In the Fall of 2018 I traveled to Iceland with a friend and we explored the southern part of the island. While we were at one of the waterfalls a young lady asked me if I would take her picture in front of the falls. I took a few of her, we chatted for a little while and then parted ways. Later that evening while back at our house in Iceland I decided to scroll through Instagram to get ideas for our next days shoot. As I was scrolling I saw the image I took of the young lady. I commented on the photo letting her know I was the one who took the image. @Sunshinetravelr and I connected and I began following her travels. Towards the end of Jan 2019 she began posting all these amazing images of this old Medieval town. It had beautiful cobblestone streets, quaint alleyways and side streets as well as an “Old Town” I asked her where she was and where all the people were. She told me, “Tallinn, Estonia”. This place was unlike any place I had ever seen before and I knew I had to go see this place for myself.
Because she was posting images that did not have any or many people in them I knew this was the same time I would like to go. Low Season when tourism numbers are scarce. I kept searching online and reading more and more about Tallinn and it just kept sounding more and more interesting to me so in June 2019 I asked a friend if he wanted to go with me and we booked our trip for Jan 2020. We ended up going for 8 days and that gave us plenty of time to see all the things we wanted to see. We did a little traveling outside the city as well to some old ruins, waterfalls and we did a day trip to Helsinki Finland.
The “Old Town” part of Tallinn is an old walled city. Tallinn is the best preserved medieval city in Northern Europe. It boasts Gothic Spires, winding cobblestone streets and amazing architecture. The 13th century city is so well preserved that it became an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. The City of Tallinn celebrated its 800th year in 2019. From Wikipedia – Tallinn, first mentioned in 1219, received city rights in 1248, but the earliest human settlements date back 5,000 years. The first recorded claim over the land was laid by Denmark in 1219, after a successful raid of Lyndanisse led by king Valdemar II, followed by a period of alternating Scandinavian and Teutonic rulers. Due to its strategic location, the city became a major trade hub, especially from the 14th to the 16th century, when it grew in importance as part of the Hanseatic League.
The Viru Gates were part of the 14th century defense system. The gates are now a historical landmark and are the entrance to one of the busiest streets in Tallinn. You can’t see anyone here in this image even though there were hundreds of people. I used a super long exposure to make the people disappear.
“House of Blackheads” – The name doesn’t sound to great but this is really what it is… Tallinn is pretty well known for it’s doors. In fact their doors on their buildings are so old and unique that there are people who make projects out of photographing/painting each one. This is probably the most famous.
The following is from Wikipedia – House of the Brotherhood of Black Heads, in Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, is a former headquarters of the Brotherhood of Blackheads. Historically this was a professional association of ship owners, merchants and foreigners dating from the 14th century. They were active in Livonia (present-day Estonia and Latvia) but fled to Germany during the Soviet occupation of the Baltic States in 1940. The House of the Blackheads was visited by several Russian Emperors including Peter I, Paul I and Alexander I who also became honorable members the Brotherhood.
The building was acquired by this organization in 1517. In 1597 it was renovated under supervision of the architect Arent Passer. The façade was rebuilt in the style of Renaissance architecture from the Low Countries. The painted doors date from the 1640s. A Maure, a symbol of Saint Maurice, the patron saint of the Brotherhood, appears both carved in wood and sculpted in stone above the door.
The House of the Brotherhood of Black Heads today comprises three separate buildings, and has four halls and several other rooms which are used for a variety of events. The White Hall was built in 1531-32, but was remodelled during reconstruction work between 1909 and 1911. St. Olaf’s Guild Hall, whose interior architecture comes from the early 15th century, was purchased by the Blackheads in 1919 and was remodeled between 1919 and 1922.
The town square is the most popular part of Tallinn. Each year it hosts a massive Christmas market (google it for amazing images). We arrived after Christmas and missed the market but the tree was still up. I’m not sure when the tree is taken down or who is responsible for that task. Being there at the end of January and seeing the tree still up with no lights was a little odd to me. Nonetheless, we enjoyed it just the same. If you look at the small puddle in the street on the top image you will see that that is where I took the 2nd image from. Just getting down lower with a wide angle lens allowed me to capture this beautiful reflection of the sunset. There are many streets that lead to and from the town square so it’s easy to find compelling compositions for photography.
On the second to last day of our trip the clouds broke and allowed some nice blue sky to come through. We took full advantage and explored the city with our big cameras. Yes, there were some days we only took our phones because of the rain. On the day we visited Helsinki, Finland it was a downpour so we decided not to worry about lugging the big cameras and only took our phones..Even then, we didn’t take too many images because of the weather. These views from the Hellemann Tower were sure a fun experience. Again you can see there were just not many people here and we used this to our advantage to take our time with our tripods and set up good shots without having to worry about people getting in our way. It’s a 14th century, 3 story tower that offers amazing views of Tallinn’s medieval defenses. It was used as a prison and a weapons store. Now it simply attracts tourists and houses art galleries.
Depending on which way you’re walking, this massive door leads you to or from Short Leg Street. I have not been able to find any history on this door but my guess would be that this is a newer version of an original that was built in the 15th century. This small walkway along these steps is what connected upper town and lower town hundreds of years ago when tensions were tight between the 2 towns. The rich merchants of the lower town and the nobleman and knights of the upper town both wanted to obtain more power. This door is probably 10ft tall, 4-6 inches thick and very heavy. Now that I think about it, I wish I would have taken some images of the iron hinges.
The previous image with the door is the walk way that leads to the stairs in this image. I simply stepped back through this archway to snap this shot showing the stairs and cobblestone street. This is a walking only street as it’s too narrow for cars.
This guy was painting the scene you see here and selling the small art works. I did not see anyone buy from him while we were there. This cobblestone street leads you into Upper Town before walking down the small passage to Lower Town.
My favorite time to shoot was very early in the morning when the locals were walking to work before the sun came up. The yellow building you see here is Cafe Maiasmokk. It’s the oldest operating cafe in Estonia, let alone Tallinn. It’s been in the same location since 1864. It was just beginning to show when I was shooting this image. The building also has museum about the history and uses of marzipan.
Simply turning around from the previous image provided me with this view. Empty streets, storefronts and beautiful soft pre sunrise light. Veta is an Estonian clothing brand that began in 1994 and they opened their 5th store in Tallinn in 2011. While the brand may not be new by Estonian standards, it’s in a beautiful old building that dates back to the 15th or 16th century and has quickly became an “instagramable” hot spot.
While out walking around one evening we came across this dirty Porsche parked next to an old wall with lots of graffiti. I don’t know what it all says and I think the not knowing makes the image a bit more striking to me. Seeing it and photographing it in color was nice but the black and white is what really spoke to me.
St. Catherine’s Passage – formerly known as the Monk’s Alley, winds its way from Vene Street past the southern end of the Dominican monastery to Müürivahe Street. St Catherine’s church, from which the alley took its name, is thought to have been built here more than 700 years ago. The southern side of the alley is lined with predominantly 15th-17th century residences. The alley as a whole retains its medieval atmosphere. It was last restored in 1995. This was one of the places I really wanted to photograph. To get this shot, timing was crucial. Evening light, shops closed for the day and no one walking through the passage. It didn’t take long to get the shot, I simply waited until the business (red door on the right) closed for the night. There were people walking through from time to time and I did shoot some of those as well but the emptiness of this old passage was the feeling I was going for. I may also try it in black and white to remove the warm tones from the lights.
The above 3 images show the Alexandar Nevsky Cathedral. I have heard a lot of mixed feelings about this place and while some people love it, some people feel it’s out of place and doesn’t belong here. Neither of these opinions are for me to decide. To me it was a very unique building with amazing architechture that was Soviet inspired. It was built between 1894-1900 while Estonia was still part of the Russian Empire. From Wikipedia – The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is Tallinn’s largest and grandest orthodox cupola cathedral. It is dedicated to Saint Alexander Nevsky who in 1242 won the Battle of the Ice on Lake Peipus, in the territorial waters of present-day Estonia. One rainy day we went inside to get out of the rain for a little bit and much to our amazement we heard a young man reading from scripture. It was more of a chant than reading and it sounded amazing. If any of you have heard this, you will know what I am talking about. Pictures were not allowed inside. The second image you see above, black and white, is one I felt compelled to take. As we walked out of the cathedral there was a lady who appeared to be homeless standing at the bottom of the steps. It didn’t seem like she was begging and I am not sure what to really make of why she was there. As I walked away and turned around I saw this image. It hit me like a brick. With the woman at the bottom of the empty stairs and no one around it created an emotion inside of me. Partly because I did not know why she was there and partly because she completed the image and finished telling the story.
We did have a rental car and we only used it one day. I had done a little searching online to find things outside of Tallinn that may be of some interest and unique that those who just visited Tallinn would not see. From Baltic Coastal Hiking – The ruins of the Ungru manor used to represent one of the most impressive Neo-Baroque buildings in Estonia, although it never was really finished. Its sophisticated footprint and the numerous baroque volute ornaments on its gables are characteristic for the castle. Interesting to know: The Ungru Manor was an almost exact copy of the Merseburg castle in Germany. After World War II the manor fell into the hands of Soviet troops, in 1968 the chief of the airport decided to use the ruins of the manor to fill in the holes in the runway. About one third of the manor was torn down, fortunately the rest was preserved until today.
I’ll be honest, it was the unique features and remoteness that made me want to see this. This image was shot on a flat grey overcast day so I decided to use some creative processing to create an older more appealing image that appears to date back to it’s time.
Haapsalu, Estonia is home to the Railway and Communications museum. It was built from 1903-1905. Just to my right are some old train cars. I felt the design of the building with its bright colors was a better picture. This covered area is 648 feet long and where passengers would have waited to board the trains. Passenger trains continued running until September of 1995.
Jagala Jogi River was simply a waterfall I wanted to see. It’s located east of Tallinn about 15 min and we arrived when it was almost dark. There are 2 access points, one on each side of the falls and we make the most of our time and shot from both locations. As you can see from the 2nd image the water was shallow and not covering the entire rock face. We could have walked across if we wanted to get wet. The waterfall is roughly 24ft high and 150 wide making it the widest natural waterfall in Estonia.
Driving on the highway through Taebla you will see Lääne-Nigula Church. The building was built in 1760 and restored in 1816, the steeple dates back to 1882. The height of the church is 156ft of which the spire is 81 ft tall.
There is an old cemetery around the church filled with old crosses and headstones. This was not a planned find. We were simply driving and saw this huge spire from the road and decided to turn in and see what it was. I loved the old green door.
The medieval restaurant Olde Hansa is the home of a rich merchant, whose guests enjoy delicious, authentic Hansa-era meals and drinks, true period music and always friendly service. Our waitress was a very fun, outgoing lady who played her part well. All of the dishes on the menu, including many wild game delicacies, are cooked using 15th century recipes and methods. Medieval musicians sat high above us in the corner of the room and played their music. This image was shot from our apartment as 2 ladies walked around the corner shops.
All in all I took over 3000 images while I was there. I simply had to pick the ones I felt worked well and were to the point. If you follow me on Instagram or Facebook you will see more from the trip as I get them edited. I sure appreciate the time you took to read and look at the images. If you have any questions at all, please feel free to ask.
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