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For the French captain, see Jean-François Tartu

Tartu is the second largest city of Estoniamarker. In contrast to Estonia's political and financial capital Tallinnmarker, Tartu is often considered the intellectual and cultural hub, especially since it is home to Estonia's oldest and most renowned universitymarker. Situated 186 km southeast of Tallinn, the city is the centre of southern Estonia. The Emajõgimarker river, which connects the two largest lakes of Estonia, crosses Tartu. The city is served by Tartu Airportmarker.

Historical names of the town include Tarbatu, an Estonian fortress founded in the 5th century, Yuryev ( ) named c. 1030 by Yaroslav I the Wise, and Dorpat as first known by the German crusaders in the 13 century.

Historical names

As Tartu has been under control of various rulers throughout its history, there are various names for the city in different languages. Most of them derive from the earliest attested form, the Estonian Tarbatu. In German, Swedish and Polish the town has been and is sometimes still is known as , a variant of Tarbatu. In Russian, the city has been known as Юрьев (Yuryev) after Yaroslav I the Wise and Дерпт (Derpt), a variant of Dorpat (however, since 1917 the Estonian name Tartu is used). Similarly, the city has been known as Tērbata in Latvian.



Archaeological evidence of the first permanent settlement on the site of modern Tartu dates to as early as the 5th century AD. By the 7th century, local inhabitants had built a wooden fortification on the east side of Toome Hill (Toomemägi).

The first documented record of the area was made in 1030 by chroniclers of Kievan Rus. Yaroslav I the Wise, Prince of Kievmarker, raided Tartu that year, built his own fort there, and named it Yuryev (literally "Yury's" – Yury being Yaroslav's Christian name). Kievan rulers then collected tribute from the surrounding ancient Estonian county of Ugaunia, possibly until 1061, when, according to chronicles, Yuryev was burned down by another tribe of Chudes (Sosols). Russians again held Tartu from 1133 to 1176/1177. In the 12th century it was the biggest Russian settlement in Chud territory.

Germans in Dorpat (Tartu)

Rüütli street in historical midtown Tartu.
During the period of Northern crusades in the beginning of the 13th century the fort of Tarbatu (or Tharbata, Tartu) was captured by the crusading Livonian Knights and recaptured by Estonians on several occasions. In 1224, after additional troops lead by prince Vyachko of Kukenoismarker had been installed in the fort, it was besieged and conquered for one last time by the German crusaders. Subsequently known as Dorpat (Tarbatum), Tartu became a commercial centre of considerable importance during the later Middle Ages and the capital of the semi-independent Bishopric of Dorpatmarker.

In 1262 the army of Prince Dmitri of Pereslavl, son of Alexander Nevsky launched an assault on Dorpat, capturing and destroying the town. His troops did not manage to capture the bishop’s fortress on Toome Hill. The event was recorded both in German and Old East Slavic chronicles, which also provided the first record of a settlement of German merchants and artisans which had arisen alongside the bishop’s fortress.

In the 1280s Dorpat joined the Hanseatic League. In medieval times Tartu was an important trading city. As in all of Estonia and Latvia, the largely German-speaking nobility, but in Tartu/Dorpat (as in Tallinn) even more so, the Baltic German bourgeoisie, the literati, dominated culture, religion, architecture, education, and politics until the late 19th century. For example, the town hall of Dorpat was designed by an architect from Rostockmarker in Mecklenburg, while the university buildings were designed by Johann Wilhelm Krause, another German. Many, if not most, of the students, and more than 90% of the faculty members were of German heritage, and numerous statues of notable scientists with German names can still be found in the city today. Most Germans left during the first half of the 20th century.

Polish-Lithuanian and Swedish rule

During the Livonian War in the 16th century, southern parts of the Livonian Confederation and Tartu fell under rule of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania,later the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth within the Dorpat Voivodeship of the Duchy of Livoniamarker. A Jesuit grammar school was established in 1583. In addition, a translators' seminary was organized in Tartu and the city received its red and white flag from the Polish king Stephen Bathory.

The activities of both the grammar school and the seminary were stopped by the Polish-Swedish War (1601). Tartu then became Swedish in 1629, which led to the foundation of the university in 1632 by King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden.

Imperial Russia

Tartu town hall, built in 1789.

With the Treaty of Nystad in 1721, the city became part of the Russian Empiremarker and was known as Derpt. Due to fires in the 18th century which destroyed much of the medieval architecture, the city was rebuilt along Late Baroque and Neoclassical lines. During the second half of the 19th century, Tartu was the cultural center for Estonians in the era of Romantic nationalism. The city hosted Estonia's first song festival in 1869, as well as the Vanemuine, the first national theatre, in 1870. It was also the setting for the foundation of the Society of Estonian Writers in 1872.

In 1893, the city was officially retitled to the ancient Russian name Yuryev. The university was subsequently russified from 1895 on with the introduction of compulsory Russian in teaching. The Russian imperial university was relocated to Voronezhmarker in 1918, but the Estonian University of Tartu opened in 1919.

With Estonian independence after World War I, the city officially became known by the Estonian name Tartu.

Soviet influence

At the end of Estonian War of Independence following World War I, a peace treaty between the Bolsheviks and Estonia was signed on 2 February 1920 in Tartu. The treaty meant that Bolshevist Russia renounced territorial claims to Estonia "for all time." However, as a result of the Nazi-Soviet Pact of 1939, the Soviet Unionmarker occupied Estonia and Tartu in 1940.

During World War II, a large part of the city as well as the historical Kivisild (Stone Bridge) (built by Catherine II of Russia in 1776–1778) over the Emajõgi were destroyed by the fighting Red Army, partly in 1941 and almost completely in 1944.

After the war, Tartu was declared a "closed town" to foreigners, as an air base for bombers was constructed on Raadi Airfieldmarker, in the northeast outskirts of the city. The asphalt runway there now houses a large used cars market, and is sometimes used for automotive racing.

During Soviet times the population of Tartu almost doubled from 57,000 to 100,000, in large part due to mass immigration from other areas of the Soviet Union.


Since Estonia regained its independence in 1991, the old town centre is being renovated.


Tartu lies within the temperate humid continental climate zone. The climate is rather mild considering the high latitude, largely due to the proximity of the Baltic Sea and warm airflows from the Atlantic. Nevertheless, continental influence can be felt on hot summer days and cold spells in winter, when temperature can occasionally (but rarely) drop below −30 °C. Generally, summers are cool to warm and winters are cold, although very mild and rainy in recent years.


Emajõe Centre commercial building.
There are 49 members on the town council, elected by residents every four years using a proportional system of representation.

The executive branch of the town government consists of a mayor and five deputy mayors. The current mayor is Urmas Kruuse. Andrus Ansip, the current Prime Minister of Estonia, was mayor for many years. Both Ansip and Kruuse are members of the Estonian Reform Party, which has dominated in Tartu in recent times.


According to the Statistics Estonia, Tartu's population comprised the following self-reported ethnic groups as of 2008:

Nationality Number Percentage
Total 102,414 100%
Estonians 82,268 80.3%
Russians 15,998 15.6%
Ukrainians 1,214 1.2%
Finns 1,084 1.1%
Belorussians 491 0.5%
Jews 141 0.1%
Poles 140 0.1%
Germans 124 0.1%
Latvians 109 0.1%
Lithuanians 91 0.1%
Tatars 81 0.1%
Others 673 0.7%

Tartu's historic population is presented in the following table, based on data from official censuses since 1881 and Estonian Statistical Office:
Population of Tartu (in thousands) from 1990–2009.
Data by "Statistics Estonia".

Year Population
1881 29,974
1897 42,308
1922 50,342
1934 58,876
1959 74,263
1970 90,459
1979 104,381
1989 113,320
1995 104,874
2000 101,241
2005 101,483
2006 101,740
2007 101,965


Mostly known as a university town, Tartu is also a site of heavy industry. In the beginning of the 21st century, many ICT enterprises and other high-tech companies have taken a foothold in Tartu. Notable examples include Playtech Estonia, Webmedia and Raintree Estonia. Skype has an office in Tartu. The university is one of the largest employers, which explains the large proportion of highly skilled professionals – researchers, professors, doctors.

Education and culture

The city is best known for being home to the University of Tartumarker, founded under King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden in 1632. Mainly for this reason, Tartu is also – tongue-in-cheek – known as "Athensmarker of the Emajõgi" or as "Heidelbergmarker of the North".

Tartu is also the seat of the Estonian University of Life Sciencesmarker, the Baltic Defence Collegemarker, Estonian Aviation Academy (formerly known as Tartu Aviation College), and the Estonian Ministry of Education and Research. Other notable institutions include the Estonian Supreme Court (re-established in Tartu in autumn 1993), the Estonian Historical Archives and Estonian national theatre Vanemuinemarker.

Main sights

St. John's Church
The architecture and city planning of historical Tartu mainly go back to the pre-independence period, with Germans forming the upper and middle classes of society, and therefore contributing many architects, professors and local politicians.

St. John's Church interior
Most notable are the old Lutheran St. John's Church ( , ), the 18th-century town hall, the university building, ruins of the 13th-century cathedralmarker, the botanical gardens, the main shopping street, many buildings around the town hall square and Barclay Square.

The historical slum area called Supilinn (Soup Town) is located on the bank of river Emajõgi, near the town centre and is regarded as one of the few surviving "poor" neighbourhoods of 19th century Europe. At the moment Supilinn is being rapidly renovated, undergoing a slow transformation from the historic slum into a prestigious high-class neighborhood. The active community embodied by the Supilinn Society is committed to preserving the heritage.

The Second World War destroyed large parts of the city centre and during the Soviet occupation many new buildings were erected – notably the new Vanemuine Theater. The effects of the war are still witnessed by the relative abundance of parks and greenery in the historic centre. In the suburbs, classic Soviet neighbourhoods – blocks of high-rise flats – were built during the period between WW2 and restoration of Estonian independence in 1991.

Presently, Tartu is also known for several modern, rather sterile-looking buildings of the "steel, concrete and glass" variation, but has managed to retain a healty mix of old and new buildings in the centre of town.

Tartu's large student population means that it has a comparatively thriving nightlife, with many bars, restaurants, and nightclubs.

Annually, in the summer, Tartu hosts the Hansa Days Festival ( ) to celebrate the Hanseatic heritage under the motto "History lives" when the old town bustles with activity from handicraft markets and historic workshops to a jousting tournament.

International relations

Twin towns — Sister cities

Tartu is twinned with:


File:Tartu Ülikool.jpg|Tartu University main buildingFile:Tartu, botanická zahrada.jpeg|Botanical GardensFile:Turuhoone_night_2008.JPG|Historical market buildingFile:Tartu_Cathedral_Ruins_3.JPG|Cathedral ruins

File:Town_Hall23_2008.JPG|Town Hall in autumnFile:Engelsbrücke Dämmerung.JPG|Angel's Bridge at dusk in winterFile:Suudlevad-tudengid.jpg|The Kissing Students sculptureFile:Wifi accesspoint in tartu estonia.jpg|In front of the University Cafe

File:Hanseatic Days of Tartu 2007 Estonia2.JPG|Hanseatic Days celebrationFile:Barclay square 2007.jpg|Barclay SquareFile:Tartu 1866.jpg|Tartu in 1866

See also


  1. In the fifth century they (Estonians) built the first fortress at Tarbatu – from which both the modern Estonian name of Tartu and the Germanic name of Dorpat derive:
  2. Statistics Estonia: General Data for 1881, 1897, 1922, 1934, 1959, 1970, 1979, 1989 Censuses
  3. Statistics Estonia: Population by Gender, Age Group and County

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