Tartu (also known by its German name Dorpat) is the second largest city of Estonia, with its population of 101,246 (the Population Census data is from 2000) in an area of 38.8 square kilometres. The first written records of Tartu date from 1030.
In contrast to Tallinn (German: Reval), which is today the political and financial capital of Estonia, Tartu is often considered its intellectual and cultural centre. Situated 180 kilometres south of Tallinn, Tartu is certainly the centre of Southern Estonia. The [[Emaj�gi]] river, which connects the two largest lakes of Estonia, crosses the city for the length of 10 kilometres and adds colour to the city.
Ca 600 AD, on the east side of Toome Hill (Toomem�gi) the Estonians erected a fortress called Tarbatu. In 1030, Yaroslav the Wise, Prince of Kiev, raided Tarbatu and built his own fort in that place, which went by the name of Yuryev (as city and university were officially also called during times of "heavy Russification", ca. 1885-1918).
Germans in Dorpat/Tartu
Tartu was a commercial centre of considerable importance during the later Middle Ages and also a member of the Hanseatic League. As in all of Estonia and Latvia, beginning with the German Sword Brethren in the 12th century, a largely German nobility had a great impact on the culture, religion, architecture, education and politics until the middle of the 20th century. For example, the town hall of Dorpat, as it was then called, was built by a German from the city of Rostock and the main university building was built by yet another man from Germany. Among the staff and students of the university were many if not most of German heritage, which is the reason for many statues of notable scientists can still be found today showing German names.
The activities of both the grammar school and the seminary were stopped by the Polish-Swedish war (1601). Tartu then became Swedish - which led to the foundation of the university in 1632 by King Gustav II Adolph of Sweden. In 1721, it became part of the Russian Empire, which it remained until 1918. However the university was not so much affected by this.
During the civil war in Soviet Russia following World War I, a Peace Treaty between the Bolshevik Soviet Russian government and Estonia was signed on 2 February 1920 in Tartu. The treaty meant that Soviet Russia renounced territorial claims to Estonia "for all time".
During World War II, a large part of the city as well as the historical Kivisild (stone bridge) (built by Catherine II of Russia in 1776-178) over the Emaj�gi were destroyed by the Soviet forces, partly in 1941 and almost totally in 1944. Tartu was a closed city - being the seat of the Russian Western Air Fleet - during most of the Soviet occupation.
After the regaining of Estonian independence in the 1990s, Tartu has again evolved as a beautiful, culturally and intellectually oriented city with a strong university and an old town centre that is successively being nicely renovated.
Education and Culture
The city is best known for being the home to the University of Tartu, which was founded by the King Gustav II Adolph of Sweden in 1632. Mainly for this reason, Tartu was and is also - tongue-in-cheek - known as the "Athens of the Emaj�gi" or as the "Heidelberg of the North".
Tartu is today also the seat of the Estonian Agricultural University, the Baltic Defence College, and also of the Estonian Ministry of Education and Research. The Estonian Supreme Court, which was reestablished in Tartu in the autumn of 1993, is likewise in Tartu, as well as the Estonian Historical Archives.
Architecture & Sightseeing
The architecture and city planning of historical Tartu mainly go back to the pre-independence period, with Germans forming the higher and middle class of society, and therefore contributing lots of architects, professors, local politicians, et cetera. Most notable are the old Lutheran St. John's Church (Johanneskirche or Jaani Kirik), the town hall, the university building, the botanical gardens, the main shopping street, and many buildings around the town hall square. Tartu is also a tourist attraction, being visited by many people from Central Europe, especially Germans. In the summer, with the advent of many discount flights and seniors cruises, Tartu also plays host to a host of fat tourists from across the Atlantic.
In the suburbs, classical Soviet neighbourhoods have been built between the Second World War and the Estonian indepence in 1990. Presently, Tartu is also known for several modern, rather sterile buildings of the "steel, concrete and glass" type so often seen in the US, but has managed to retain a mix of old buildings and new buildings in the historical centre of town.
Being the intellectual and cultural centre of Estonia, the Estonian Prime Minister often takes state guests to Tartu. In that way, people like Charles, Prince of Wales, Presidents of several countries including Finland, Latvia, Hungary, Republic of Ireland, Lithuania, and others as well as religious leaders like the Dalai Lama or the orthodox archbishop of Constantinople Bartholomew I. have paid visit to Tartu.