desperate and were about to lose their estate on the Estonian island of Hiiummaa. That is where Otto came up with a devious plan.

You see, in those days, if you helped to rescue the crew of a sinking ship, you were entitled to a large portion of the cargo that was on that vessel. So Otto built a signal fire that would lure ships into rocks, wrecking them. The problem with this plan was, the crew from the ships would be able to testify that they were being lured into the rocks by the signal fire, so he would also slaughter the crew.

This went on for a period of time until a Swedish Skipper took notice of Otto’s increasing fortune. In a quarrel, Otto killed the Skipper. This did not go over well with the Senate in St. Petersburg, as due to Otto’s arrogance and lack of self-control, he had many enemies.

The Senate of St. Petersburg charged him as a pirate, took away his title, and banished him to Siberia, where he died.

Otto Reinhold Ludwig von Ungern-Sternberg
Died: August 14, 1811, Tobolsk, Russia

Otto’s deeds have provided rich material for novels, a film, and even an opera.

Other Peculiar Members of the Ungern-Sternberg Family

Robert von Ungern-Sternberg

The genocidal Robert von Ungern-Sternberg (aka the Bloody White Baron)(1886-1921), was an educated but incredibly cruel Russian Cossack officer. He was the commander of the so-called Asian Division in Siberia staffed mainly with Mongols. With that division, he took over the capital of Mongolia from the Chinese in 1921. He wanted to establish a Buddhist world state governed by the Asian nomads. The Red Army imprisoned him and later shot him.

Origin of the name ‘Ungern-Sternberg’

The Baltic-Germans circulated an anecdote about how the Ungern-Sternbergs got their name. According to this propaganda, Baron Sternberg once went fishing with his servant Mati in a boat. The baron fell into the water and shouted to the servant, “Help me out of the water!” Typical of an Estonian, he took his time to think about this for a long time, and finally responded: “Unwillingly, Sternberg” (‘ungern’ in German means ‘unwillingly’). Though he really didn’t want to, he reached his hand out to save him, and as the legend goes, since that time the barons have been called Ungern-Sternerg.

My name is surrounded with such hate and fear that no one can judge what is true and what is false, what is history, and what is myth.Baron Roman Fedorovich von Ungern-Sternberg, 1921

A Palace Built from Pirate Loot

Ungern-Sternberg Palace Entrance Today

Having amassed a large fortune through his piracy, the family eventually owned almost the whole island of Hiiumma. When Otto’s grandson, Count Evald von Ungern-Sternberg (1824-1899), was elected to the parliament (“Land Council”) as the representative of the nobility of the island of Hiiummaa, he used some of his ill-gotten family fortune to commission this town palace project from the Berlin architect Martin Gropius (1824-1880) at Kohtu, 6 in Toompea. The palace and the gateway building are one and a half stories and were built between 1865-1868. The main building of unflustered limestone and bricks, featuring domed spires, mansard roof, and slender chimneys, is externally based on the French fortress-like palaces of the XVII century.

Ungern-Sternberg Palace Decor

The decorations of the premises of the main story are exceptionally opulent. The main theme focused on the story of Demeter and Persephone. Polychromatic stucco, marble fireplaces, wall paneling and doors with bronze fixtures have been predominantly modeled after the Italian Renaissance, in 1911-1940 the building housed the Estonian Provencial Museum. It was then that the weathervanes of the XVII century were added to the main staircase.

In 1911, the house passed to the Nobility Corporation and the Estonian Literary Society (1842) set up by the Baltic-Germans, as well as the Estonian Provencial Museum (1864), were given premises there. Both did a lot to investigate Estonian nature and history and worked there until 1940.

Estonian Academy of Sciences

Today this palace is the home of the Estonian Academy of Sciences (Estonian: Eesti Teaduste Akadeemia). As with other national academies, it is an independent group, founded in 1938, of well-known scientists whose stated aim is to promote research and development, encourage international scientific cooperation, and disseminate knowledge to the public. Interestingly, the organization’s website mentions only that the palace was the former home of former nobility.


Kiek in de Kök

Kiek-in-de-Kok-Tallinn-Estonia-Landscape

Peep in the Kitchen

In the Middle Ages, the tower had no roof and the chimneys were somewhat wider than they are today. The watchman could actually see what his wife was cooking for dinner. And not only that: he was witness to many things that went on in the kitchens in the lower town. It is well known that the kitchen is the heart of a house. That is where the residents carry on their most intimate conversations and the serving people gossip. The tower watchman knew everything that went wrong in the town, but he still had to keep his knowledge secret.

Damage to Kiek in de Kök in 1577

Kiek-in-de-Kok-Tallinn-Estonia-Tunnel
Kiek-in-de-Kok-Tallinn-Estonia-Tunnel

During a Russian siege in 1577 in the Livonian War, the tower was badly damaged but survived. In commemoration of that event, several large stone cannon balls were walled into its southern face. The stone cannon balls embedded in the walls were shot by the besieging force of Ivan IV (the Terrible). The hole in the tower wall was so big that two yoked oxen pulling a cart could go through it.

Before the Great Northern War, the tower was further fortified. The two lower stories were hidden behind an earthen bastion. This means that the real height of the tower (45 meters) can only be seen from the side of the Lower Town.

Kiek in de Kök – Photography Museum

Kiek-in-de-Kok-Tallinn-Estonia-Museum

After being long used as a storeroom, Kiek in de Kök was converted into a museum in the 1960s. The entrance is from the bastion on Level Three. Concerts and photo exhibitions have also been held in the tower. The museum, located in the cannon tower and bastion passages, introduces the genesis of Tallinn, its development, as well as the most important war events from the 13th to the 18th century. In the arms room, you can explore historical weapons and try out a shooting simulator.

Great Views of Tallinn

While at the museum, be sure to pay a visit to the top floor café. Here you can get some beautiful Old Town views.

From there, you can visit the passages in the city wall, Neitsitorn Tower, Tallitorn Tower, the gate tower of Lühike Jalg, and the bastion passages.


More Hidden Gems of Tallinn

Do you have a secret, special place that you consider one of the Hidden Gems of Tallinn? Let me know, I’d love to add it here.


Disclosure: Please note that some of the links above are affiliate links. At no additional cost to you, I may earn a commission if you make a purchase. If you have any questions about any of the products or services listed on this site, just ask.

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Hi! I'm Forrest Mallard

In 2005, I moved to Quito, Ecuador with $35 in my pocket and a small handful of online clients. Fifteen years and five continents later, there were moments of absolute glamour, as well as a number of brutal rough patches. But I always felt that a horrible day of travel is infinitely more preferable than a great day at the office. Oh the stories I could tell, and I will try to do that here in Tramposaurus Treks. You'll have access to the good times, the horrifying times, and a few well-deserved moments of travel glamour.

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