Tallinn Town Hall
Tallinn Town Hall
|Town or city||Tallinn|
|Construction started||13th century|
The Tallinn Town Hall (Estonian: Tallinna raekoda) is a building in the Tallinn Old Town, Estonia, next to the Town Hall Square. It is the oldest town hall in the whole of the Baltic region and Scandinavia.
The building is located in the south side of the ancient market square and is 36.8 metres long. The west wall is 14.5 metres in length, and the east is 15.2 meters. It is a two-storey building with a spacious basement.
The vane Old Thomas (Estonian: Vana Toomas) on the top of the Town Hall's tower, that has been there since 1530, has become one of the symbols of Tallinn. The height of the tower is 64 metres. Tallinn Town Hall is located on the Town Hall Square, where the streets Kullassepa street, Dunkri street and Vanaturu kael lead. One of the shortest streets of Tallinn is Raekoja tänav, which is located behind the Town Hall.
The town hall was built by what was then the market square. The town hall square got its current length in the 1370s. Covered with a board roof in 1374, the town hall was probably a single-decked stone building with a basement. The attic was used as a storeroom. The facade of this long and narrow building is now a rear wall of the arcade, where you can still see some of the simple statuary framed windows from this time.
A Town Hall with a huge meeting room was firstly mentioned in a Real Estate book in 1322 as a "consistorium", which had a giant warehouse (cellarium civitatis) for that time. Some walls in the eastern part of the modern town hall and seven windows in the basement and on the ground floor have remained from that time. In 1364, it was called a playhouse (teatrum) and in 1372 a town hall (rathus).
The Town council controlled the town's political, economic and partly even parlour action. The Town Hall was often a courthouse and a place to introduce goods; sometimes it was even used as a room for theatre, as you can conclude from the word "teatrum". Therefore, it was very important to be placed in the heart of the town and to look representative.
Although the city power worked in the Town Hall until 1970, it still holds the role of a representational building of a city administration and welcomes visitors as a concert venue and a museum, where you can get to know the centuries-long historical and architectural value of the Tallinn Town Hall. In conjunction with the Tallinn Old Town, the Town Hall has been on the UNESCO world Heritage Sites list since 1997. In 2004, Tallinn Town Hall celebrated its 600th birthday.
In 2005, the Tallinn town hall received a high recognition – 2nd prize, in the category of conservation of Architectural Heritage for the revival of the last surviving Gothic Town Hall in Northern Europe and the exemplary revealing of all the historical layers of this icon of the great European tradition of municipal power. The prize was presented to Elvira Liiver Holmström, the director of Tallinn Town Hall by Queen Sofía of Spain at the European Heritage Awards Ceremony which was held on the 27th June in 2006 at the Palacio Real de El Pardo, Madrid. Europa Nostra medal was presented to Tallinn Town Hall on the ceremony on the 15th of September in 2006 by Siim Kallas, Vice President of the European Commission, and Thomas Willoch, Europa Nostra board member.
- 1 Architecture
- 2 The interior
- 3 The Town Council
- 4 The March bombing of Tallinn in World War II
- 5 Read in addition
- 6 References
- 7 External links
The Town Hall was initially a building where urban citizens held meetings. It was later used as a government building, a court and a place to introduce new goods. The building process of representational town halls started in the 12th century. Usually they were built in the centre of the town, near the market square. The Lübeck Town Hall (13th–14th century), the Venetian Doge’s Palace (started in the first half of the 14th century), in Estonia the Town Hall of Narva (built at the end of the 17th century, restored in 1963) and of course the Tallinn Town Hall are the most famous ones.
The town hall is built out of grey limestone and the roof out of clay roof tiles. The town hall is much older than it looks and its current appearance shows. The old walls hiding behind later constructions tell a story about the multi-stage construction of the town hall. According to newest studies, the multi-stage expansion of the town hall took place in five different periods from the west to the east. Therefore, the layout of the town hall is crooked and curved and up to half a metre narrow, which makes it look like a trapezium. In the first quarter of the 14th century the existing building was extended and the basement rooms were expanded. A sort of a diele-dornse (vestibule and a rear) system spatial of distribution emerged. According to the results of the field studies it can be said that the oldest town hall building covered the current town hall’s western part and the south wall of the current arcade was facing the market square.
In 1346, the king of Denmark ceded the power in Estonia to the Teutonic Order. As a Hanseatic city, Tallinn got the right to control the eastern trade having a so-called right as a stockpile area. The fast growth of trading and prosperity determined the need for new rooms and a presentable appearance for the town hall.
The oldest, eastern part of the building was extended from 1371 to 1374 towards the west. This building with the current length did not differ much from a big citizen's house. The building got its exterior in 1402–1404, with the rebuilding led by stonemason Ghercke, which has been preserved in the key features to the present day. The building was built two-storey.
A salient octahedral tower, which is mostly built into the building and leans on the wall, rises from the building's eastern gable. It was built in 1627–28 by G. Graff. It has a three-piece baroque spire with open galleries. The tower is 64 metres high. The spire was built in, 1627 but obtained its final shape in 1781 and was also reconstructed in this shape in 1952 after destruction in the World War II (architect A. Kukkur). The spire is in Late Renessaince style.
Decorative details are a crenelated battlement, that acts as a stronghold, the "Old Thomas" (Vana Toomas}), that is winding on the top of the tower (the copy of the original from 1530 is in the Tallinn City Museum (Linnamuuseum)), vane with three eggs, that are held by the simple rock lion and gargoyles decorated with the heads of dragons on the western gable. The Old Thomas is wearing the clothing of a 16th-century city guard. He can be named the symbol of Tallinn and even poems are dedicated to him. The Old Thomas is holding a flag, that has 1996 written on it.
An open arcade-gear is one the building's square's long-side, which is almost on the whole facade's ground floor scope (archway). Cellar's entrances and windows unfold here. Initial portal was placed on the facade's western side. Current main entrance was built later, supposedly in the 18th century. The door next to the former portal is subsequent. Low annexes on the western side of the building were established at the end of the 18th century. The main facade's windows were also repeatedly changed; in the 18th century they were quadrangular. Rooms on the western side of the cellar are covered with edgeline vaults that are carried by the strong quadrangular pillars. Part of cellar's partitions were probably built later. A strong wall separates the western side of the cellar from the noticeably lower building in the east. An open arcade-gear is on the square-side of the building. Current main entrance with a stairway was built in the 18th century. Low annexes on the western side of the building were built at the end of the same century. During the Middle Ages, a trade hall and a torture chamber/wine cellar were located on the first floor. In the Middle Ages, there was a court on the second floor and in addition a coffer, a room for keeping accounts, representative hall for citizens, parlour of the Town Hall (raesaal) and the kitchen of the Town Hall. (raeköök).
The massive facade supporting on the open sharp arcade-gear is cut in groups by narrow quadrangular windows, which are a bit bigger than those on regular dwelling houses. These groups of windows mark the three most important offices and representational spaces of the main floor, starting from the tower: town hall writer's room (kämmerei), single-nave town hall room, which was the hall meetings room for the town hall lords, and a two-nave citizens hall. From the tin squared windows, town hall lords could see several houses under the town hall: weighing house, pharmacy, coin mint and a jail. At the end of the facade is a parapet reminding of the upper part of a fortress wall with decorative loop-holes. The shape of the tower following directly the example of the Church of the Holy Ghost and a rear parapet on the facade's cornice line refer to the indirect contacts with the sub-Rhineland building art.
The main facade is decorated by a defensive parapet and dragonhead-shaped gargoyles. It is pervaded by an arcade, which consists of nine arcs and is the length of almost the whole building. In addition, the facade is supported by eight pillars. It was comfortable for merchants to shelter under the arcade in case of rain. One of the pillars of the arcade-gear of the town hall was used as a pillory. Criminals were chained to it to display them to the townspeople, so that they could dishonor and mock them. It had a neck rail and manacles. The arcade ends with the town hall's main entrance in the right side. The main door differs from other smaller doors and hatches with beautiful statuary jambs and three stairs that lead to the door. Because of them it is visible that that is the main entrance.
The fiber of the first floor’s western side is similar to the cellar under it – its edgeline vault is carried by four low tetrahedral pillars. In the Middle Ages here was supposedly a so-called trade hall, where new goods were introduced, bargains were made etc. The room on the eastern side from the trade hall, which vaults lean on identical tetrahedral pillars, was a torture chamber in the Middle Ages. The room was connected by the staircases built in the northern wall, with the parlour of the Town Hall on the second floor, where a court was located. From the two eastern rooms, the one in the south was a coffer, from where you could get to the second floor in the accounting room (kämmerei) by the staircases that are located in the city wall. As a treasury, the room located in the north is also covered with a barrel vault. This room's city wall held an oven (kalorifeer) before, to heat the parlour of the Town Hall with warm air.
The most interesting rooms of the main storey are a festive citizen's hall with six vaults and the parlour of the Town hall in the east. The so-called citizens hall on the second floor in the west, which is 16,2 metres long and 12 metres wide, is a 7,5 metres high room with two vaults. The room is supported by two octahedral pillars typical to the 16th century architecture. The room is covered by a low octahedral groin vault, which is allocated by a three-piece belt arc (vööndkaar). In the southeast corner of the town hall is a shaft, which pervades all of the floors, used to be a lavatory (profatt)
The Citizens Hall
The big hall in the Town Hall is called the Citizens Hall. The Citizens Hall can take 100 people and it also has a piano that can be used for musical performances. As an unheated represantional hall, important guests, vagabond musicians, actors were welcomed here and rich feasts were held. The citizens hall's look is shaped by two-coloured herringbone patterned octahedral pillars, on which impost is architectural motive of consoles, that originates from the Cistercians architecture and often appears later in Tallinn's arhitecture. The arched ceiling supports on them. Arched ceilings were rarely seen elsewhere than in churches, monasteries and fortresses. In dwelling houses were usually built wooden ceilings.
9 windows make the room very light, the slender Cisterian-influenced pillars on which the arched ceiling supports, add more wideness to the room. The two-vaulted room is separated with seven consoles into six bays of vault. In the Middle Ages, the floor was laid with special-sized limestone slabs, nowadays they are uniform.
Consoles and pillars are covered with three-coloured herringbone pattern. They were restored on the example of the westward remained pillar fragment. Completion-time Citizens Hall was supposedly not as spacious as it is now. Visually the room was straightened by the paintings of grapevines, that probably covered the walls and the ceiling. There are two small medieval lavatories "profatt" in the eastern corner of the southern wall, one for men and the other one for women. The portal that goes through the eastern wall, separates the room with the parlour of the Town Hall (Estonian: raesaal). Above the portal is a niche, which initial content is unknown. Since 1561 an admonition plaque in latin for aldermen stands in the niche. On the walls of the Citizens Hall there are tapestries, which were ordered from the Netherlands, Enghien and that depict the scenes from King Solomon's life.
Parlour of the Town Hall
The profile of the arc, that consists of two strong sharp-clear edge toruses, is repeated variably also in the two-vaulted parlour of the Town Hall that is behind the Citizens Hall. Low-relief keystones in the vaulted ceiling in the parlour of the Town Hall is one of the first examples of low embossing style that is representative to local late Gothic. The parlour of the Town Hall (raesaal) is the most important room of the Town Hall. The aldermen kept meetings and carried the votes there. One of the conveniences of the parlour was that it was heated. In the Middle Ages, not all the rooms had a fireplace or some other heating that could provide warmth in the winter, but the aldermen could not serve their duties in cold rooms. The tiled stove, standing in the corner, appeared several centuries later.
Two money closets were immured in the walls of the parlour of the Town Hall. The closets' oak doors (oak is a very durable tree) have tinned iron hinges. These doors could have been locked, because the documents, money and the other valuable things were kept there. The town council held a town clerk in position, whose task was to mark important things in documents and who besides a beautiful handwriting, had a good education. The accounting room called kämmerei [kemmerai] can be named the Ministry of Finance. An account over all the town’s income and expenses was kept there. You could get into the treasury only through the kämmerei. Treasured pewter, silverware and other high-dimensional treasures, that did not fit in the closets of the parlour of the Town Hall, were stored there.
The basement and the ground floors rooms (wine cellar and trade hall) are covered by simple circular groin vaults, which support on the tetrahedral pillars. The building was restored from 1971 to 1975 (T. Böckler, L. Pärtelpoeg, U. Umberg).
The architectural self-awareness
The architectural model of the Tallinn Town Hall is not directly taken over from somewhere else. It gained its shape on the basis of local long-term processing experience, architectural tradition and the masters’ job skills. Some external influences obtained a unique interpretation in Tallinn, shaped the forms of architecture in its own way and made it unexampled.
The masters of Tallinn had to know the public buildings of Italy, the arcade gear shows that. Tallinn Town Hall architecture does not depend on the German Town Halls in any way. In the facade, premises, details and conjointly in the whole schedule of the Town Hall, something from the merchants representative house, something from the strict-formed fortress and also something from the halls and churches’ sublimity, all of this is interwined with each other and reflected there.
Surprisingly in the compact corpus of the building, that's architectural character’s final determinants are constructive monumental forms, that were chosen with strict simplicity, have numerously found their places as another types of rooms with different functions besides the big halls. As the oldest and the most unique European Town Hall and Tallinn’s first big building of profane architecture, it impersonates the concentrated wealth and self-awareness of Hanseatic town, that has grown strong.
History of the construction
Studies of the construction have proved that the town hall was located at the same place already in the 13th century. The 600-year-old building was built upon the old town hall’s brickwork. A stone building was there already in 1250. A building with a meetingroom (consistorium) and a basement (cellarium civitatits) is mentioned in 1322. As the town grew richer and more powerful, it was rebuilt. At the end of the 14th century, the building was as tall as it is now, but it was narrow and without the tower. Only the arcade-gear, which differed from the current one, referred to the fact that it was not an ordinary dwelling house.
By the 14th century, Tallinn (Old name: Reval) developed into one of the most important intermediate ports of the Hanseatic trade road between Europe and Russia. The 15th century was the heyday of the Hanseatic city Tallinn, when the city was largely rebuilt thanks to the profits from trade. The central article that made its way from Europe through Tallinn to Russia, was salt. Salt was followed by fabrics and herring. Metals, wine and spices were also important. Although some of the things mentioned stayed at the local market, most of it went on to Russia. Crops were the most important from the goods taken from Tallinn to the west. Rye, wood, flax and limestone were from Livonia. Most building monuments that have remained to this day, come from the 15th century: Middle Age merchant houses, churches, guild halls and including the town hall.
The major work began at the beginning of the 15th century. The town council celebrated the Easter of 1402 in the old building. The construction started right after the holidays. The leading master of the building was probably stonemason Ghercke. It is possible, that the leading masters, including Ghercke, came from downtown Toompea, where extensive works had ended in the last quarter of the 14th century in the fortress, the circular wall of Great Toompea and in the Cathedral (toomkirik). 600 logs, 581 balks, 46 pairs of girders and 107 burdens of stone were brought to the construction site. The stones were brought from Lasnamäe, where a stonemasons village was located. The names of the carriers have been documented. Crude stones were brought for the bricklaying, but some of the details had to be made out of cut stones. The main constructions – foundations, walls and vaults – were built out of limestone, that was brought from the limestone plateau, limestone brought from stone-pits near the city and all put together using lime mortar. In 1403, the stones were cut and an arcade, pillars supporting the vaults, window jams etc. were built. The pillars of the arcade and the main portal in the western section, that had an important role in the development of the building style of Tallinn, were built by Ghercke himself and his helpers. Eeskujuks oli portaalimeistrile toomkiriku väiksem lõunaportaal. The smaller southern portal of the cathedral (Tallinna Toomkirik) was used as an example. It is known that the stonemason Yckmele built the pillors for the winecellar and 200 blocks for the outer corners of the building. The windows were built by master Keyzner, one of the large family of stonemasons. Master Ghercke and his two helpers were paid 5 Rigan marks (1 Rigan mark weighed 207,8 g of silver).
The construction works were finished at the end of 1404. The masters, who had placed the tiles, glazed the windows and cleaned up the debris, got their salaries. The town council celebrated Christmas holidays in a new building. The constructions had lasted for two and a half years. The builders worked only in summer. A white lime coating covered the walls and left clean stone-constructions, that were made glossy, for many centuries.
The construction works continued later: the roof and a tower were repaired, the window glasses and staircases were changed and the ovens were set. Ajaloolise Tallinna kuldaeg jääb 15. sajandi keskpaiga ja 16. sajandi alguse vahelisse perioodi. The Golden Age of the historical Tallinn was a period from the middle of the 15th century to the beginning of the 16th century. The economical prosperity of the Hanseatic times made it possible to create wonderful creations of architecture and art. The vane Old Thomas was established above the town hall in 1530 (Current vane is its exact copy, the initial vane is in the town hall’s basement and the vane from the year 1996 is in the city museum (Linnamuuseum)). Heinrich Hartmann who was from a well-known molder family, prepared a bell for the town hall at the end of the 16th century. In the 17th century the town hall got a new spire that was made by master-builder Greiger Graff.
The sharp Gothic spire was replaced with a current spire in a Late-Renessaince style in 1627–1629. “It can be said by the bricks with one sign, that several of the facade works, the repairs of the tower’s console and gable, the installation of new decorative gargoyles and the works of the interior, were done in the same time or at least solidly,” Teddy Böckler said. “Apparently, the partitions were built in the grand hall between the pillars and the bulkhead at the height of the consoles, between the years 1630 and 1650. The fireplaces were built to heat these small rooms. Formerly, there were no rain deflectors that would reach the ground. The dragon-headed gargoyles from stone or iron were on the eaves instead of these. They had to lead the water away from the building. The copper smith Daniel Pöppel hammered dragon-headed gargoyles from the copper-plates simultaneously with finishing the tower. Now they are in the town hall because of their beauty.
In 1652–1652, the main entrance of the town hall was rebuilt and transferred to the central part of the building, which is characteristic of Baroque architecture. The main portal was closed. The arcade and the windows of the basement and the first floor, which revealed the originality and representation of the town hall, were walled up. The citizens hall was divided into two floors and was divided into separate rooms. In 1860, the quadrangular windows were built ogival.
In 1944, the spire of the town hall bursted into flames and was destroyed in the bombing of Tallinn in the World War II. This was the push to renovation after the war. The restorations were extensive. The tower was restored in 1952. In 1959–1960, the arcade was opened again and the traces of reconstructions from the previous century were removed. In 1971–1975 (architect Teddy Böckler, interior decorators Leila Pärtelpoeg ja Udo Umberg), the walls and ceilings, that had been built later, were demolished and the town hall was constructed into a representative institution of Tallinn.
The towers wooden structure, that had been restored in 1952, was partly rotten by 1996 and the tin-coating was broken. So, the spire and the Old Thomas with a symbolic meaning were both replaced. The Old Thomas could have fallen down in case of a bigger storm. The works began in the beginning of 1996, when the needed details were prepared in Albu parish. The parts of the tower were transported to Tallinn in June – the assembling and covering with copper tiles had already begun. It took 1,4 tonnes of copper plates to cover the wooden structure of the tower. In the last working week on Wednesday, the tower's parts were added together and initially, the Old Thomas was placed on the tower next to the Town Hall tower. The old tower had to be strengthened, so that it would not decay during the work. The upper part was lifted up 8.45 am. Initially the work was planned to be finished at 3 pm, but things delayed till night. The wind rose and when only the last part of the tower had to be lifted up, there was a risk that the wind would disturb the work. Finally, at 7 pm the last part of the tower was taken to its place. The towers aggregation and up-placing were worked out by the project office Sille, engineer Danil. Plans were carried out by AS Stinger, led by Voldemar Metsaallik. The spire was put up with the help of Pekkaniska aerial platform.
During the restorations in 1970 one huge medieval hall was restored, it had been rebuilt into smaller chambers for over 300 years. The ovens' two foot chimney's that were built to heat the chambers, were demolished from the hall to the vaulted ceiling. The hole in the vaulted ceiling that was hacked there in the 17th century, was covered with a plastered wooden base, hanging on the ropes.
In 1996, the Old Thomas might have lost his sword, when the old tower was lifted down. The Old Thomas’ fastenings were almost completely unfixed and the water dripped from the tower sphere underneath the vane. Apparently, the sword could have fallen down with a storm on the Town Hall's roof or gotten into some souvenir collector's house. In Tõnu Lauk’s opinion, the Old Thomas decayed quickly because in 1952, the statue was left unpainted. In addition, nothing was done against rusting of fixing details. In addition, the wooden structure was done wrong. The water flowed in and the tower rottened fastly. During the making the new tower and a vane, these mistakes were kept in mind. Old Thomas was primed with red tin, painted and partly gilded. Light-green vane is allegedly exactly so similar as the original. Old Thomas’ face, neck, feet, sword, flag and the tower sphere, on which the statue stands, are golden. It took about 4 grams of golden plates for all of this. The amendment came in 1992 from Teddy Böckler from AS Vana Tallinn. He said that there was no complete gilding habit before. The first Old Thomas from the year 1530 was also partly gilded. The original of Old Thomas and the dragon-head-shaped gargoyles, that are also partly gilded, confirm that saying.
The spire had lost its initial shape till that time because of many rebuildings. Current tower is more like the Niguliste church. It is more slim, so that there is no room to move in the external balcony. Current spire is more characteristic to the 17th century Late Renessaince. Till the construction works in autumn, the spire was red but then it was coloured green. The procedure of changing the tower costed 1,8 million crowns in the old currency (Estonian crowns) for the city administration. The money was taken from the town’s budget.
Tallinn Town Hall’s attic was cleaned in years 2002–2003. On the side of attic the construction company demolished there till “the plane floor”, that had emerged from the rubbish that had accumulated on the vaults. The thrashers did not delve in it themselves. Now the interesting and unique findings found during the excavation, are on exhibition on the Town Hall’s attic. About 300 tonnes/ 70 truck loads of rubbish was carried out from the vaults top. The enormous part of it was the ground that filled the gaps between arch domes and which historically fulfilled the role of heating. More than 300 findings were found during the excavation, among them were unique documents and things. During the past 10 years they have been examined, cleaned and preserved and a small but exciting part of them is on the exhibition on the Town Hall’s attic. You can see there the letters written to the town council and aldermen from the 14th–16th centuries, medieval firefighting equipment, tools, the revolutionary leaflets from the year 1905 etc. Teddy Böckler (17.05.1930 – 08.12.2005), was Tallinn Town Hall’s restoration architect since 1959, till the last restoration phase that was finished according to his project in 2006.
Most of the elements of the interior decor weren't thrown away as the town hall's architect back then – Teddy Böckler – thought, that they were nice, complete and dignified part of the interior. In addition to the citizen's hall furniture, carbon black polyester lacquer partition doors called piano doors, which were very fashionable at their time and are in harmony with the other black elements of the interior, remained. The directress of the town hall, Elviira Liiver Holmström, said that in addition to restoring the town hall was partly reconstructed. Because of this, the town hall kitchen got back its casing pipe, which was once demlished. The chimney is partly a stairway, where a spiral staircase leads to the attic. The attic was cleaned from dust, renewed and it became a museum and a place for exhibitions.
In 2003, on the 17th of April, a huge piece of chimney from the 17th century, that had been found in excavation in the rubbish layer on attic, fell through the big hall’s ceiling and the hall was closed for the events till the 5th of May. According to Teddy Böckler’s words the human-height piece from the fireplace stayed untouched during the restoration works in the 1970s. 2-metres high parts on foot chimney were cleaned during the excavation on the Town Hall’s attic. The brick that lost its support of friction and was relying on the wooden cover of the vaulted ceiling, that's rope rended at night. At the moment of accident, there were no people in the room.
In 2008, a medieval well and different exciting models were found under the floor. The accounting room located on the second floor, that had been aldermen’s workroom and from the end of the 19th century until the 1970s the mayor’s cabinet, was innovated in the same year. Tallies from the 16th and 17th century were copied, the copies were exhibited and the whole room was redesigned.
In 2009, Tallinn Town Hall was in repairs for two months from February to March and the building was closed. Major repairs were planned. Initially there were plans to make floor repairs and large refurbishment. Floortiles from dolomite were planned to be replaced with limestone. In addition, with excavation, an underground drainage was planned to be opened to examine its situation, in addition the expected findings were intended to be exhibited. Due to the lack of money, the scale of undertaking declined. Repairs were done in the basement hall, but events were not held in the upper hall due to the construction dust and noise. The walls of the ceiling had become friable to the touch and they had started to decay. The ceiling in the basement was cleaned from the hatched and dirty latex colour and whitewashed. In addition, repairs were made in the staff room, that got new decent furniture and lighting, that had left the rooms too dim before the repairs.
The tower of the town hall
The town hall tower was built along with the town hall in 1402–1404. In the beginning, the tower had a gothic style pyramid spire, which was replaced in 1627 by a renaissance-shaped spire (height 26 metres). The height of the tower starting from the lower part of the arcade is 64 metres.
It is possible to climb up into the Town Hall tower and see the old town from a completely different angle. You cannot get to the tower’s dome edge, where you can see the borders, but you can still get to the first windows (exactly to the tower’s clock). Half of the windows have metal nets in front of them, the others have bars. The up-leading staircase is steep, but as the tower is not very high, it is not a problem. You can smell gingerbread scent that comes from a nearby restaurant, Olde Hansa.
You can see the writings about the tower’s history. The narrow staircase allows only one guest to go and come. So, getting from one side to the other is not very simple, however the stair bays sometimes give the opportunity to let faster people to pass. The staircase, that leads to the tower, has 115 stairs. The clock balcony is located 34 metres above the ground. .
The Old Thomas
The Old Thomas (Estonian: Vana Toomas) is nowadays one of the most important symbols of Tallinn. The first vane depicting the famous soldier was placed on the top of the town hall in 1530. Arguably, the model for the vane was a peasant. As a young boy, he got famous for winning the crossbow competition held by the Baltic German elite, where colorful wooden parrot placed on the top of a post was shot down. He was the only one to shoot it down after a long competition. As his post-natal status did not actually allow him to compete, he did not get the prize. Instead, thanks to mayor, he received the eternal glory of a city guard. The brave war servant stayed on guard until 1944 when the tower bursted into flames in a bomb attack in March. In 1952, the burned spire was restored and a copy of the Old Thomas was installed. The original, the Old Thomas from 1530 is now in the ancient basement of the town hall. In 1996, the Old Thomas was again replaced, as the one from 1952 was in bad condition. The Old Thomas from 1952 is in Tallinn City Museum.
The tapestries of the town hall
In 1547, the Tallinn town council ordered arrases and bench carpets. The carpets have been knitted of dyed wool with natural textile colors. These were made in the Netherlands in the city of Enghien. The motives of the king Solomon’s story are depicted on tapestries. In every carpet there are three Tallinn’s coats of arms as an identification of the client, the year of the knitting of the carpets (1547) is written above the coat of arms. Since 1937, these carpets belong to the Tallinn City Museum. There are copies in the Tallinn town hall.
The 9-metre original of the Tallinn’s tapestries is kept in the Tallinn City Museum textile warehouse. The carpets, which are five and a half centuries old, are so valuable that it is not allowed to touch them barehand. The copy in the Tallinn town hall’s citizens hall was made in England, Oxford by a company named „Hines of Oxford“ for the 600th bitrthday of the Tallinn’s town hall. The carpet-making was directed by the photos and undfaded woolsamples taken from the back of the carpet.
In the 20th century there were two occasions when Tallinn could’ve lost its valuable tapestries. In 1909, when the city administration had very many Estonians in it despite that Estonia belonged to the Russian empire, it was thought that it would be a good idea to sell the carpets, as there were budget holes to be filled. It was thought that a school or a hospital could be built into the city for the money. Luckily, the community stepped forward. Very many articles were published, even in the newspapers of Riga and Saint Petersburg. So, the carpets were not sold. During the First World War, the famous carpet was taken to Moscow to hide it from the war. It could have stayed there like the assets of the University of Tartu. Luckily, Jaan Poska managed to demand the carpets with other valuables from Russia with the Treaty of Tartu.
Göran Bo Hellers, a professor in the Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden, looked at the tapestry knitted in the Netherlands in 1547 and found that a Medieval political message is hidden it is, a unique Da Vinci code, which invites Tallinn to join Europe. He thinks that the message in the tapestries invites Estonia to a Catholic state and under the central power of Brussels. Five hundred years before that happened, Karl V tried to connect different parts of Europe into a unitary Europe. He tried to become the ruler of the united Europe and the pictures depicted on the tapestries propagate that in 1547. The ancient king Solomon could be the Karl V himself, the emperor of German-Roman Empire. The Netherlands, the country where the carpet was ordered from, belonged to Catholic emperor Karl back then. Tallinn had turned Lutheran during the Reformation. Five and a half centuries later the dream of Karl V has become true. Despite little disagreements, Europe is more unitary than ever and Estonia is again a part of Europe.
The seven colorful tapestries that decorate the main building in Tallinn, were ordered from the Netherlands by the alderman Arent Pakebusch, who had prepaid 150 marka. After finishing the tapestries in 1548, he paid 341,5 marka and 4 killings. Two eight-metres-long tapestries depict Israel’s king and a country gold-coverer Solomon’s stories about his life from the Old Testament.
Five shorter tapestries depict colorful plant ornaments. The tapestries were brought into the parlour of the Town Hall only in very solemn cases. The beautiful tapestry brought the room to life and made the walls, that act as wind baffle plates, warmer. Tallinn Town Hall ordered the medieval tapetries’ copies from an Oxford company Hines of Oxford.
According to the words of Elvira Liiver, it is a miracle that the tapestries have remained until now. In 1909, a city commissioner and a businessman Albert Koba wanted to sell the tapestries and build a school or a hospital from the received money. The tapestries’ war reached from Tallinn’s newspapers’ front pages to the Riga’s and Saint Peterburg's press. By the help of public pressure, the tapestries were not sold. During the First World War, the tapestries traveled in sealed boxes to Moscow and returned home thanks to Jaan Poska with the Treaty of Tartu (Tartu Rahu). The tapestries are the property of the City Museum (Linnamuuseum) since 1937.
The Town Council
The Danish king Erik IV affirmed Lübeck’s city right to Tallinn already in 1248, based on which the Town Council, that started working in the Town Hall, was chosen from Hanseatic merchants. By this step, Tallinn stepped into the European juridical space. The town council worked in the Town Hall until 1970. Until now the building in municipal property functions as a historical representative building.The building, veeb.tallinn.ee, visited July 31, 2013
One of the most important privileges of the free town, was to create a town council/ magistrate. The magistrate’s task was to “observe the town’s benefit and wealth”. Town hall declared the law, made bargains, it had its own stamp; town hall struck the money, appointed people to positions, looked after the discipline and trading in the whole town, disposed the property of the town, conducted town’s security, organized the building of insurance and keeping the military forces, held the court, and looked after completion of judgements.
The Town Council paid attention to citizens' household and appearance and accepted clothing ordinance. In addition, the most important questions were resolved in the Town Council: how many new towers will be built in the town wall, what happens with the thieves that had been caught in the act, how many guests may the merchant invite in the wedding and how many pood’s (Estonian: puuda) of golden jewelry could a jeweler’s wife wear.
The Town Council’s task was to represent town in the international arena – contracts with foreign rulers and cities, taking care of fulfilling the obligations as a member of the Hanseatic League and taking part of the Hanseatic days, holding the trade negotiations, the defence of citizens’ rights abroad, securing town’s justice and discipline and responsibility about town’s defence capacity, accounting town’s real estate, civil charges and collecting the other taxes, partly accounting about churches’ income and expenses etc.
The Town Council kept invoice-, annuities-, land and citizens books, kept up correspondence with the other inland and foreign authorities, examined citizens’ applications and complaints. The town council was thus the highest power of the town.
At first only the aldermen were chosen to be the members of the town council – they were the advisers, who were chosen from the merchants. The number of the aldermen was not permanent, in the end of the 16th century there were 14 of them. Usually the number of the aldermen fluctuated from 19 to 25. Page text.
The aldermen were led by four Burgermeisters. At the latest from the mid-16th century a city lawyer belonged to the town council’s membership. In addition, the employees were in town council service, and they did not belong to the membership of the town council, these were – writer, a servant of the court, caretaker, etc.
The town council held were meetings, that were usually held in the Town Hall, in the writer’s room near the market square (Town Hall square) or in the Pühavaimu church, that was also used for common services. One of the Burgermeister’s, usually the most experienced and the best jurist, was a chairman, who leaded the Town council’s meetings within one year. Taking this great post, the chairman certainly asked the other aldermen, if they accept his candidacy.
The town council operated in two shifts: only half of the council’s members were in post at once, who formed a so-called sitting town council (sitzender Rat). The half that was away from the council, was called an old or a resting town council (German: alter Rat). As initially the alderman post was an honorary post, they had the free year to organize their own life and business. Still the “old town council’s” members took part in very important decision-makings or filled the most important public jobs, ofr example bill accountant (kemmerer, Kämmerer) or a warden of the Pühavaimu’s shelter for lepers.
From the 13th century the chairmen of the meetings were two Burgermeisters, the number of the aldermen fluctuated from 19 to 25. Members of the Town council were only merchants with an irreproachable reputation. Aldermen’s post was lifelong, alderman had to be born from a legal marriage and he had to own the real estate within Tallinn’s borders, but he was not allowed to earn a living with handicraft, i.e. he had to be the merchant.
To avoid the misuse of power, the brothers, father and a son could not be chosen in town council at once; the relatives were not allowed to participate or stay at the elections. The elections were usually fixed on St. Thomas’ Day, on the 20th of December (This might be the reason, why Town Hall’s vane is named the Old Thomas). The doors of the Town Hall were closed and the Burgermeister reported the names of the candidates (two people nominated for each position). Things were decided within a secret voting, the absolute majority of votes was needed. After the elections, doors were opened and the whole Town Council gathered near the open windows of the Town Hall. The chairman reported the names of new aldermen with a loud voice, the citizens who had gathered on the square, welcomed them.
Every free town was allowed to stamp the coins. Coinage took place only when the Town Council ordered so. The town had its own coin craftsman and a coin chamber. In the Middle Ages, the paper money was unknown and only coins were in use. Every coin was worth as much as the metal in it.
The Tallinn town council as a symbol of an independent city
The change of the squire didn’t necessarily bring any important changes for the town council. A separate chapter of the history of the Tallinn’s municipality is the so-called vicegerency time, when the empress Katherine II temporarily replaced the town council as the city administration with the city duma with her city law in 1785 – the so-called charter to cities. The former rights of the town council were restored by emperor Paul I.
A breakthrough in the history of the municipality of Tallinn started in 1877 on the 26th of March, when the general Russian city law of 1870 was validated in the Baltic cities with the ukase of emperor Alexander II. The town council was replaced by an elective council (duma) and the city agency (uprava). The Duma also chose the mayor. The first elections of the Tallinn Duma took place in November 24–25 in 1877. The first meeting of the new duma was on the 22nd of December 1877; Oscar Arthur von Riesemann was chosen to be the first mayor in this meeting. The town council only remained as a judicial authority.
On the 9th of July 1889 the Russian court act of 1864 inured and the Tallinn town council was eliminated. The last festal meeting of the town council was held on in November the 17th in 1889.
The town council is a shorter form of the magistrate. Magistrate was a council that led the independent cities during the Middle Ages. The time of the development of the town council is not known. It could have been in the 1230s, when Danish, German, Scandinavian and Slavic craftsmen and merchants started to gather in the already existing Estonian settlement. The Tallinn town council is mentioned for the first time in the record given by Erik IV given on the 15th of May in 1248, which validated Tallinn’s right to use the Lübeck law. The rights of Lübeck’s citizens were an example. From that time on, the Tallinn’s town council remained the leading institution of almost all of the fields of the city for six and a half centuries.
The victory of such independent cities was an important step at that time, which ment that the city became free from the power of the king and the feudal lords. The feudals thought that the existence of that kind of cities was „breaking the laws of god and humans“. This victory didn’t come easy. The struggle was successful only thanks to the fact that the cities were striving for independence all over Europe.
Each year, the town council extradited its own regulations and orders (bursprake, willküre) supporting on the Lübeck law, which were publicly announced to the citizens. When making more important decisions, the town council had to consider the opinions important guilds, the most powerful was the Great Guild. The fact that both the town council and the Great Guild used the same image on their coat of arms – a white cross on a red background – refers to their close relations. The members of the town council were chosen to a lifelong position, but after a certain amount of time they were allowed to untie themselves from their duties so as to develop their businessses. In the August of 1255, the rights of TallinN were revalidated, a month after the first Codex of Tallinn was put together, which had 99 articles in it. 14 parchment pages have remained from the codex (the 15th is ruined, but the text has copied itself on the clean 16th page).
A regulation by the Tallinn town hall council in 1525, on 22 January
"In the year 1525, on a Sunday after the day of Fabianus and Sebastianus, the honorable town council let everybody and anyone, who were connected to this city, both clergymen and seculars, to strongly ask and announce that if anyone has any property such as gold, money and other valuables, silver forging, odds-and ends, seals, historical records, or any other wealth, that belongs to the Black brother's monastery and has been gotten from the monks in there as a deposit or in any other way or what is kept by self, the honorable town council must know about this at once and it must be given to them. Otherwise everything that is found from anybody or that is arrested, is considered to be stolen and according to this, the hider of this wealth is not left unpunished."
The regulation of the town council cited above contains in a combined manuscript, that's earlier parts have been written in the first years of the 16th century and the later ones in the 50s of the same century. In addition, there can be found the transcripts which original versions originate from the beginning of the 15th century. The basic part volume contains different craftsmen constitutions including different versions about painters, spinners, stonemasons, smiths, goldsmiths, bakers, sadlers, butchers, teamsters, furriers and cobblers constitutions from the 15-16th centuries. In addition to these, there were detected some Town Council regulations from which the most interesting ones are ff.79r-89r provisions from the Reformation time made reorganizations that concern Church Life at the years 1524–1525. Important part of what is known about the Town Hall actions, are connected to the reformation, for example – the new church management, demands to return the church property that was robbed during iconoclasm and in this context also the announcement about the occurrence of iconoclasm of itself generally originates from this archival document.
A regulation in 1525, on 22 January was driven by the fact that dissolution of the Tallinn’s Ministerial Brothers fraternity did not help to get the important part of the fraternity’s property, because Brothers had hidden more valuable moveables and documents, largely near Harju and Viru vassals, but also partly at the houses of citizens. After the dissolution of fraternity in 1525, on the 12th of January, the management of abbey (prior Augustinus Emsinckhoff, lecturer and subprior Thomas de Reken and procurator David Sliper) was taken into custody to force them to reveal the information about the location of abbey’s treasure and privileges. The reports of all three have remained, but are not dated. Judging from the hints that can be found in these letters about the negotiations between the procurator and prior about the issue of treasure, the reports were compiled probably after issuing the Town council regulation.
At the time of issuing the regulation, it was probably known that in the houses of Tallinn’s citizens can be found the property of convention, its exact location was apparently unknown. It cannot be excluded that the Town Hall had fuller details or at least assumptions about some concealer, however unwilling to use the force, firstly they agitated to extradite the property voluntarily. Interesting is the wording of the regulation. Firstly, remarkable is that the regulation does not refer to the citizens or inhabitants, but to everyone connected to the town.
As it was said, the Dominicians did not only place their property at the houses of Tallinn’s inhabitants and the Town Hall could have had the information about it (the penalization of the people living outside of the town was a juridical problem for the Town Hall). Appealing to the clergy as well as to the secular was a formality of the stronghold of the elite in that time, because the prosecution of the clergymen had to be very doubtful for the Town Hall in a Catholic town.
Some expressions that concern the distribution of the Brothers’ property, are with a certain content and refer to the fact that the delivery process took place according to all the moveables deposition rules, cannot be excluded that with a judicial involvement. What were these rules like, is sadly unknown – any medieval Tallinn’s remained act does not describe such a procedure. It is possible, that some more universal civil right was used.
There are no facts about the results of agitation. It can be assumed, that nothing important was achieved – there are no longer inventories about the abbey’s property among the Town Hall’s documents and conventory’s archives time reorganizations need separate investigation. The regulation cited above is only one example of how energetically the secular power intervened into the Church life at the Reformation times.
The Tallinn Town Hall's watch guard
The Tallinn town hall had its own watch guard. The guards kept order in the town, but also observed, whether the enemy was approaching the city or if a fire had broken out, from the tower. When a disaster endangered the city, an alarm was raised on the clock balcony. The author of the alarm clock, which dates back to the year 1586, is the Tallinn artillery craftsman Hinrik Hartmann. There is a writing on the lower edge of the clock: "Au olgu jumalale kõrges. Issanda aastal 1586. Igaüks hoidku oma tuld ja lõket, et sest linnale mingit kahju ei tekiks." The meaning of this is: "Glory to God in the highest. Year 1586 of our lord. Everyone should keep their own fire and bonfire so as not to cause any harm to the city." Until the 20th century, the clapper of the alarm was pulled from the rope every full-time according to the number of hours. From the beginning of the century, the strokes are led by a clock, which is located on the town hall's facade, with the help of an electronical system.
The March bombing of Tallinn in World War II
Tallinn had already experienced several air-raids, but in 1944, 8000 buildings, allegedly a third of the capital of Estonia and about 50% of its housing were destroyed in the bombings of the 9th and the 10th of March. A medieval weighing house along with many other buildings was destroyed by a bomb hit on the Town Hall Square.
The air-raid started unexpectedly in the evening at 19:15 and its first wave lasted until 21:25. At one o'clock at night a second wave of the bombers arrived in the city and the bombs kept on dropping until half past three in the morning. About 280 of the Red Army's bombers took part in both of the air-raids. A massive amount of explosive, incendiary and phosphorus bombs were dropped on the city. The spire of the Tallinn's town hall bursted into flames in the first air-raid.
Read in addition
- Vanalinn (Tallinn's Old town)
- Old Thomas, a weather vane on top of the spire of Tallinn Town Hall
- Town Hall Square, Tallinn
- List of city and town halls
- Architecture of Estonia
- Bombing of Tallinn in World War II
- Lübeck law
- Hanseatic League
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- The official webpage of the Tallinn town hall
- Tourist information about the Tallinn town hall
- Tallinn town hall in Estonica - encyklopedia about Estonia
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