Tallinn’s story, written in the sky
The cafe on the tower’s top floor gives great views over Toompea, Tallinn’s upper town. Look across to St Mary’s Cathedral – the oldest church in Tallinn, known to locals simply as the Dome Church because of its curved towers – and the distinctive Alexander Nevesky Russian Orthodox church which dominates Toompea. The latter, built to “Russify” Estonia in the late 1800s, was a symbol of oppression for many years, but plans to destroy it in the 1920s were shelved due to lack of funds. Today it is one of the city’s main tourist sites.
Also in view is Neitsitorn (the Virgin’s Tower), another part of the city wall that has medieval battle scars; it got its name from being used as a prison for prostitutes. Legend has it that the prison was so haunted, terrified prisoners regularly asked to be relocated. Reports of ghosts continue to the present day; the latest relating to a wine-drinking monk who supposedly occupies the cellar.
From the bottom of the Virgin’s Tower, enter the tree lined Danish King’s Garden, from where another tower – with a ghost story attached – can be seen. The quirky, square-shaped Short Leg Gate Tower at the top of Lühike Jalg (or Little Leg street) is supposed to be one of most haunted; regular sightings include a monk (reputedly a former executioner with a guilty conscience) and a floating woman bedecked in medieval dress.
At the other end of the city near the harbour is yet another famous tower, Fat Margaret (Paks Margareeta). With its 5m walls, even thicker than Kiek in der Koek, its name allegedly comes from German sailors who saw it from a distance and named it Dicke Margaret, though other stories suggest it comes from the large cannons used or even a portly chef called Margaret who once cooked for the guards. Since 1981 the tower has contained the Estonian Maritime Museum which details the nation's seafaring past; the roof of the tower, which has 360-degree views of the harbour and city, can be accessed as part of a museum ticket or separately
While the majority of the city’s story-infused high points are in the Old Town, there are a couple worth investigating outside. The huge Hotel Viru, built in 1972 on the eastern fringes of the Old Town, was used in Soviet times as the main hotel for visiting dignitaries or media. They could be spied on during their stay from an “invisible” 23rd floor that didn’t show up in the lift (the display only showed 22 levels) and was only accessible via a plain and permanently locked door that was disguised as a cupboard. Today the former KGB headquarters is a museum containing fascinating stories about the clandestine activities that took place there.
The city’s 314m-high TV tower, Tallinna teletorn, also cannot be overlooked. Built in 1980, it reopened in 2012 after extensive renovations. Though most people visit for the excellent vistas and the gourmet restaurant, the tower was the location of choice for the radio-jamming rebel troops who foiled the Russians when they tried to reoccupy Tallinn in August 1991.