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About Estonia » Tartu

Some facts: Tartu (pop. 101 000) is the second largest city of Estonia with an area of 38.8 km². In contrast to Estonia's political and financial capital Tallinn, Tartu is often considered the intellectual and cultural centre, especially since it is home to Estonia's oldest and most renowned university. Situated 185 km southeast of Tallinn, Tartu is the centre of Southern Estonia. The Emajõgi river, which connects the two largest lakes of Estonia, crosses the city for a length of 10 km.
History: Archaeological evidence of first permanent settlement on the site of modern Tartu dates to as early as the 5th century AD. By the 7th century, the local inhabitants had built a wooden fortification on the east side of Toome Hill. The first documented record of the place was made in 1030 by chroniclers of Kievan Rus. Yaroslav the Wise, Prince of Kiev, raided Tartu that year, built his own fort there. During the period of Northern crusades in the beginning of the 13th century the fort of Tarbatu (or Tharbata, Tartu) was captured by the crusading Livonian Knights. Subsequently known as Dorpat (Tarbatum), Tartu became a commercial centre of considerable importance during the later Middle Ages and the capital of the semi-independent Bishopric of Dorpat. In 1262 the army of Prince Dmitri of Pereslavl, son of Alexander Nevsky launched an assault on Tartu, capturing and destroying the town. His troops did not manage to capture the bishop’s fortress on Toome Hill. The event was recorded both in German and Old East Slavic chronicles, which also provided the first record of a settlement of German merchants and artisans which had arisen alongside the bishop’s fortress. In the 1280s Tartu joined the Hanseatic League. In medieval times Tartu was an important trading city. In the 16th century, Livonia and Tartu both came under Polish rule, and a Jesuit grammar school was established in the city in 1583. The activities of both the grammar school and the seminary were stopped by the Polish-Swedish War (1601). Tartu then became Swedish in 1629, which led to the foundation of the university in 1632 by King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden. With the Treaty of Nystad in 1721, the city became part of the Russian Empire and was known as Derpt. Due to fires in the 18th century which destroyed much of the medieval architecture, the city was rebuilt along Late Baroque and Neoclassical lines. During the second-half of the 19th century, Tartu was the cultural center for Estonians in the era of Romantic nationalism. In 1893, the city was officially retitled to the ancient Russian name Yuryev. The university began to be Russified in 1895 with the introduction of compulsory Russian in teaching. This Russian imperial university was relocated to Voronezh in 1918, but the Estonian University of Tartu opened in 1919. With Estonian independence after World War I, the city officially became known by the Estonian name Tartu. 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 1776-1778) over the Emajõgi were destroyed by the fighting Red Army, partly in 1941 and almost totally in 1944. After the war Tartu was declared a "closed town" to foreigners, as there was a Soviet air base constructed on the outskirts. During Soviet times the population of Tartu almost doubled from 57,000 to 100,000. Since Estonia regained its independence in 1991, Tartu has asserted itself and evolved as a beautiful and intellectually-oriented cultural city with a strong university and an old town centre that is successfully being renovated.
Town: The architecture and city planning of historical Tartu mainly go back to the pre-independence period, with Germans forming the upper and middle classes of society, and therefore contributing many architects, professors, local politicians, etc. Most notable are the old Lutheran St. John's Church (Johanneskirche or Jaani Kirik), the 18th-century town hall, the university building, the remainders of the 13th-century cathedral, the botanical gardens, the main shopping street, and many buildings around the town hall square. In the suburbs, classic Soviet neighbourhoods - blocks of high-rise flats - were built during the period between the Second World War and restoration of Estonian independence in 1991. Presently, Tartu is also known for several modern, rather sterile-looking buildings of the "steel, concrete and glass" type, but has managed to retain a mix of old buildings and new buildings in the historical centre of town. Tartu's large student population means that it has a comparatively thriving nightlife, with some bars, restaurants, and nightclubs. Some of the more popular destinations for tourists include the Wilde Irish Pub and the Gunpowder Cellar.