was our final stop on the trip before heading back to
Written by Rick Archer
happens to be the Golden Age of Estonia. The country
is currently enjoying its longest stretch of freedom in
perhaps its entire history.
Estonia is not a
large country. Throughout the ages, Tallinn was always being
attacked by someone. With a relatively small
population, it was fairly helpless to defend itself against
the giant forces of its various neighbors.
since Estonia suffers the unfortunate fate to be located
right at the crossroads of the Baltic sea lanes, invading
forces have been landing on its shores and tromping through
its lands dating back many centuries.
At various times
Estonia has been dominated by the Vikings, the Danes and the
Swedes. But its largest nemesis has got to be Russia. Starting in 1703, Estonia was subjugated by
Russia dating back to Peter the Great. That marked the
start of two centuries of Russian rule.
Russian Revolution of 1917, Estonia enjoyed a brief 23-year
stretch of independence. However, in 1940 at the dawn
of World War II, the Red Army occupied Estonia.
Theoretically Russia and Germany had signed a non-aggression
pact, but the Russians didn't trust Hitler. Its move
against Estonia was an attempt to set up a perimeter against
resistance was futile, the Estonian army simply laid down
its arms and let the Russians do what they wanted.
happened to have the miserable fate of being located
directly between Nazi Germany and Communist Russia. As
long as Russia and Germany pretended to be allies, Estonia
was left unharmed. However, that changed when Hitler
decided to invade Russia. Now Estonia became a
helpless pawn caught in the giant struggle between two
controlled Estonia for most of the World War II. In
1944, Estonia was retaken by the Soviets. For the next
forty-five years, Estonia and its neighbors Latvia and
Lithuania would continue to be unwilling members of the
Communist bloc throughout the ensuing Cold War.
It was only
recently in September 1991 following the fall of the Soviet
Union that Estonia regained its independence.
From what I
gather, the past twenty years have been very good to
Estonia. Tallinn appears to be a thriving, prosperous
city. A quick check of Wikipedia confirmed my hunch.
As a member of the European Union, Estonia is considered a
high-income economy by the World Bank. Because of its
rapid growth, Estonia has been described as the
The country is
ranked 16th in the 2012 Index of Economic Freedom with the
most free economy in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet
Union. Estonia has the lowest ratio of government debt
to GDP among EU countries.
I laughed when I
read that Estonia has been listed among the top 10 digital
cities in the world. I might add that Estonia is said
to have the most sophisticated hackers and cyber thieves in
all of Europe, but that's another story.
Let's just say
that with a balanced budget, an almost non-existent public
debt, a flat-rate income tax, a free trade regime, a
competitive commercial banking sector, innovative e-Services
and a lucrative travel influx, Estonia is sitting very pretty at the moment.
its friend and neighbor Finland on the other side of the Gulf of Finland
just 50 miles to the north, I have no doubt
Estonia keeps a worried eye on Russian politics. All
this prosperity could be gone in a blink of an eyelash the
next time Russia has another bad mood.
Tallinn is two
cities in one. It is a thoroughly modern city that
just happens to surround an incredible Old Town hidden behind a
huge stone wall.
One step through
the gates and suddenly a visitor is
years into the past. This is Tallinn's Old Town, one of Europe's most fascinating
treasures. Who can help but be
enchanted with this
medieval town complete with narrow cobbled streets,
14th-century churches and a wild mix
of restaurants, cafés,
Historically, the city has been
attacked, sacked, razed, and pillaged on numerous occasions.
the town made a decision to erect a truly formidable wall
surrounding the entire Old Town complete with 26
watchtowers. Once completed, these powerful
defensive structures have protected Tallinn from being
destroyed in wars for many centuries.
also made a decision to avoid using wood for construction of
the inner city. Over the centuries, this
lack of wooden buildings has kept any
fire damages low. In addition, the
sturdy stone structures miraculously withstood extensive
bombing during WW II.
Once the war
ended, so much of the Old Town was still standing that a
decision was made to restore and preserve the Old Town
rather than level it for the sake of "modernization".
has paid off handsomely. In 1997, Tallinn Old
Town became a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site.
Today this area is often referred to as the “medieval
pearl of Europe”.
The reward has
been easy to see. Tallinn has become a popular tourist mecca. Visitors
love entering those walls and be instantly time-transported to
an ancient era of history.
visiting the Texas Renaissance Festival and how much fun it
is to wander around pretending to be back in the Merrye Olde
England of Henry VIII. Now visualize a European town from that same
era that is perfectly preserved. That is exactly what
Old Town Tallinn turned out to be.
With nearly a
mile and a half of its original city wall still standing,
Tallinn boasts one of Europe's best preserved Medieval
fortifications. In fact, a large part of what gives Old Town
its fairy tale charm is the
complex system of walls and and towers
that surrounds it. It creates a
sense of another world.
From what Marla
and I had read, we were very curious about our visit to
Tallinn. We had a hunch we were in for a real treat.
Marla and I love to walk around a city. As you will
see, Tallinn was absolutely made for us.
Before we begin the
story of our walk, don't forget you are welcome to read many
details about Tallinn in Marla's Travel writeup that I won't
Description of Historic Old Town Tallinn