The dance of death and the house where the Devil got married… Tallinn is indeed a fairy-tale city. I remember falling asleep to my parents reading me fairy tales when I was little. In an attempt to keep me away from the TV, they’d have me travel with them to all sorts of fantastical worlds with princes, princesses, elves, dwarves, dragons, evil witches and who knows what else. I guess part of my curiosity and love for unknown realms comes from those late nights when I was trying to imagine how it would be like to live in any of the exotic kingdoms I was presented.
So I started traveling and searching for them…
Some places I visit get very close to what I was imagining, some of them have nothing to do with my make-believe worlds. However, one particular city seemed to be capturing most of my mythical expectations – Tallinn. This tiny medieval kingdom of the Baltics revived the child in me. Walking through its narrow cobble stone streets, being greeted by locals dressed up as medieval characters, I was transported to another time in another dimension. I loved it.
However, apart from the fairy-tale atmosphere, Tallinn is also home to a few hidden gems, with a gothic and artsy twist –absolutely perfect for me.
Ichthus Art Gallery and Studio
As you probably imagine, this is not your ordinary fancy art gallery, with people analysing paintings as if they want to know exactly what went through the artist’s mind while creating it. No, this is literally a hidden spot, in the cellar of an old monastery, the Saint Catherine Dominican Monastery. Built around 1200 and partially destroyed in 1524, it is one of the oldest buildings in town, so for me it worked like a real-life time machine.
Its surviving parts include a gloomy staircase which takes you to a series of dusty ancient underground rooms that belonged to the monks back in the medieval times. Here you’ll get to walk around narrow hallways, while marvelling at the artworks hanging on the walls.
The owner of the small gallery, Aleksandr Savchenkov, usually hangs out there, working on new paintings you can then buy. There’s old Latin music playing, the lights are dim and the subtle chilly feeling of the underground cellar makes this place truly magical. I recommend you search for the Ichthus Art Studio and say hello to Mr Savchenkov. I promise you won’t regret it.
Telliskivi Creative City
Speaking of creative bohemian people, Estonia has a special city in the city, designed for them. If you have an artsy soul, do yourself a favour and stop by the Telliskivi Creative City. You can find anything here, from art studios to restaurants, photography galleries, theatre companies, design studios, temporary exhibitions, antique book store, lots of small indie shops and a really cool space called the Club of Different Rooms. The latter is a twelve living rooms complex with comfy couches and armchairs and TV screens, so you can basically be sharing a living room with all sorts of funky characters and exchange ideas. Very cool idea, I totally dig it. Do not forget your home slippers, as they will not allow you to enter the living rooms with your street shoes on. Manners, right?
There are hundreds of cultural events taking place here every year, so check their calendar prior to your visit. I attended a Movement Workshop at the Soltumatu Tantsu Lava and it was absolutely mind-blowing. For a dancer, it’s amazing to experience movement in a space where there’s no friction. You will need a towel, a swimsuit and clothes you don’t mind getting wet, because trust me, things get pretty slippery.
There’s also a huge flea market happening at Telliskivi every Saturday, where I personally found a couple treasures from other people’s attics. As I know, there are also a few available spaces at this center, so if you have a creative business in mind, who knows, maybe you’ll move to Estonia for a few months.
Danse Macabre at St Nicholas Church
The Middle Ages are full of all sorts of dark tendencies in art. They were the Dark Ages for a reason, eh The Danse Macabre of The Dance of Death is an allegory about the universality of death, meaning that no matter who you are and what you have done in life, Death unites us all. Creepy, indeed. However, this idea gave birth to a number of beautiful works of art such as one of my favourite classical songs by Camille Saint Saens and a number of paintings depicting this gloomy dance. The earliest one was a mural in the cemetery of the Holy Innocents in Paris. My bucket list includes seeing as many as possible and although it is quite hard to find them today, Tallinn got me covered.
Saint Nicholas Church houses a fragment from a Danse Macabre painting by Bernt Notke, dating back from the fifteenth century. If you are not amazed yet, let me tell you that this is the only surviving medieval Danse Macabre in the world that was painted on canvas – a really big check mark on my list.
Old House guest house – where the devil got married
Simply because I love the Horror genre and I am always hunting ghost stories while on the road, I could not possibly skip the Old House guest house in Tallinn. I have never been a huge fan of weddings, but when a friend of mine told me I could potentially attend the Devil’s himself reception party, I was intrigued. And since I am sharing my adventure with you, here’s a song that goes through my mind while writing this.
Among the oldest legends of the Old Town of Tallinn, there’s the myth of a bankrupt hotel owner who wanted to take his own life during a cold winter night. He had lost everything and could not go on living like that. A few moments, before he would have taken his plan to an end, he heard a loud knock on the door of the hotel he was in, on Rataskaevu Street. He opened the door and greeted the man behind the door. The strange man asked the owner if he could rent a room until morning to have a party. He promised to pay him a lot of money with one condition: no one would eavesdrop on the banquet. The owner agreed. However, at some point the loud fabulous celebration attracted him and pushed him to investigate. Curiosity triumphed, so the owner went upstairs and looked through the keyhole. There he witnessed the extraordinary: the Devil’s Wedding was unfolding right before his curious eyes. Next morning, the owner was found dead, next to countless hoof and claw traces.
Today, on the 16 Rataskaevu Street there’s a guest house where supposedly the Devil got married that night. I don’t know about you, but I’d take a chance to get on that fancy devilish guest list while in Tallinn.
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