Posted by: travelrat | January 16, 2013

Tallinn

Tallinn 4

Tallinn: 27th November 2012.

When we heard that one of the ports of call on our Baltic cruise would be Tallinn, the capital of Estonia. I reviewed what I knew about the place. Would there be enough for an article? Or, at least, a blog post? I quickly realised that my knowledge of the place could be summed up in a 140-character tweet on Twitter! Time to hit the books!

Among the many suggested derivations of its name ‘The Castle of the Danes’ seems likeliest, for the Danes, under King Waldemar II, invaded the strategically important fortress, then known as Lyndenisse, in 1219. They laid siege to the town, and were just about on the point of giving up, when a flag, a white cross on a red background, seemingly fell from the sky, encouraging the Danes to renew their efforts, and emerge victorious.

The Danes adopted this as their national flag, the Dannebrog, which they claim to be the oldest unchanged national flag in the world. (Actually, Scotland could give them an argument about that!)

If you walk around Tallinn today, you’ll see several old buildings with the same white cross on a red background, But, this is not the Danish flag, but the city arms of Tallinn. So, is it possible that the original flag didn’t ‘fall from the sky’, but broke loose from a flagpole in the city and blew over the Danish lines?

From the late 13th Century, the city was a member of the Hanseatic League, an influential trading and military alliance between countries of Northern Europe, dominated by Germany. A mediaeval forerunner of the EU, if you like. Although Estonia was nominally independent, Sweden, Imperial Russia, Imperial Germany and Soviet Russia all claimed sovereignty at some stage.

So, the city was heavily fortified, and some of the city walls, and some of its defensive towers are still intact. It was because of this, although many battles were fought here as the city changed hands, a lot of the Old Town has been preserved and, in 1997, it was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Visitors like to wander around the mediaeval streets of the Old Town, of which the citizens of Tallinn are rightly proud. And, there are other things beside. It struck me that, however long you spend there, it won’t be long enough.

Not the Danish flag!

Not the Danish flag!

 

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