Estonia's second city, Tartu, has long been celebrated as a wellspring of this country's intellectual and cultural life. The hub of the riverside city in southern Estonia is Tartu University, the nation's main university that was founded during Swedish rule in 1632. Estonians themselves have dubbed Tartu's special if elusive quality Tartu vaim -Tartu Spirit. This spirit is embodied in the old town skirting leafy hillside parks, in several top-notch drama theaters and museums, as well as in its contemplative cafes and bars, where students can be seen philosophizing for hours on end over coffee and beer.
Begin your tour of Estonia's second largest city (ca 100,000) from Town Hall Square (Raekoja Plats). The Town Hall is now in its third incarnation. The present building was opened in 1786 having replaced the previous building which was destroyed by fire. The vaulted cellars were originally used as a jail with solitary confinement cells for the especially dangerous guests. On the first floor was the Mayor's office and court rooms. On the top floor was the Great Hall of the town council. The tower-clock facing Dome Hill was installed in 1805, however, the Town Hall Clock was marking the hours as early as 1594. The clock contains an assembly of 18 bells celebrating the full hour twice a day at 12:00 and 18:00.
At number 18 Town Hall Square is a rather striking building known locally as the Leaning House. The house, which once belonged to the family of the famous Russian general Barclay de Tolly, was built on unstable ground and as the level of ground water dropped so did one side of the house. For more than 100 years this building housed a pharmacy. In 1940 the building became home to the Art Museum of Tartu. Originally the museum's collection numbered 133 paintings. At present the collection exceeds 21,000 pieces of art. A visit to the museum provides a good overview of Estonian art. In the Town Hall Square note also the Kissing Students Fountain and the Arch Bridge spanning the river Emajogi.
Head out of the square toward the University. The main building of Tartu University stands as the most impressive example of classical architecture in Tartu. Designed by Johann Wilhelm Krause and constructed in the years 1803-1809, the building contains a festive assembly hall that serves as a concert venue. The building is also home to the University Museum of Arts. Founded in 1803, the museum's collection includes Egyptian artifacts, valuable coins and gems, Greek antiquities, Russian icons, Japanese woodcuts, Western European engravings, photographs and applied art. In the attic of the building you can view the Student Lock Up. Students found guilty of various offenses were sentenced there by the University Court; sleeping in class - 2 days, insulting a woman - 5 days, public drunkenness - 8 days.
From the university head to Dome Hill. From the top of the hill you will get a great view of the old town and the river Emajõgi. You will also find the ruins of Dome Cathedral. The Cathedral was completed in the 15th century after 200 years of construction. A fire on Midsummer Night in 1624 caused the ruins we see today. From Dome Hill find your way to Lossi street and cross the Angel and Devil bridges. From Angel's Bridge you will enjoy another beautiful view of old town and the Town Hall. The Devil's bridge was built to commemorate the 300th jubilee of the Romanov Dynasty in 1913. Here you will also find the Tartu Observatory, made famous by its previous director F.G.W. Struve and his observations using the world's largest telescope of the day with lenses, the Frauenhofer refractor. You're probably feeling thirsty by now so have someone direct you to the pub/restaurant Wilde. The name Wilde refers to two famous writers - an Irishman named Oscar and his Estonian contemporary Eduard. This same building was once the print house of C.E. Mattiesen.
Sightseeing in Estonia | Interactive Map | County of Tartumaa