University town of Tartu

Monday 31 July to Wednesday 2 August

The drive from Latvia to Estonia was an interesting one, mostly along lovely back roads with hardly a truck in sight. The low lying countryside was pretty, driving past lakes and farms, and through forests often coloured by vibrant wildflowers on the roadside. 

Crossing the border from Latvia to Estonia was a simple road sign and a couple of cameras, along a country road. We wondered if the red, French number plates on our leased Renault Captur raised eyebrows?

We stopped at a small lake called Lake Viitina, soon after crossing the border. A family was sitting by the lake and a young lad was practising hand stands.

We arrived in Tartu, a university town, in time to explore the small town. After some interesting hotels we had opted for a business hotel with a few home comforts such as a lift and a bar. 

The city is small and easy to navigate. In typical Eastern Europe style the buildings are colourful neo-classical style, reminding us a lot of St Petersburg. 

It was a dull day, so we brightened it up with a visit to the university’s botanical gardens. It looked tiny as we entered, but it extended into different areas, each with its own style. 

The University of Tartu is one of the oldest in Eastern Europe, founded in under the Swedish King Gustavus Adolphus

We explored the city further – St. John’s Church dedicated to Saint John the Evangelist, which is a Brick Gothic Lutheran church and one of the landmarks of the city. It’s walls are leaning.

The Leaning House which is also called the Pisa Tower of Tartu. It’s walls are leaning.

Then we noticed that many of the older buildings had some sort of lean on them. There is a lot of underground water, as we had noticed by the number of lakes and rivers on our journey. These undermine the buildings causing leans and collapses. 

But that isn’t the only reason that buildings collapsed. This region has been subject to warring parties for centuries and much damage has been done to the buildings.

With some help from the hotel we took the Renault Captur for it’s first car wash.  Having driven through road construction sites and in heavy rain and often both at the same time, the bright red colour was hardly recognisable.

It was nice to see it clean again, although the inside will have to wait a little longer – there was a three hour wait for an inside clean.

Amazingly the people at the car wash all spoke English.

We continued our tour – around some of the beautiful buildings in this tiny university town, and then up Toome Hill to see the ruins of the Catholic Cathedral.  The cathedral dedicated to Saints Peter and Paul, was built on an early pagan fortress in the 13th century when the Crusaders invaded and conquered the city.

The church was badly damaged in 1520, by the Protestant iconoclasts when the reformation reached Tartu, and left to decay.

When the university was founded in early 19th century the university built a library within part of the ruins. As the university outgrew the space for the library it was converted to a museum.

The museum had an interesting list of alumni including Karl Ernst Baer (1792-1876), notable scientist whose varied discoveries included the mammal ovule, permafrost in Siberia and how the earth’s rotation causes opposite river banks to differ.

Also was Kristjan Jaak Peterson (1801-1822), Estonian poet who is responsible for ensuring the Estonian language survived.

We finished our day with a lovely sunset over the Emajõgi River in this pretty town.