Living in a small town like Tartu, we rarely get attention from international media. That is why I like the Google News feature “News Near You”. Every now and then I bump into interesting things about us. Most recently I found a short fluff piece from TNT about spending a weekend in Tartu. Great … but I scratched my head when I read this about our beautiful town square
Behind (the main fountain depicting kissing students) is the majestic pink classic-meets-Baroque and Rococo Town Hall and on balmy summer nights, musicals and plays are performed outside it.
Hmmm … classic-meets-baroque and rococo? Well that is not how I would describe it, but no quibbling! BTW, it was designed by the German Johann H. B. Walther and built in 1786. It is nice. And — courtesy of the rather interesting Marvao Guide for where to go in Eastern Europe — here it is
By the way, the author is right about one thing. It is nicer in the summer when the days are very long and mildly cool. And just behind the city hall on the other side of Ülikooli street is a small open grassy space where students gather at dusk to chat, play music and sip beer. Ok, back to our tour
Turn around and head towards the river
That would be just at the end of the town square, about a two minute walk where you will see a walking bridge. This odd Soviet era structure replaced the great “kivi sild”, or stone bridge built during Catherine the Great’s time. Here is a nice image of the kivi sild from Tartu’s own promo site. The view is from the other side of the river
The Russians blew up the kivi sild during the second war. Why? Well, perhaps it was the sign on the bridge that said “This is the Gateway to Russia”. Gateways at that moment were not what the Russians wanted. Ok, back to the tour
… walk along (the) banks of the river,
the author does not say whether to turn left or right from the town square, but I would go left to walk in the riverside park that has some very nice sculpture. He means, however, for you to turn right, which to be honest is not as picturesque. BTW, the river is the emajõe (mother river) which used to run through the center of town. But six weeks of front line fighting in 1944 destroyed most of the town that was on the other side and the “center” is more on the town hall side. Ok, back to the tour. We have been walking along the river … but here our guide goes a little bonkers. He says we should
then turn right and up Toome Hill (central Tartu is built on and around a steep incline) to find the city’s Wilde and Vilde statue, a memorial to Oscar Wilde and Estonian writer Eduard Vilde.
Errr … where do you turn right to find the statue? As a long time resident, I know where and if you are on the river bank, there is no corner there. As a newbie, you would never figure this out.
Also, to be more accurate, you are not going up Toome Hill here at all. Toome Hill is behind the city hall and the best way to get up the hill is via Lossi Street (where I used to work). And while our tour is not taking us there, consider this. Old Town Tartu used to be located on top of the hill. It is now a park. Why? Well, going back to the 13th century, it was a walled fortress that changed hands over the centuries many times. The attendant fighting caused not a little destruction. But the final blow came during the Great Northern War in 1708 when Peter blew up the remaining fortress structures to prevent them from falling into Swedish hands. Yes, the Swedes were rather intimidating, even to Peter, back then. To make matters worse, Peter shut down the great university (founded in 1632), which then remained closed for nearly 100 years. Uggh!
If you are interested, here is a nice image of the Lossi Street cobble stone road looking down from the top of the hill via IGoUgo
Ah well, back to our somewhat confused tour guide. I do agree that the two Wildes scuplture is worth a visit. It is the single most photographed object in the city. And if you want to know more about the two Wildes sculpture, check this out.
So off you go! Enjoy your trip!
2d FOLLOW - I received a complaint already from a reader who asked why I did not say anything about the walking bridge that spans Lossi Street. Oops. This is the so called “angel’s bridge“. It was designed by J.W. Krause and built in 1814-1816, not long after the university was re-opened (1802). Indeed, the first half of the 19th century was a golden era for Tartu with the university in full operation. Why angel? It is actually a pun from the Estonian word “ingel”, which refers to English and angel. The style is English and the feeling is divine. And it is. Really!
This is an odd contrast to the so called “devil’s bridge” built one hundred years later in 1913. It is another walking bridge over Lossi Street, this time on the other side of the hill. I am told that it is at the spot where the main gate was located to get into the fortress. And yes, the name is also based on a pun. This time the pun relates to the designer’s name. But in the popular imagination, the contrast betwen angels and devils adds nice local color. I often feel a bit devilish. Hmmm … perhaps that is because I used to work at the Eesti Õiguskeskus that was just next to the devil’s bridge.