Tallinn – Gothic houses


   Tallinn or the former Rewel was the second largest town of medieval Livonia, the northernmost member of the German Hanseatic League, and the seat of the bishopric. Originally it was the capital of the Danish part of Estonia, and after taking by the Order of the Teutonic Knights, it was the farthest commandry of the Order. In 1248, Eric IV gave Rewel privileges, which along with the growing role of maritime trade resulted in its rapid development. Expansion did not stop even after the uprising of the Ests on the Night of St. George, as a result of which Denmark in 1346 decided to sell northern Estonia together with Rewel to the Teutonic Order. They wanted to avoid conflicts with the rich townspeople, confirmed all previous municipal rights and additionally released from the obligation to participate in armed expeditions to Rutchenia and Lithuania. The richness of the town was manifested in the number of merchant and craft guilds functioning here. Next to the oldest guild of St. Olaf and St. Canute, from 1363 there was a so-called Big Merchant Guild, and since 1399 the Brotherhood of the Blackheads was active. The population growth was very fast, it is estimated that about 5,000 people lived in the 14th century, and in the sixteenth century, about 6,6 thousand of people.
At the end of the 16th century, after the end of the Livonian War, Tallinn and the northern part of today’s Estonia fell to Sweden, under whose rule it remained for a hundred years. It was not until the Great Northern War in 1710 that tsar Peter I took Estonia. Rewel remained in the hands of Russia until 1918, when, after the proclamation of independence of the Republic of Estonia, the capital city officially gained the name Tallinn. During World War II, the city successfully avoided serious damages, thanks to which many medieval monuments of the city survived.


   The basic layout of the medieval city was formed already under the rule of Danish kings. Rewel was divided into so-called the upper city with the cathedral and the castle, and the lower town with the main square. As it was not located on the river, it did not have a long wharf typical of the Hanseatic cities and streets perpendicular to it. They were arranged irregularly, and the market was some distance from the port.
The earliest houses were probably wooden or half-framed. Stone, which began to arise from the fourteenth century, were mostly typical Gothic houses of the northern Hanseatic region, which combined the functions of a residential house and granary. Their main element was a large hall, located at the front of the ground floor and often reaching two storeys. As the most comprehensive room in the whole building, it had a fireplace where meals were prepared, it also served as a place of trade and craft workshop. Another chamber was on the ground floor in the back, it served as representative and was warmed with a hypocaustum stove, located in the basement. The chambers on the first floor in the back were similar. The storage rooms were located on the upper floors, from where the goods could be brought and unloaded using cranes installed in the facades of buildings. The lowest were cellars, then inhabited, but mainly used for cold stores or pubs.
In front of the facades of the houses there were often basement’s necks and porches, or ground-floor terraces that preceded the entrance to the building. The facades of Gothic houses were richly decorated with moulded recesses, blind arcades and blendes, filled with ornaments in typically Gothic motifs of ogives, trefoils, fish blisters, or traceries.

Current state

show Guild House on map

show Three Sisters on map

show Olde Hansa on map

return to alphabetical index