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Tallinn is the capital and largest city of Estoniamarker. It occupies a surface of in which 406,341 inhabitants live. It is situated on the northern coast of the country, on the banks of the Gulf of Finlandmarker, south of Helsinkimarker.


Historical names

In 1154 a town called Qlwn or Qalaven (possible derivations of Kalevan or Kolyvan) was put on the world map of the Almoravid by cartographer Muhammad al-Idrisi who described it as a small town like a large castle among the towns of Astlanda. It has been suggested that the Quwri in Astlanda may have denoted the predecessor town of today's Tallinn.

The earliest names of Tallinn include Kolyvan ( ) known from East Slavic chronicles, the name possibly deriving from the Estonian mythical hero Kalev.

Up to the 13th century the Scandinavians and Henry of Livonia in his chronicle called the town Lindanisa: Lyndanisse in Danish, Lindanäs in Swedish, also mentioned as Ledenets in Old East Slavic. According to some theories the named derived from mythical Linda, the wife of Kalev and the mother of Kalevipoeg. who in an Estonian legend carried rocks to her husband's grave that formed the Toompeamarker hill.

It has been also suggested that in the context the meaning of linda in the archaic Estonian language, that is similar to lidna in Votic, had the same meaning as linna or linn later on meaning a castle or town in English. According to the suggestion nisa would have had the same meaning as niemi (meaning peninsula in English) in an old Finnish form of the name Kesoniemi.

Other than Kesoniemi known ancient historical names of Tallinn in Finnish include Rääveli.

After the Danish conquest in 1219 the town became known in the German, Swedish and Danish languages as Reval ( ). The name originated from (Latin) Revelia (Estonian) Revala or Rävala, the adjacent ancient name of the surrounding Estonian county.

Modern name

The origin of the name "Tallinn(a)" is certain to be Estonian, although the original meaning of the name is debated. It is usually thought to be derived from "Taani-linn(a)" (meaning "Danishmarker-castle/town"; Latin: Castrum Danorummarker) after the Danes built the castle in place of the Estonian stronghold at Lindanisse. However, it could also have come from "tali-linna" ("winter-castle/town"), or "talu-linna" ("house/farmstead-castle/town"). The element -linna, like Germanic -burg and Slavic -grad / -gorod, originally meant "fortress" but is used as a suffix in the formation of town names.

The previously used official German name ( ) was replaced after Estonia became independent in 1918–1920. At first both forms Tallinna and Tallinn were used. The United States Board on Geographic Names adopted the form Tallinn between June 1923 and June 1927. The form Tallinna appearing in modern times in Estonian denotes the genitive case of the name, as in Tallinna Reisisadam (Port of Tallinn).

Other variations of modern spellings include Tallinna in Finnish language and Та́ллин in Russian.

A form Tallin deriving from the Romanization of Russian spelling of the name Та́ллин was also used internationally during the era Estonia was annexed by the Soviet Union.


Seal of Tallinn, 1340

The first traces of human settlement found in Tallinn's city center by archeologists are about 5000 years old. The comb ceramic pottery found on the site dates to about 3000 BC and corded ware pottery c. 2500 BC.

In 1050 the first fortress was built on Tallinn Toompeamarker.

As an important port for trade between Russiamarker and Scandinavia, it became a target for the expansion of the Teutonic Knights and the Kingdom of Denmarkmarker during the period of Northern Crusades in the beginning of the 13th century when Christianity was forcibly imposed on the local population. Danish rule of Tallinn and Northern Estonia started in 1219.

In 1285 the city became the northernmost member of the Hanseatic League – a mercantile and military alliance of German-dominated cities in Northern Europe. The Danes sold Tallinn along with their other land possessions in northern Estonia to the Teutonic Knights in 1346. Medieval Tallinn enjoyed a strategic position at the crossroads of trade between Western and Northern Europe and Russia. The city, with a population of 8,000, was very well fortified with city walls and 66 defence towers.

A weather vane, the figure of an old warrior called Old Thomas, was put on top of the spire of the Tallinn's Town Hall in 1530 that became the symbol for the city.

With the start of the Protestant Reformation the German influence became even stronger as the city was converted to Lutheranism. In 1561 Tallinn politically became a dominion of Swedenmarker.

During the Great Northern War the Swedish troops based in Tallinn capitulated to Imperial Russiamarker in 1710, but the local self-government institutions (Magistracy of Reval and Chivalry of Estonia) retained their cultural and economical autonomy within Imperial Russia as the Duchy of Estonia. The Magistracy of Reval was abolished in 1889. The 19th century brought industrialization of the city and the port kept its importance. During the last decades of the century Russification measures became stronger.

On 24 February 1918, the Independence Manifesto was proclaimed in Tallinn, followed by Imperial Germanmarker occupation and a war of independence with Russia. On 2 February 1920, the Tartu Peace Treaty was signed with Soviet Russia, wherein Russia acknowledged the independence of the Estonian Republic. Tallinn became the capital of an independent Estonia. After World War II started, Estonia was occupied by the Soviet Unionmarker (USSR) in 1940, and later occupied by Nazi Germany from 1941–44. After Nazi retreat in 1944, it was occupied by the USSR again. After annexation into the Soviet Union, Tallinn became the capital of the Estonian SSRmarker.

During the 1980 Summer Olympics, the sailing, then known as yachting events were held at Pirita, north-east of central Tallinn. Many buildings, like the hotel "Olümpia", the new Main Post Office building, and the Regatta Center, were built for the Olympics.

In August 1991 an independent democratic Estonian state was re-established and a period of quick development to a modern European capital ensued. Tallinn became the capital of a de facto independent country once again on August 20, 1991.

Tallinn has historically consisted of three parts:

  • The Toompeamarker (Domberg) or "Cathedral Hill", which was the seat of the central authority: first the Danish captains, then the komturs of the Teutonic Order, and Swedish and Russian governors. It was until 1877 a separate town (Dom zu Reval), the residence of the aristocracy; it is today the seat of the Estonian government and many embassies and residencies.
  • The Old Town, which is the old Hanseatic town, the "city of the citizens", was not administratively united with Cathedral Hill until the late 19th century. It was the centre of the medieval trade on which it grew prosperous.
  • The Estonian town forms a crescent to the south of the Old Town, where the Estonians came to settle. It was not until the mid-19th century that ethnic Estonians replaced the local Baltic Germans as the majority amongst the residents of Tallinn.

Historically, the city has been attacked, sacked, razed and pillaged on numerous occasions. Although extensively bombed by Soviet air forces during the latter stages of World War II, much of the medieval Old Town still retains its charm. The Tallinn Old Town (including Toompea) became a UNESCOmarker World Cultural Heritage site in 1997.

At the end of the 15th century a new 159 m high Gothic spire was built for St. Olaf's Churchmarker. Between 1549 and 1625 it was the tallest church in the world. After several fires and following rebuilding, its overall height is now 123 m.


Tallinn is situated on the southern coast of the Gulf of Finlandmarker, in north-western Estonia.

The largest lake in Tallinn is Lake Ülemistemarker (covers 9.6 km²). It is the main source of the city's drinking water. Lake Harkumarker is the second largest lake within the borders of Tallinn and its area is 1.6 km². Unlike many other large towns, the only significant river in Tallinn is Pirita Rivermarker (a city district counted as a suburb). The river valley is a protected area because of its natural beauty. Historically, the small Härjapea River flew from Lake Ülemiste through the town into the sea, but the river was diverted into sewage in 1930s and has since completely disappeared from the cityscape.

A limestone cliff runs through the city. It is exposed, for instance, at Toompeamarker and Lasnamäe. However, Toompea is not a part of the cliff, but a separate hill.

The highest point of Tallinn, at 64 meters above the sea level, is situated in the district of Nõmmemarker, in the south-west of the city.

The length of the coastline is 46 kilometres. It comprises 3 bigger peninsulas: Kopli peninsula, Paljassaare peninsula and Kakumäe peninsula.

Administrative districts

District Area Population
1. Haaberstimarker 18.6 km² 35,000
2. Kesklinnmarker 28.0 km² 34,985
3. Kristiinemarker 9.4 km² 27,531
4. Lasnamäemarker 30.0 km² 108,644
5. Mustamäemarker 8.0 km² 62,219
6. Nõmmemarker 28.0 km² 35,043
7. Piritamarker 18.7 km² 8,507
8. Põhja-Tallinnmarker 17.3 km² 52,573
For local government purposes, Tallinn is subdivided into 8 administrative districts ( , singular linnaosa). The district governments are city institutions that fulfill, in the territory of their district, the functions assigned to them by Tallinn legislation and statutes.

Each district government is managed by an Elder ( ). He or she is appointed by the City Government on the nomination of the Mayor and after having heard the opinion of the Administrative Councils. The function of the Administrative Councils is to recommend, to the City Government and Commissions of the City Council, how the districts should be administered.


Ethnic composition (2009)
Nationality Percentage
Estonians 52.2%
Russians 38.6%
Ukrainians 3.8%
Belorussians 2.1%
Finns 0.6%
Others 2.7%
The registered population of Tallinn is 406,341 (as of November 1, 2009).

According to Eurostat, in 2004 Tallinn had the largest number of non-EU nationals of all EU member states' capital cities. As of 2009 around 22% of its population are not EU citizens.

In addition to the native Estonian language (which is of the Finno-Ugric group, closely related to the Finnish language), Russian, Finnish and English are widely understood in Tallinn.
Population development
Year 1372 1772 1816 1834 1851 1881 1897 1925 1959 1989 1996 2000 2005 2006 2007
Population 3,250 6,954 12,000 15,300 24,000 45,900 58,800 119,800 283,071 478,974 427,500 400,378 401,694 399,108 400,911


In addition to longtime functions as seaport and capital city, Tallinn has seen development of an information technology sector in recent years; in its 13 December 2005, edition, The New York Times characterized Estonia as "a sort of Silicon Valleymarker on the Baltic Sea." One of Tallinn's sister cities is the Silicon Valley town of Los Gatos, Californiamarker. Skype is one of the best-known of several Tallinn IT start-ups, and a first venture capital firm was founded in 2005. Many are housed in the Soviet-era Institute of Cybernetics, which is said to be one of the seeds for Estonian adoption of computing technology. Despite this, the most important economic sectors of Tallinn are the light, textile, and food industry, as well as the service and government sector. There is a small fleet of ocean going-trawlers that operate out of Tallinn.


Tallinn is the location of many institutions of higher education and science, including:


Since independence, improving air and sea transport links with Western Europe and Estonia's accession to the European Union have made Tallinn easily accessible to tourists.

Estonia has made rapid economic progress since independence and this is reflected in local prices. Although not extortionate, neither are prices as cheap as in other former Eastern Bloc countries.

St. Catherine's Passage

The main attractions are in the two old towns (Lower Town and Toompeamarker) which are both easily explored on foot. Eastern districts around Piritamarker and Kadriorg are also worth visiting and the Estonian Open Air Museum (Eesti Vabaõhumuuseum) near Rocca al Mare, west of the city, preserves aspects of Estonian rural culture and architecture.

Toompea – Upper Town

This area was once a separate town (Dom zu Reval), the residence of the Chivalry of Estonia, Roman Catholic bishops of Tallinn (until 1561) and Lutheran superintendents of Estonia, occupying an easily defensible site overlooking the surrounding districts. The major attractions are the walls and various bastions of Castrum Danorummarker, the Russian Orthodox Alexander Nevsky Cathedralmarker (built during the period of Russian Empiremarker, the church was built on a site that formerly housed a statue of Martin Luther) and the Lutheran Cathedral (Toomkirik) and the old Estonian Royal Palace now the Parliament building.

All-Linn – Lower Town

Viru Gate, entrance to the Old Town.
One of two remaining towers that were once part of a larger gate system built in the 14th century

Part of Lower Town city wall
This area is one of the best preserved old towns in Europe and the authorities are continuing its rehabilitation. Major sights include Raekoja plats (Town Hall square), the town walls and towers (notably "Fat Margaret" and "Kiek in de Kökmarker") and St Olaf churchmarker tower (124 m).


Kadriorg Palace
This is 2 kilometres east of the centre and is served by buses and trams. The former palace of Peter the Great, built just after the Great Northern War, now houses (part of) the Art Museum of Estonia, presidential residence and the surrounding grounds include formal gardens and woodland. Restored 2001–2004 with a large donation from the Swedish Government

The new residence of the Art Museum of Estonia: KUMUmarker (Kunstimuuseum, Art Museum) was built several years ago.


This coastal district is a further 2 kilometres north-east of Kadriorg. The marina was built for the Moscow Olympics of 1980, and boats can be hired on the Pirita river. Two kilometres inland are the Botanic Gardens and the Tallinn television towermarker.


The port of Tallinn, seen from the tower of the St. Olaf's Church

City transport

The city operates a system of bus (62 lines), tram (4 lines) and trolley-bus (8 lines) routes to all districts. A flat-fare system is used. Payment is made either by pre-purchase of tickets at street-side kiosks or by a purchase from the transport vehicle.


The Lennart Meri Tallinn Airportmarker is about four kilometres from Raekoja plats (Town Hall square). There is a local bus connection between the airport and the edge of the city centre (bus no. 2). The nearest railway station Ülemistemarker is only 1.5 km from the airport.

The construction of the new section of the airport began in 2007 and was finished in summer 2008.

There has been a helicopter service to and from Helsinki operated by Copterlinemarker and taking 18 minutes to cross the Gulf of Finland. The Copterline Tallinn terminalmarker is located adjacent to Linnahallmarker, five minutes from the city center. After a crash near Tallinnmarker in August 2005, service was suspended but restarted in 2008 with a new fleet. The operator cancelled it again in December 2008, on grounds of unprofitability.

Rail and road

The Edelaraudteemarker railway company operates train services from Tallinn to Tartumarker, Valgamarker, Türi, Viljandimarker, Tapamarker, Narvamarker, Oravamarker, and Pärnumarker. Buses are also available to all these and various other destinations in Estonia, as well as to Saint Petersburgmarker in Russiamarker and Rigamarker in Latviamarker. The Go Railmarker company operates a daily international sleeper train service between Tallinn-Moscowmarker.

Tallinn also has a commuter rail service running from Tallinn's main rail stationmarker in two main directions: east (Aegviidumarker) and to several western destinations (Pääsküla, Keilamarker, Riisiperemarker, Paldiskimarker, Kloogamarker and Kloogaranna). These are electrified lines and are used by the Elektriraudteemarker railroad company. The trains are a mixture of modernised older Soviet EMU's and newly built units. The first electrified train service in Tallinn was opened in 1924 from Tallinn to Pääsküla, a distance of 11.2 kilometres.

The Rail Baltica project, which will link Tallinn with Warsaw via Latvia and Lithuania, will connect Tallinn with the rest of the European rail network. A tunnel has been proposed between Tallinn and Helsinki, though it remains at a planning phase.

The Via Baltica motorway (part of European route E67 from Helsinkimarker to Praguemarker) connects Tallinn to the Lithuanianmarker/Polishmarker border through Latviamarker.

Frequent and affordable long-distance bus routes connect Tallinn with other parts of Estonia.


See also: Ports of the Baltic Sea
Several ferry operators, Viking Line, Linda Line Express, Tallinkmarker and Eckerö Line, connect Tallinn to

The most popular passenger lines connect Tallinn to Helsinkimarker (83 kilometres north of Tallinn) in approximately 90 minutes by fast ferries or 2–3.5 hours by cruiseferries.

Former ferry operators SuperSeaCat and "Nordic Jet Line" declared bankruptcy in October 2008.

International relations

Twin towns – sister cities

Tallinn participates in international town twinning schemes to foster good international relations. Partners include:

See also

References and notes

External links

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