By Peter Fisher, YCAA (Class of 1972-73)
On the last day of our visit, we met up at Hobujaama, jumped onto one of Tallinn’s excellent new trams and headed east to the residential suburb and park of Kadriorg, where we were met by our guide, Markus, a student at the Estonian Academy of Arts. This consists largely of timber buildings, in various stages of dilapidation or repair. It was originally built as a middle-class development but during the post-war Soviet period, the previous owners were dispossessed and the houses subdivided to house an influx of predominantly Russian immigrants, who were later to be housed in large ‘Plattenbau’-type housing schemes on the city’s periphery. With the reestablishment of the Estonian Republic in 1991, the area began to be rehabilitated and restored, but this has been somewhat impeded by ownership problems.
Kadriorg means Catherine’s Valley and the park was laid out in the early C18 by Peter the Great in honour of his wife Catherine I. Its centrepiece is the colourful baroque Kadriorg Palace, reminiscent of the Hermitage in St Petersburg, though on a much smaller scale, which gives it a slightly ‘doll’s house’ character. Today it is the Kadriorg Art Museum, housing a collection of mainly foreign art. We also saw the Presidential Palace, dating from 1938 and now again in the use for which it was built, complete with a ceremonial military guard. We then walked on through the park to view the very impressive Kumu [Kunstimuuseum] building, a spectacular modern structure, cleverly integrated into the park landscape and containing predominantly Estonian art. Unfortunately, being Monday, it was closed but we were able to enjoy much-needed refreshments in the café before heading back to the tram terminus and the centre of Tallinn.
We next visited the newly renovated building that houses the Estonian Academy of Arts, situated to the north-west of the Old Town on the edge of the Kalamaja district. Originally built as a stocking factory, its Jewish owner was dispossessed during the occupation by the Nazis, and deported to his death. The building has an interesting triangular plan which makes for interesting interior spaces. We were shown round the various conservation departments, though things were in a state of some confusion as the staff had only just moved in, and then enjoyed lunch in the staff canteen.
After lunch we walked through Kalamaja, a slightly Bohemian, mixed-use area, heading towards the Seaplane Harbour. This consists of a now largely disused Tsarist fortress and prison (Patarei) and the Seaplane Harbour itself. Both were built as a forward defensive base to protect St Petersburg from maritime invasion via the Gulf of Finland. The Seaplane Harbour is a truly impressive piece of C20 architecture, having much in common with the (sadly demolished) Brynmawr Rubber Factory in South Wales. Arches around all four sides support three massive concrete domes which, at their apex, are only a few centimetres thick. Many of the mainly nautical exhibits are displayed suspended from the roof in a manner reminiscent of Foster’s Duxford Air Museum. Unfortunately, the seaplane which gives the museum its name is a reproduction, but there is also a 1930s Estonian submarine and, moored outside on the shore of Tallinn Bay, an icebreaker, both of which can be fully explored.
I found it extremely interesting to visit a country which, over the course of a century, has gone from being part of the Tsarist Russian empire, to independent republic, to Soviet Russian occupation, to Nazi German occupation, to a second Soviet occupation and once more to an independent republic and member of the European Union, and to gain some slight insight as to how politics, ethnicity and nationalism have influenced architecture and conservation. Estexit anyone? I don’t think so!
Finally, I should like to express my great gratitude to Jaanika for arranging this study tour. Only she, as an Estonian, had the knowledge and the contacts to arrange such a fascinating visit. It could not have happened without her.
The YCAA would like to thank the numerous ‘hosts’ who gave up their time to show YCAA alumni around Tallinn, alumni who attended the study trip – and in the case of Jaanika, Peter and Keith, provided these write-ups of their visit) – and especially Jaanika Reinvald-Colley, who organised and facilitated the visit.