Toompea Castle – medieval fortress on the hill of the same name in the center of Tallinn. Originally the castle was called the Revelsk fortress. Russians called this citadel Kolyvan. Today the castle is considered one of the largest historical architectural ensembles not only in Estonia, but also in the Baltics as a whole. Toompea is included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
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History of the fortress
The piece of land known to Russians as Vyshgorod (Upper Town) was destined to become the historical center of the future capital of Estonia. The site where Toompea stands today was occupied by a wooden fortification. This stronghold was considered the largest in Estonia. At the foot of the Upper Town peasants and craftsmen settled and made their settlement into an important trading center.
After the conquest of Estonia by the Danes, the wooden building on Toompea Hill was destroyed. The Reval castle was founded by King Valdemar II in the early 13th century on Toompea Hill, in honor of his victory at the Battle of Lindanis. The castle was for some time in the hands of the Knights of the Sword. However, by order of the Pope, the citadel was returned to the Danes. The Teutonic Order became the next owner of Toompea, and Denmark sold it to it with all its adjoining territories. The Teutons resold their acquisition to the Livonian Order. Each new owner sought to rebuild the fortress in accordance with his tastes.
In XVI century the castle passed into the hands of the Swedes. However, unlike the Danes, the Swedes did not consider Toompea hill a strategically suitable place for a bridgehead. The fortress lost its importance as a defensive object. In XVIII century Estland became part of the Russian Empire. Catherine II was going to locate the government in the fortress. During the renovation work another rebuilding was carried out. This was the last major change to date, made to the architecture of the castle.
Estonians themselves for a long time called the citadel a Danish castle (in Estonian Taani linn). Over time, the local name of the fortress gave the name of the current Estonian capital. In 1997 Toompea was included in the World Heritage List of UNESCO and received the status of a historical site. Until our days the castle has remained in almost perfect condition. It is used to house the parliament of the Republic of Estonia.
There is a fictional story about the appearance of the castle, according to which under Toompea is the tomb of the legendary Estonian king Kalev. After the death of the sovereign, his wife Queen Linda wanted to perpetuate the memory of her beloved spouse. She buried Kalev on a hill and built a stone mound over his grave.
There is another legend connected to the foundation of the citadel. King Valdemar II was hunting near Toompea. The roe he was chasing rushed down the hill to avoid becoming a victim of a foreign invader. The king was so delighted by the courage of the animal that he founded a town on the summit of Toompea in memory of the brave roe deer. The new settlement was named Reval (“roe deer fell”), which was transformed into Revel.
A beautiful legend inspired the Estonian sculptor Jaan Koort to create a sculpture of a roe, installed in 1929 near the rise to Town Hall Square from the railway station (Nunne Street).
Architecture of the citadel
Originally the citadel was a fortification structure with a single tower. However, when the castle fell into the hands of the Livonian Order, it was decided to build three more towers:
- “Long Hermann” (“Long Warrior”). Presumably, the tower was named after the hero of the German epic. In the 16th century “Long Hermann” was considered the highest watchtower on the Baltic coast. Today the flag is raised here every morning to the Estonian anthem.
- “Crown of the Land.” Appeared on the northeast corner of the citadel in the 15th century.
- “Arrow Sharpener.” During the Livonian War the tower was destroyed. It was restored only in the 20th century.
The tower “Reflect the Enemy” was erected under the first owners of the fortress. During the repair work in 1767, it was liquidated. Nowadays the place of the tower is occupied by the governor’s palace. Inside the castle ensemble is a parliament building. It appeared on the place of burned Convent House – the construction constructed in the Middle Ages.
You can see the castle from the outside at any time. Travelers who have been to Tallinn, advise to admire the western facade and take pictures on its background. To see Toompea from the inside, you should contact the tourist office. Despite the current functions of the fortress, tourists are allowed to view the interior of the building. But it can be done only as part of a tour group. Toompea is available for visits every day except weekends from 9.00 to 16.00 (on Fridays until 15.00). Sign up for a tour in advance, preferably 10 days before the tour. Lectures are given in Estonian, English and Russian. The group usually includes no more than 30-35 people.
It is recommended that you plan your tour to Toompea Castle on April 23, the Open House Day at the Riigikogu (Estonian parliament). April 23, 1919 is considered the day Estonia became an independent state. Guests of the castle will be allowed to visit public meetings of committees and the “Long Hermann Tower” and talk with members of parliament. Tourists will enjoy watching movies, dancing and cooking national dishes. A special program for children has been prepared. The holiday ends with a concert.
How to get there
Toompea Castle in the center of Tallinn is not difficult to find due to its location on a hill. Address of the castle: Lossi plats, 1a. Open: Mon-Fri 10.00-16.00. Tel: (372) 631-63-45. Visited only by sightseeing groups.
One of my favorite places in Tallinn is the observation deck at Long Hermann Tower, which belongs to Toompea Castle. It’s impossible not to admire the castle itself! This is the oldest architectural giants, the symbol of power in Estonia, preserved to this day almost in its original form. Not without reason it is considered one of the main attractions of the country. It is located in the Upper Town of Old Tallinn on the hill of the same name.
Toompea Castle (Toompea) in legends
According to legend this very hill appeared due to the works of the heroine of the Estonian epic Linda – the widow of the first Estonian leader, a bogatyr Kalev.
The inconsolable woman after her husband’s death dragged huge boulders to his grave, which formed this hill.
The Toompea castle itself was founded at the beginning of XIII century by the Danish King Valdemar II on the territory of the wooden hill fort of the Estonians living there.
Once again, romantic Tallinn offers us one of its legends. According to legend, a wild roe deer darted down Toompea Hill to escape from King Valdemar II, who was hunting here and wanted to keep his independence. Enraptured by its freedom, the king decided to build a city here, calling it Reval (later Revel), which in German means “roe deer fell”.
You can see the sculpture of this touching symbol of freedom (sculptor Jaan Koort, 1929) in Tallinn, walking up to Town Hall Square from the railway station along Nunne Street and also in the KUMU Museum.
I loved greeting her when I was a kid. She probably seems like a fairy tale to all children.
But this is a legend, and in fact, the Danes simply seized the Estonian territory they liked. Since then, Vyshgorod has been the seat of a variety of foreign powers: Danes, knights of the Livonian Order, Sweden and Russia. And all these masters contributed something personal, corresponding to their needs and tastes, to Toompea Castle. The best craftsmen of their time have always worked here. That is why the Toompea castle complex consists of parts belonging to different eras. By the way, history itself has been favorable to this masterpiece. It escaped fires and heavy destruction.
The mosaic of Toompea castle construction
Toompea Castle construction of stone fortress from local limestone began in 1219. In 1346-1400 the Teutonians of the Livonian Order, who replaced the Danes, erected here square-shaped buildings with four towers in the corners, a detailed account of which will be given below. As a result of the Livonian war (1558-1583) the Swedes settled in Toompea. As time passed the weapons were improved. More powerful cannons appeared. The walls of the castle can no longer be a reliable defense as in past centuries.
Therefore Toompea was used more for administrative purposes. After joining of Estonia to Russia at the beginning of XVIII century, the eastern wall and one of the towers (Denkerl) were torn down. At the order of Catherine the Great a luxurious Governor’s Palace was built on that place, opposite to which the majestic Alexander Nevsky Cathedral of the Orthodox Church was built at the end of the 19th century.
During the period of Estonian independence from 1918 to 1944, the only expressionist perlament building in the world was built in Toompea Castle. In 2013, the White Assembly Hall was restored.
Thus the Toompea Castle before us may well be regarded as a masterpiece, reflecting the most important periods in Estonian history. It is a true event monument of the past. From the outside we can see on one side a baroque palace of the Catherine era, and on the other, over the cliff of the hill, an impregnable stone castle, as if taken from a medieval engraving.
Amazing eclectic mix of Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo, Classicism and Expressionism! By the way, in 1997 it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site!
Today the buildings of the castle are occupied by the Estonian Parliament – Riigikogu (est. Riigikogu).
According to the Livonian knights the Danish version of the castle was not suitable for defense. That is why they have built four towers of defensive and other functional purposes in its corners.
Long Hermann (Pikk Hermann)
Mysterious ancient castles, of which I include Toompea, are always surrounded by a halo of legends. And about old Hermann people say that he is the groom of the other famous tower of Tallinn Tolstoy Margarita.
Once upon a time there lived in Old Tallinn a handsome fellow Hermann.
He fell in love with Margarita, a plump beauty from a neighboring fishing village, who also liked the tall, handsome man.
The two lovers spent every day together, and before midnight they had to go their separate homes. But one day the young people were talking, forgetting the rules, and were frightened to hear the clock in the town hall chiming 12 o’clock at night. They rushed to their homes, but it was too late. And the poor girls, who had dared to disobey the magic rules, were transformed into stone towers far apart, which still hold a sad love in their petrified hearts.
Also about Long Hermann there is an opinion that he is named after the hero of the Germanic epic Lange Hermann, which means “Long Warrior”. And indeed, it looks very much like a frozen guard, vigilantly at his post since the XIV century. The tower was built in three stages. From the middle of the XIV century, to the beginning of the XVI century. At that time it was the highest watchtower on the Baltic coast.
Initially it played a defensive role. From its top you could see all the territory of the Order’s fortress. Here was a real care for the guards. On the first floor there was a stove, which heated the premises on the principle of a hypocaust. (Hypocaust – a system of heating invented in the Roman Empire, when warm air goes through special channels under the floor and in the walls). When it was heated, the plug was closed, and the heat flowed through the narrow channels to the upper floors. Later, this heating system was also used in residential buildings in Tallinn.
There was a barn on the first floor, and rooms for lodging and firing were higher. At the depth of 15 meters there was a dungeon with a terrible “Lions’ pit” – a mine with lions, where people sentenced to death were thrown. Today there are 215 stairs leading to the top of the tower. Since February 24, 1989, every morning its national flag in blue, black and white hovers above the “Long Hermann” to the anthem of Estonia.
By the way, the flags that have been over the tower (about 6 per year) are numbered and archived. They are made of special “weatherproof” fabric at the Lipuvabrik flag factory, founded in 1994.
Landskrona” (“Landskrona”) tower
Means “crown, or crown of the earth. Built in the 15th century in the northeast corner of Toompea.
It is similar to “Long Hermann” in architectural design. There were storehouses and loopholes. A spiral staircase, as we would say today “drop a kilo”, led to the top. It was heated also by hypocaust system.
Means “arrow sharpener”. The construction of this cantilevered tower (fixed only at the base) was completed in the early 15th century. Its three floors with loopholes were connected by a spiral staircase. The tower was destroyed during the Livonian War.
It was restored in the 20th century.
Stür den Kerl Tower
It means “repel the enemy”. It is believed that its construction was done by the Danes (beginning of the 14th century). It had 5 floors and had protective, guarding and gunnery functions. There were even cannons on its second floor. Like the Long Hermann, it had a deep cellar (11 meters) but it was not used as a dungeon. In “Stür den Kerl” the population of the fortress was sheltered from the assault fire. The tower was torn down in 1767. Today it is used as the Governor’s Palace.
Inside the Toompea ensemble we see the Riigikogu building, including the meeting hall. In the eastern part there is the White Hall, the Parliament and government commissions. To the south and west is the cabinet of the members of the Riigikogu. To the north is the Chancellery.
Building of the Riigikogu
After gaining independence in 1918 Estonia decided to construct a new parliament building. It was located on the site of the medieval House of the Convention, which burned down in 1917. The facade has three entrances, above which are the meeting room windows decorated with black triangles of Finnish granite.
By the way, the Riigikogu was the first large building with an electric system. The architects of this three-story building were E. Habermann and H. Johansson. They wanted to express the values of Estonian democracy through a symbolic language. A triangular motif was the basis of the decoration. According to the artists, the triangle (which is also used in the logo of the Riigikogu) should symbolise that every issue can be viewed in different ways and the Riigikogu is a place where different points of view are taken into consideration.
Here the ceiling somewhat reminds visitors of a honeycomb in the shape of pyramids. In each cell is an electric light bulb.
The even row of pyramids alludes to the absence of hierarchy and symbolises the equality of all members of the Riigikogu, elected by the people. An interesting lighting solution on the walls in combination with the brown tones gives the impression that you are in a medieval castle.
In the press lobby, abstract crenellated motifs are painted on the walls and ceiling. And remnants of stone slabs embedded in the wall indicate a connection to the medieval fortress. Bunches of grapes and thistles depicted on these slabs symbolize the heavenly tree of life. The arched vaults create an interesting audio effect: even quiet whispers in one corner of the lobby will be clearly audible in the other.
Press conferences with members of the Riigikogu are traditionally held here.
This hall occupies two floors of the Riigikogu. The grooves decorating the ceiling are reminiscent of the metaphor of ‘ploughing the fields of lawmaking’. A jagged cornice covers the lamps.
Rust-colored window and doorways are edged with jagged ornamentation. The furniture is covered in Estonian birch veneer. The tables are covered in green cloth and the chairs in navy blue velvet. In the front of the hall is the presidium table, flanked by the government and presidential niches. There is a balcony on the second floor for journalists and the public. By the way, the meetings here are open to the public.
Those who wish may visit them, get acquainted with the interesting interior of the meeting room, as well as be witnesses of very unusual events, such as the greeting of Santa Claus.
The house, which measures 34 m by 39 m and is high on the fence wall of the castle, and whose foundations are now located underneath the Riigikogu. It was the brainchild of the Knights of the Sword Order, who began fortifying Toompea in the 13th century. The basement of the Konvets House was used for the storages and the furnaces that heated the building. On the first floor there were an assembly hall, a capitular hall and a chapel. It is believed that there was also a “dormitroium”, the bedroom of the Catholic monks.
In front of the Convent House were a ditch and a well from which the animals were watered. In 1843 the building was rebuilt as a prison (architect I. Shelbach). During the February Revolution in 1917 the house was burnt down by the people, who burst into the castle to free the prisoners.
The building of the State Hall
At the end of the XVI century the Knights of Estonia fell under the authority of the King of Sweden. The Swedes did not consider the Konvet House to be appropriate to the government one and in 1589 on the west side of the defense wall a new building of the State Hall in Renaissance style (arch. Hans von Aachen) was erected. It was created after the example of the Royal Palace in Stockholm. In the center of the facade there is a grand staircase. On the second floor is a large hall with a beamed ceiling.
An open balcony adorned the west wall and windows were cut out for lighting. During the restoration works in 1935 a small building of three floors was added to the west wall for the accommodation of officials.
The building of the provincial government
It was built in 1773 by order of Catherine II. It combines baroque and early classicism styles. It is an interesting fact relating to the appearance of this building. It turns out that Catherine, who visited Revel, caught a cold, spending the night in a cool Kadriorg palace. So the empress ordered a more solemn and comfortable residence to be built on Toompea.
Architect Johann Schulz (Germany) designed a real palace, so in the XVIII century it became known as “Toompea Castle”. Later this name will be spread on the whole complex of buildings.
The pompous and surprisingly solemn room of the provincial hall in the style of early classicism. Initially it was used for celebrations, balls and concerts. Since 1919, the meetings of the Constituent Assembly were held here. Today the White Hall is used as a representative office of Riigikogu.
Estonian national flags are placed in front of paintings on the end walls and important photo sessions are held in front of them.
This room is an open enfilade of rooms in the east wing of the parliament building. This used to be the Governor’s and his family’s living quarters.
The South Wing and the Governor’s Garden
Until the beginning of the 20th century a castle wall ran here, but when the Riigikogu was established in 1930 it was decided to rebuild this wing. The idea of the young architect A. Kotli was to harmonise the buildings of the Ministry of the Interior with Toompea Castle. The Governor’s Garden on the approaches to the south wing of the castle was transformed to decorate the new palace-like appearance of the building. In the beginning, the place was used as a pasture between the walls of the south wing of the castle. During the construction of the gubernatorial building, a public park was laid out here, called the Governor’s Garden. It is one of the first public parks in Tallinn. In 1936 the height of retaining walls was increased, and thereby the garden rose to the level of the palace square.
It is in this park and there is my favorite place in Tallinn – the observation deck by “Long Hermann”, from where in clear weather you can admire amazing views of the sunset.
How to get there
Getting to the castle, if you are in the Old Town area, is very easy. It is located in Vyshgorod at Lossi plats, 1 A. From the Town Hall Square go up Pikk Jalg Street and you will be right in front of its ensemble.
On the left will be the entrance to the Governor’s Garden, and right in front of you will be the building of the Governor’s Office, built by the decree of Catherine.
How to get on the tour
If your stay in Tallinn falls on April 23, I have good news for you! April 23 is the Open House Day at the Riigikogu. On this date, in 1919 alone, the foundations of Estonia as an independent state were laid at the Constituent Assembly. And now every year on April 23rd you can visit the beautiful Toompea Castle where they have prepared a lot of interesting things for you. First of all, you can climb to the top of Long Hermann, go to public meetings of committees, attend an information hour in the Riigikogu meeting room, talk to members of parliament and take a look at the architecture of the castle. There will even be a special program for children.
Guests will also be sure to have a fun surprise: relay dances, cooking Estonian national dish, watching movies. The day ends with a grand concert.
But this day, like a birthday, only once a year! But those who can not go on a trip in the spring, but want to see the Toompea castle ensemble, can get here. By the way, according to the official website of the Riigikogu, only in 2016 the castle was visited by 28,500 people.
Tours are held Monday through Thursday from 10.00 to 16.00, on Fridays from 10.00 to 15.00 Estonian, Russian and English languages. Groups are formed no more than 30-35 people. There is no exact schedule. You have to call the guides and ask about the price and the possibility to go to Toompea. And also directly sign up for some of them. To do this, use the information here.
Questions about excursions can be sent in advance to [email protected].
When visiting the castle, you must show your passport, driver’s license or student ID!