Tallinn’s Green Heart

Greenery around medieval city centre

Harjumäe bandstand, photo: Tallinn Environment Department
The Toompea insular height formed 100 millions years ago. The valleys adjacent to Toompea were branches of the Pra-Nava valley running from east to west along the Gulf of Finland, which separated the Toompea tableland from the North-Estonian plateau. Today, Toompea is 45.8 meters above sea level. In Estonian mythology, Toompea is known as the grave of Kalevipoeg. The Toompea slope has been fortified with a support wall of local limestone and the ledges of the same formation can be seen here. Three protected outcrops of Ordovician rocks can be seen in the Old Town of Tallinn: the outcrops on Nunne Street, near Patkuli Stairs, and the one at Toompea, where it is possible to explore the ridges resulting from the weight of the continental glacier.

The first green area in the Old Town was built in the 19th century in the medieval fish market, which later became a vegetable and flower market, which is why it was renamed the Green Market. The first park was probably built in 1820, when the Governor’s Garden was redesigned in regular style as a decorative garden.

The Green Heart of Tallinn, however, is formed of the parks created in the bastion zone in the 19th century. Locals started building entrenchments, that were supported with a limestone wall, at the end of the 17th century because they were afraid that Russia will start a war. Out of the planned bastions, they were able to complete the Ingeri (Harjumägi), Rootsi (Lindamägi), and Skoone (Rannamägi) bastions. The bastions are connected with underground passages, which were used as bomb shelters as late as the 1930s. Now, the former entrenchments have been turned into beautiful and popular green areas. For example, on the embankment of the Inger bastion, there is the Harjumäe green area, which was one of the most popular places among the people of Tallinn at the end of the 19th century. A restaurant, a band pavilion, a music pavilion, and a bowling alley (demolished in 1929) were located in Harjumäe at the time. In 2009, the War of Independence Victory Column was erected on the Freedom Square side.

The largest park is Toompark around the Snell Pond, which is the only remaining part of the moat, which once surrounded the city. Toompark, which was designed in the English landscape park style, has the highest number of species of woody plants among downtown parks. Hirvepark is located in a former moat, which has been filled with dirt. In 1865, the Estonian Gardening Association established a dendrogarden and arboretum here. The exotic plant species and decorative trees that were planted here, along with the meandering trails, turn this park into a lovely green area that is rich in species. There is also a pavilion built in 1939 in the park, which originally served as a cafe for lemonade. During the Singing Revolution famous rallies were organised in Hirvepark, which demanded publicizing the secret protocols of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. Musumäe Park is partly situated on the remaining part of the Bremen bastion, which is made unique by the pavilion from the end of the 19th century.