First mentioned in the history books by Roman author Tacitus, Estonia was once dominated by clans led by elders. Yet much of the country’s written history is characterised by foreign domination, beginning with the Vikings who arrived from the mid-9th century.
After the Russians took over Estonia under Peter the Great, Estonia largely followed Russia’s trajectory, including revolution in 1917. Unfortunately, this also meant after a short interwar period of independence, Estonia would become occupied by the USSR in 1940 until the union fell in 1990.
Reflecting this colourful history of Estonia are a range of fantastic historic sites to visit, and among the very best are the Pirita Convent, Toompea Castle and Tallinn City Walls. Check out our guide to the top 5 Estonian cultural places, landmarks and monuments to start exploring.
Pirita Convent was an important 15th century nunnery of the order of St. Bridget and now stands as a picturesque ruin in modern-day Estonia.
At the time it was constructed, the city of Tallinn – where it was based – was already a trading hub and the idea to build Pirita Convent was first mooted by some of its merchants. Yet, it would take several years to begin building the convent.
Pirita Convent would continue orperating for some 150 years, eventually suffering destruction at the hands of Russian forces in 1575.
Toompea Castle in Tallinn is the site of the Estonian Parliament and has been a central administrative and military centre for hundreds of years.
Today, Toompea Castle reflects the numerous phases of its construction, with medieval fortifications blending into latter-period Czarist architechture and the early 20th century parliament building (the Riigikogu).
The Barclay de Tolly Mausoleum is the final resting place of Field Marshal Mikhail Andreas Barclay de Tolly, one of the most talented military commanders in Russian history and a key contributor to Russia’s victory over Napoleon in the 1812 and 1813-15 campaigns.
The site is quiet and peaceful: there are rarely large numbers of visitors, and it’s a nice place to come and reflect.
Toompea Hill in the capital city of Estonia, Tallinn, stands between 20 and 30 metres taller than the city skyline and has risen with the fortunes of the rulers of Estonia.
In folklore the hill is known as the mound over the grave of Kalev – a legendary heroic figure in Finnish and Estonian lore – erected in his memory by his grieving wife.
With almost 2 kilometres of its original city wall and 20 defensive towers wall still standing, Tallinn City Walls are one of Europe’s best preserved medieval fortifications. In fact, what gives Tallinn’s Old Town its fairytale-like charm is the system of 13th century walls and towers that encircle it.
Today, roughly half of the original towers still watch over Old Town, evoking images of heroic armour-clad knights.