While Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, still hasn’t quite earned top billing as a tourist destination, the city’s medieval old town is quickly rising through the ranks of must-see spots in Europe. The network of photogenic cobblestone streets that run through this UNESCO World Heritage Site rival those found in Bruges, but come without the wallet-squeezing price tag. Surrounding Tallinn Old Town are its original medieval walls, which have served to insulate it more ways than one.
The days of marauding invaders may be over, but Tallinn hasn’t escaped turmoil in the modern era. Faced with occupation by both Soviet Russia and Germany over the course of the Second World War, the Cold War saw Estonia fall on the wrong side of the iron curtain and the national became the Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic.
Despite its aged facade, it was towards the end of the Cold War that Linnahall was built. Located quite literally across the street from the glittering jewel that is Tallin Old Town, this abandoned art and culture venue stands as a sobering reminder of Estonia’s Soviet past. Constructed in 1980 to serve as a venue for the Moscow Olympics, Linnahall was originally christened the V. I. Lenin Palace of Culture and Sport.
The venue had a capacity of 6,000 in its prime (see interior photos on The Tallinn Collector), but today plays host to no one but the occasional tourist who has wandered adrift.
I’m admittedly too young to really remember the Cold War, but the fact that Linnahall is younger than my brother (born 1979) helped put things into perspective for me. These days it’s just a little too easy to look at old photos and say ‘hey, that must have been tough’, and move on without much thought. Walking down the crumbling, graffiti-ridden grounds of Linnahall brought the reality of Estonia’s very recent past to life.
Linnahall stands in such stark contract to Tallinn Old Town that I’d recommend visiting it just for the sake of gaining an appreciation of the city’s history. It’s located due north of old town, right on the water.