The ornate Russian Orthodox Alexander Nevsky Cathedral was intended as a symbol of the Russian Empire's religious and political dominance over Estonia. It was built on this prominent position in front of Toompea Castle on a spot that previously held a statue of Protestant Reformer Martin Luther.
Tallinn – Been There

Layers of history and change

Photo by Matthew Micah Wright

Tallinn – Been There Layers of history and change

Old Tallinn is carefully protected nowadays, but any building work that does take place tends to reveal something of interest for the archeologists.

Dan Hayes
Dan Hayes Travel Writer

There are new archeological finds being discovered all the time,” says Alvar Leimus, a researcher at the Estonian History Museum, “It is especially interesting when we uncover items that we never knew would have been imported to Estonia from either East or West. A couple of years ago a 13th-century merchant’s chest was recovered from Tallinn Bay. It contained more than 140 coins from Livonia [as the Baltic States were known] and Sweden, a set of brass weighing scales, tin weights and items such as leather knife sheaths that would have originated in England.”

From the upper stories of the Guild Hall I look out over the orange-tiled roofs of the city towards the sea that provided such opportunities for the medieval merchants. In the other direction the buildings gradually merge into distant fields and dusky woods. Around 40 per cent of Estonia is now covered by forest but 100 years it was ten per cent. A gradual move to the cities has seen nature reclaiming rural areas.

Some of the products of that countryside can be seen in slightly unexpected form nearby at the Old City’s Raeapteek pharmacy that is said to have first opened its doors in 1422. One room takes me back to those 15th-century days with displays not only about the creation of traditional herbal medicines but also of lethal-sounding remedies such as wolf intestines, dried toads and scorched hedgehog. Dangling from the ceiling, a stuffed alligator looks down with glassy eyes on visitors as they mull over the possible side effects of ingesting ground mummy or eye of newt.

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There are dozens of antique stores throughout Tallinn's Old Town and city center, selling everything from Russian Orthodox icons to Soviet cameras. Estonia came under Soviet occupation from 1940 to 1991 after being ceded to Moscow in the German–Soviet Nonaggression Pact of 1939. Photo by Brent Winebrenner / Getty Images

Brent Winebrenner

Brent Winebrenner

Agency
Getty Images

There are dozens of antique stores throughout Tallinn's Old Town and city center, selling everything from Russian Orthodox icons to Soviet cameras. Estonia came under Soviet occupation from 1940 to 1991 after being ceded to Moscow in the German–Soviet Nonaggression Pact of 1939.

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