Here are some random interesting bits from Tallinn.
A Tale of Two Churches
The Soviet Union was not kind to organized religion of any stripe, and thousands of churches were outright destroyed or re-purposed for other needs of the people. Old Town Tallinn has two remarkable examples of ecclesiastic architecture with equally fascinating histories. The Russian Orthodox Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is named after Russian folk hero, commander and Saint Alexander Nevsky, who in 1243 defeated German, Swedish and Lithuanian invaders of the Russian duchies. Built in the very end of the 19th century, the cathedral is a beautiful showcase of the ornate Russian Revival style. Even the Soviet leadership liked it so much that it spared it in the bombing raids, though little respect was shown to the building thereafter — it was used for horse stables / cavalry headquarters. The Gothic, Catholic Church of Saint Nicholas was founded right around the time Saint Alexander was fighting its battle, and went through several renovations and modernization to take on its present-day form. In the meantime it was heavily damaged by the Soviet bombing of Tallinn during World War 2, but reconstructed since. The church houses a creepy, early-Renaissance “Dance of Death” painting and many other important Northern European artworks. Any guesses as to the creative way that the USSR authorities re-purposed the building? It became the Museum of Atheism.
I am not a fan of modern art. Nor do I particularly enjoy sculpture, of any period or style. Yet, there was just something about this piece that really touched me. I spotted “A Moment Before the Kiss”, by Estonian sculptor Tauno Kangro, in new (modern) central Tallinn — one of the many parts of the city that seem really worth exploring if you’re in Estonia for more than just a couple of days.
The sculpture feels so light and ephemeral, so touching and almost intrusively intimate — despite being rendered in heavy granite, its cubism-approaching expressionism being anything but delicate in style. I became immediately intrigued by the author, and have enjoyed discovering his other work online since my return to Russia.
Thanks to Yeltsin
Even our tour guide (that’s her in the photo) was like, I don’t know what this is all about. This really rather unflattering and kind of grotesque portrait affixed on a side of an old fortification wall is a tribute to Russia’s first President, Boris Yeltsin, under whom the dissolution of the USSR took place. Yeltsin years were some of the worst that Russia has experienced since WW2, so he is far from a beloved figure here, but neither is he a sufficiently popular one in Estonia for this memorial to go up more than two decades after the transition and six years after Yeltsin’s death, according to the guide. We were all a little befuddled by the strange tribute — and its somewhat random location.
…the place where Estonia’s president lives and works is, um, quaint? It’s certainly a respectable-looking palace, no issues there. BUT. First of all, it’s kind of in the middle of nowhere, hidden away in the far end of most serene urban park I have ever had the pleasure of visiting. Secondly, it has NO SECURITY. Ok, it has these two guards you see in the photo below. That is IT. But come on, the dudes are barely more than ornamental! And there is nothing between you and them. Not even a fence! Or a gate! Or puppies! Just some grass and some trees and sunshine. I have so many obvious jokes about the Baltics’ security just bubbling up inside me, but I am going to push down my most base urges for the sake of political correctness.
I thought for sure a monument this heroic and grand and winged would be commemorating valiant Estonian resistance to Soviet or Russian or German (but come on… has to be Soviet or Russian) invaders. Turns out it is actually a memorial for the sunken Russian ship “Rusalka,” which is translated into English as “mermaid.” Yes, there is an extra “S” in the Estonian version of the name, for some reason.
So… this lady-angel with actual feet, no fish-tale, no scales and holding an Orthodox cross is a memorial representation of a vessel named after a pagan mythical underwater creature. Fascinating.
By the way, I have heard that in Russian popular discourse Estonians are the most anti-Russian of the three Balts. Yet I encountered remarkable preservation of the country’s Russia-related heritage — churches, palaces, monuments, memorials, museums and so forth — far more so than I had in Riga. Very interesting. In the best way possible.
Kadriorg Palace and Park
If I ever get married, this is the kind of gifts I’d like from my hubs, thankyouverymuch. Russian Emperor Peter the Great had this little cabin built for his wife (and later sovereign Empress of Russia) Catherine I. Relevant facts: 1) Peter actually bought the land and whatever constructions existed on it at that time from the local owner; 2) Catherine didn’t care for the place at all and it was abandoned for a while. Later on Kadriorg became a museum, which is the role the main building serves now. The Palace is situated in the middle of the beautiful, sprawling, hilly Kadriorg park that comes complete with rose gardens, fountains, and wooded trails. Oh, and on one side it’s also bordered by the Baltic Sea! I don’t know what Catherine’s problem was, Kadriorg Palace and Park are AWESOME.