Tartu – A little bit of history and a lot of festival

Day 14 – 15: Tartu Old Town and Cathedral

So we arrived in Tartu nearing the end of a long, hot day. Michael’s grandmother was raised in Tartu so we were really looking forward to visiting her home town. We got there and quickly realised it was festival time! The Tartu Hanseatic Days Festival in fact?!?! All I could gather was that there were a lot of people dressed up in ‘old time clothes’. We quickly found our lovely accommodation (below) so we could head back into town and enjoy the festivities.

On our way into town, we walked to Kissing Hill atop Toome Hill. This is where newly wed grooms must carry their bride. Not being married, I didn’t make Michael carry me. Instead, we stopped for a photo on the chair at the top.

We also passed by the Sacrificial Stone, where pre-Christian Estonians used to worship their pagan gods. Nowadays, the sacrifices continue but in the form of lecture notes at the end of term.

Then we happened across two of Tartu’s three famous bridges – the Angel and Devil bridges. As per custom, I managed to hold my breath the entire way across Angel Bridge while making a wish. I’m not sure what actually happens when you do so, but apparently you must. So I did.

We decided to keep on going through the town to reach the third bridge – the Arched Bridge. The Arched Bridge (below) also has a ritual associated with, but one that I chose not to complete. It’s a student ritual to walk across the high arch of the bridge, particularly at night, particularly when slightly intoxicated. It gained international reputation in 2007 when a couple was photographed having sex half-clothed on the apex of the bridge. More recently, a group of pranksters mounted the bridge in the middle of the night and erected two blow up dolls on a bed. Some Tartu bars now serve a shot called “Sex on the Bridge” to honour the occasion.

Finally, we made our way into town to see the festivities that included much to eat and drink as well as some stranger things such as rope brading, arrow shooting and medieval games. We sat down with some good food, a pint or two of beer and danced and sung the night away (or we would have, if we knew the words).

The next day, we decided to do a spot of museum touring. Starting with University of Tartu History Museum located in the former Dome Cathedral of Tartu, we learnt all about the University of Tartu where Michael’s granny once studied. Originally completed at the end of the 16th Century, the cathedral has been pillared, burnt, used as a barn, used as a platform for cannon and finally refurnished into a university library.

The university itself was established in 1632 by King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden, making it one of the oldest universities in Northern Europe. It’s first subjects included Philosophy, Law, Theology and Medical Faculties. During the late 1600’s and into the 1700’s, the university was moved to Parnu, back to Tartu, back to Parnu and finally closed. It wasn’t reopened until 1802 by the Baltic Germans, with teaching occurring in German until 1893. At this time, the university was in it’s golden age due to the links with the top German universities of the time.  By 1898, the Russians had almost completely taken over the university and enforced the Russian language. Since 1919, barring the period of the second world war, Estonian has again been the principle language.

We then headed up to the top of the cathedral for stunning views of Tartu.

We finished the day with a cold beer (or two) at the highest pub in the world, Püssirohukelder or Gunpowder Cellar. Not because it’s the highest in elevation, but because it’s roof is the highest (or so I believe).