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Where in the World?

Posted on 7/20/2021 12:00:00 AM in Travel Trivia

Viru Gate was originally built to protect the city but now greets visitors as they enter the Old Town and the many shops and restaurants within.

Question: Where in the world can you step back in time through the center of two storybook towers?

Answer: The Viru Gate in Tallinn, Estonia

Stepping through the pair of picturesque, ivy-covered towers at Viru Gate transports you back centuries in time to the sights and sounds of medieval Europe. The turreted gate has become a symbol for the old town of Tallinn—the best-preserved medieval town in northern Europe and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Through the enchanting entrance, you’ll find a tangled network of pedestrian streets lined with outdoor cafes and wonderfully preserved 14th and 15th-century buildings.

Up until the Middle Ages, Estonia was a quiet corner in Europe, only inhabited by pagan tribes. Eventually, the strategic location was discovered as trade routes from the north brought the passage of goods like grains, salts, and furs. The first settlement, originally called Reval, was granted city rights in 1248 and joined the Hanseatic League with other powerful merchant towns on the Baltic Sea. The churches and dwellings that still stand in Tallinn’s Old Town were built during the prosperous centuries that followed, along with the defense towers and stout walls used to protect one of the wealthiest cities on the continent.

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Viru Gate was first ordered for construction in 1265 and then later expanded in the 14th century. At one point in time, Viru Gate’s towers were two of 45 watchtowers that guarded the city along with about a mile of thick stone walls. Here, troops stood on guard, ready to face off against potential invaders. Of the 45 towers that once stood, 26 remain.

From 1940 to 1991, Tallinn fell under the Iron Curtain, and Estonians struggled to freely celebrate their heritage and historic past. Once freed from the Soviet Union, Tallinn reemerged and the city has since returned to celebrate the former medieval glory. When you enter through Viru Gate and into the Old Town, you’ll find authentic craft workshops with some locals donning traditional garb. Shops sell hand-knit woolen clothing and trinkets made from the famous Baltic amber. Candle-lit pubs sell Estonian fare, and there are many churches, merchant barns, and warehouses which date back to the flourishing Middle Ages.

More Medieval Sights to See in the Historic City of Tallinn:

  • Town Hall Square: At the heart of Tallinn’s Old Town is Town Hall Square which has been at the center since the turn of the 14th century. In the summer, Town Hall Square hosts medieval festivals and open-air concerts, and in the winter, it becomes a magical Christmas market.

  • Toompea Castle: Toompea Castle, located in central Tallinn, was once a military stronghold used since the ninth century. The castle as it stands today with its Baroque façade was built on top of the fortress in 1767. It houses the Parliament of Estonia which is known as Riigikogu.

  • Saint Catherine’s Passage: This old alley winds through the center of Old Town Tallinn and is lined with ruins, tombs, and artist’s workshops. Formerly known as Monk’s Alley, the passageway winds by open-air art chambers that date back to the 15th century. It leads to the outdoor wool market known as the “Sweaters Wall”.

  • Saint Catherine’s Monastery: Saint Catherine’s Passage gets its name from this monastery that it meanders behind. The monastery is one of the oldest buildings in Tallinn and has existed since 1246. Throughout the Middle Ages, the monastery was known for its scholarship as well as its brewing of beer. During the Reformation in 1524, the monastery was destroyed with only fragments of the original complex remaining.

  • St. Olaf’s Church: This 12th-century church was the center of Tallinn’s Scandinavian community before Denmark conquered the city. Its name is dedicated to King Olaf II of Norway. The church tower stands about 410 feet tall and may have once been the tallest building in the world during the 16th century. Because of its height, the tower has been struck by lightning 10 times throughout its long history.

Spend the day exploring the winding streets of Tallinn’s Old Town during our Grand Baltic Sea Voyage.

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