Tartu (Estonian pronunciation: [ˈtɑrtˑu], South Estonian: Tarto) is the second largest city of Estonia, after Estonia's political and financial capital Tallinn. It is situated 186 kilometres (116 miles) southeast of Tallinn and 245 kilometres (152 miles) northeast of Riga, the capital of Latvia. The distance to Estonia's summer holiday capital Pärnu in the west is 176 kilometres (109 miles) and the fastest route there by car is through Viljandi and Kilingi-Nõmme. Tartu lies on the Emajõgi ("Mother river"), which connects the two largest lakes of Estonia, Lake Võrtsjärv and Lake Peipus. The city is served by Tartu Airport.
Tartu is often considered the intellectual centre of the country, especially since it is home to the nation's oldest and most renowned university, the University of Tartu; Tartu itself is also the oldest city of Estonia and other Baltic countries. Tartu houses the Supreme Court of Estonia, the Ministry of Education and Research, the Estonian National Museum, and the oldest Estonian-language theater, Vanemuine. It is also the birthplace of the Estonian Song Festivals.
Tartu will be the European Capital of Culture in 2024.
Names and etymology
Since 1918, the Estonian name Tartu has been used, but as the town has come under control of various rulers throughout its history, there have been various names for it in different languages. Most of them derive ultimately from the earliest attested form, the Estonian Tarbatu. In German, Swedish and Polish the town has been known and is sometimes still referred to as Dorpat (help·info), a variant of Tarbatu. In Russian, the city has been known as Юрьев (Yur′yev, after Yuri, the baptismal name of Grand Prince Yaroslav I the Wise) and as Дерпт (Derpt, from the Low German variant of Dorpat). Similarly, the city has been known as Tērbata in Latvian, while Finnish speakers use the toponym Tartto.
Archaeological evidence of the first permanent settlement on the site of modern Tartu dates to as early as the 5th century AD. By the 7th century, local inhabitants had built a wooden fortification on the east side of Toome Hill (Toomemägi). Over the next centuries the settlement grew, and around 9th–10th centuries became an inland trading center.
The first documented record of the area was made in 1030 by chroniclers of Kievan Rus. Yaroslav I the Wise, Prince of Kiev, invaded the region that year, built his own fort there, and named it Yuryev. Tartu remained under Russian control until 1061, when, according to chronicles, Yuryev was burned down by Estonian tribe called Sosols. Soon afterwards Estonians rebuilt the fort. In the 12th century Estonians on one side and Novgorod and Pskov on other side repeatedly raided each other. In those campaigns Russians captured Tartu in 1133 or 1134, and in winter of 1191–1192, but these temporary captures brought no lasting territorial changes.
The city of Tartu in 1533
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 — also known as the Brothers of the Sword (German: Schwertbrüder) — and recaptured by Estonians on several occasions. In 1224, after Ugaunia had recognized the supremacy of Novgorod and Pskov princes who sent additional troops led by prince Vyachko of Kukenois to the fort, it was besieged and conquered for one last time by the German crusaders. Subsequently, known as Dorpat (Latin: 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 Dorpat, 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 medieval times, after the Livonian Order was subsumed into the Teutonic Knights in 1236, the town became an important trading city. In the 1280s Dorpat joined the Hanseatic League. As in all of Estonia and Latvia, the largely German-speaking nobility, but in Tartu/Dorpat (as in Tallinn) even more so, the Baltic German bourgeoisie, the literati, dominated culture, religion, architecture, education, and politics until the late 19th century. For example, the town hall of Dorpat was designed by an architect from Rostock in Mecklenburg, while the university buildings were designed by Johann Wilhelm Krause, another German. Many, if not most, of the students, and more than 90 percent of the faculty members were of German descent, and numerous statues of notable scholars with German names can still be found in Tartu today. Most Germans left during the first half of the 20th century, in particular as part of the Heim ins Reich program of the Nazis, following the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact in 1939.
Polish-Lithuanian and Swedish rule
University of Tartu main building in 1860.
In 1558, tsar Ivan the Terrible invaded Tartu beginning the Livonian War. Forces under the command of Pyotr Shuiski encircled the town and began the heavy bombardment. In light of this and without any prospect of external help the town surrendered. The local bishop was imprisoned in Moscow, which effectively ended the period of local self-government. In the effect of the Truce of Jam Zapolski of 1582, the city along with southern regions of Livonian Confederation became part of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. In 1598 it became the capital of the Dorpat Voivodeship of the Duchy of Livonia. A Jesuit grammar school "Gymnasium Dorpatense" was established in 1583. In addition, a translators' seminary was organized in Tartu and the city received its red and white flag from the Polish king Stephen Báthory.
The activities of both the grammar school and the seminary were stopped by the Polish–Swedish War. Already in late 1600 the forces of Charles IX of Sweden besieged the city defended by three banners of reiters and the city's burghers. Despite repeated assaults, the Swedes could not enter the city. Finally in 1601 Capt. Hermann Wrangel switched sides, assaulted the castellan and opened the gates for the Swedish forces. The town was retaken by Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth on 13 April 1603 following a brief siege led by hetman Jan Karol Chodkiewicz; roughly 1000 Swedish soldiers surrendered and were escorted to Tallinn.
In the effect of yet another Polish-Swedish War, in 1625 Tartu was once again captured by Sweden, this time for good. In the effect of the 1629 Truce of Altmark the city became part of the Dominions of Sweden, which led to the foundation of the University of Tartu in 1632 by king Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden.
The Stone Bridge and the Old Town in 1860
In 1704 the town was taken by the Russian army in the presence of tsar Peter the Great himself. As a result, around a quarter of the town and much of the fortifications were damaged. In 1708 the remainder of the fortifications and houses, including the remains of bishops castle, were blown up, all movable property was looted and all citizens deported to Russia. With the Treaty of Nystad in 1721, the city became part of the Russian Empire and was known as Derpt. Fires in the 18th century destroyed much of the medieval architecture, the Great Fire of Tartu in 1775 removed most of the buildings in the centre. The city was rebuilt along Late Baroque and Neoclassical lines including the Tartu Town Hall which was built between 1782 and 1789. In 1783 the city became the centre of Derpt uyezd within the Governorate of Livonia.
During the second half of the 19th century, Tartu was the cultural centre for Estonians in the era of Romantic nationalism. The city hosted Estonia's first song festival in 1869. Vanemuine, the first national theatre, was established in 1870. Tartu was also the setting for the foundation of the Society of Estonian Writers in 1872.
Tartu railway station was opened in 1876 when Tapa–Tartu route was built. The station building was opened in 1877.
In 1893, the city was officially retitled to the ancient Russian name Yuryev. The university was subsequently russified from 1895 on with the introduction of compulsory Russian in teaching. Much of the university property was relocated to Voronezh in 1918 and during the German occupation, the University worked under the name Landesuniversität Dorpat. During the Estonian War of Independence the university of Tartu was re-opened as an Estonian language university on 1 December 1919.
First independence period
With Estonian independence after World War I, the city officially became known by the Estonian name Tartu. At the end of Estonian War of Independence following World War I, a peace treaty between the Bolsheviks and Estonia was signed on 2 February 1920 in Tartu (Treaty of Tartu). The treaty meant that Soviet Russia renounced territorial claims to Estonia "for all time". However, as a result of the Nazi-Soviet Pact of 1939, the Soviet Union occupied Estonia and Tartu in 1940.
The peace treaty between Soviet Russia and Finland was also signed in Tartu in 1920.
During the interwar period Tähtvere neighbourhood was built, former Raadi Manor buildings started to house Estonian National Museum (destroyed during Tartu Offensive in 1944) and art school Pallas was opened.
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 river were destroyed by the retreating Soviet Army, partly in 1941 and almost completely in 1944 by then retreating German Army. Already heavily damaged Tartu was bombed by Soviet forces on 27 January 1943, 26 February 1944, 7–8 March 1944, and 25–26 March 1944. After the war ended, much of the historical downtown area was left in ruins. Even the less damaged buildings in entire city blocks were torn down by the order of the occupational authorities and large swathes of land turned into public parks.
After the war, Tartu was declared a "closed town" to foreigners, as an airbase for bombers was constructed on Raadi Airfield, in the northeast outskirts of the city. It was one of the biggest military airbases in Eastern Europe and housed strategic bombers, that carried nuclear bombs. The location itself was where the Estonian 2nd Air Division was situated prior to the Soviet occupation. The concrete runway there now houses a large used cars market and is sometimes used for automotive racing. On one end of an older strip of the runway, the new building of Estonian National Museum was built.
Tartu Airport was opened in the south of the city in 1946. Besides the airport Estonian Aviation Academy was established in 1993. Privately owned Estonian Aviation Museum, which is 5 km to the East from the airport (7 km by car), was opened to the public in 2002.
During Soviet times the population of Tartu almost doubled from 57,000 to 100,000, partly due to mass immigration from other areas of the Soviet Union, mainly because of the military airbase.
In 1988, after Estonia declared its sovereignty from the USSR, elections were held for a newly independent City Council. Its first chair was the lawyer, Aino-Eevi Lukas, who led the council from 1989 to 1993. Rebuilding from scratch, the council re-established the legal code and foreign relationships for in the post-independence era.
Since Estonia regained its independence in 1991, the old town centre has been renovated. Notably, St. John's Church, in ruins since World War II, has been restored. Many new commercial and business buildings have been erected (Tartu Shopping Center, Tasku, Emajõe Commercial Center, Lõunakeskus, Kvartal etc.). The highest residential building and local landmark Tigutorn was opened in 2008.
The AHHAA science centre relocated to a new building in 2011 and the Estonian National Museum's new main building opened in 2016.
Tartu lies within the temperate humid continental climate zone (Dfb). The climate is rather mild considering the high latitude, largely due to the proximity of the Baltic Sea and warm airflows from the Atlantic. Nevertheless, continental influence can be felt on hot summer days and cold spells in winter, when the temperature can occasionally (but rarely) drop below −30 °C (−22 °F). Generally, summers are warm and winters are cold.
The Tartu weather station is located in Tõravere village, which is about 20 kilometers from the city, so the actual temperature in the city may be slightly warmer than the official average temperatures.
|Climate data for Tartu (Tõravere) normals 1991–2020, extremes 1865–present
|Record high °C (°F)
|Average high °C (°F)
|Daily mean °C (°F)
|Average low °C (°F)
|Record low °C (°F)
|Average precipitation mm (inches)
|Average precipitation days (≥ 1.0 mm)
|Average relative humidity (%)
|Mean monthly sunshine hours
|Source: Estonian Weather Service (precipitation days 1971–2000)
Mostly known as a university town, Tartu is also a site of heavy industry. The food industry has traditionally been important for the town's economy and some bigger companies in the field include A. Le Coq, Tartu Mill and Salvest. Kroonpress is the leading printing press company in the Baltic States.
At the beginning of the 21st century, many ICT enterprises and other high-tech companies have taken a foothold in Tartu. Notable examples include Playtech Estonia, Nortal (formerly Webmedia Group), ZeroTurnaround, Tarkon, Reach-U and Raintree Estonia. Skype has an office in Tartu. The university is one of the largest employers, which explains the large proportion of highly skilled professionals – researchers, professors, doctors, and Tartu University Clinic has been considered the largest employer of Tartu.
Tartu is connected to other Estonian cities by many bus routes and trains to Valga and Tallinn. Outside Estonia, Tartu can be reached by Lux Express, Ecolines and Simple Express buses to Riga, St. Petersburg, Pskov, Moscow and Minsk and by FlyBE Nordic flights to Helsinki.
Tartu's historic population is presented in the following table, based on data from official censuses since 1881 and Estonian Statistical Office. Note that the data up to 2011 is not directly comparable to the most recent numbers, as the methodology of compiling population statistics has changed.
Tartu is officially divided into 17 neighbourhoods, which carry no administrative purposes. Their names and borders are defined.
|Ropka industrial district
Education and culture
The city is best known for being home to the University of Tartu (formerly known as the University of Dorpat; German: Universität Dorpat), founded under King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden in 1632. Mainly for this reason, Tartu is also – tongue-in-cheek – known as "Athens of the Emajõgi" or as "Heidelberg of the North".
Tartu is also the seat of the Estonian University of Life Sciences, the Baltic Defence College, Estonian Aviation Academy (formerly known as Tartu Aviation College), and the Estonian Ministry of Education and Research. Other notable institutions include the Supreme Court of Estonia (re-established in Tartu in autumn 1993), the Estonian Historical Archives, Estonian National Museum, Estonian Sports Museum as well as the oldest and renowned theatre in the country, Vanemuine, where they have a well-respected ballet company as well as theatre, opera and musical productions.
In music, there exists the Tartu school of composition.
Most of the sculptures in Tartu are dedicated to historical figures. Among them the most famous are the Barclay de Tolly monument on the Barclay Square in downtown, the Kissing Students monument on the town hall square and Gustav II Adolf´s monument on the Kuningaplats.
Tartu has been an intellectual centre of both Estonia and the Baltic countries for several centuries. Scholars hailing from Tartu include the pioneer of embryology Karl Ernst von Baer, a pioneer of animal behaviour studies Jakob von Uexküll, and a cultural theorist and semiotician Juri Lotman. Johann Friedrich von Eschscholtz, a Baltic German physician, naturalist, and entomologist, was born in Tartu. He was one of the earliest scientific explorers of the Pacific region, making significant collections of flora and fauna in Alaska, California, and Hawaii. Nobel Chemistry Prize laureate Wilhelm Ostwald studied and worked in Tartu. The Tartu School is one of the leading scientific schools in semiotics.
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 and local politicians.
Most notable are the old Lutheran St. John's Church (Estonian: Jaani Kirik, German: Johanneskirche), the 18th-century town hall, the university building, ruins of the 13th-century cathedral, the botanical gardens, the main shopping street, many buildings around the town hall square and Barclay Square.
The historical slum area called Supilinn (Soup Town) is located on the bank of river Emajõgi, near the town centre and is regarded as one of the few surviving "poor" neighbourhoods of 19th-century Europe. At the moment Supilinn is being rapidly renovated, undergoing a slow transformation from the historic slum into a prestigious high-class neighborhood. The active community embodied by the Supilinn Society is committed to preserving the heritage.
The Second World War destroyed large parts of the city centre and during the Soviet occupation, many new buildings were erected – notably the new Vanemuine Theater. The effects of the war are still witnessed by the relative abundance of parks and greenery in the historic centre. Typical Soviet-style neighbourhoods of blocks of high-rise flats were built between World War II and the restoration of Estonian independence in 1991, the largest such district being Annelinn.
Presently, Tartu is also known for several modern buildings of the "steel, concrete and glass" variation, but has managed to retain a mix of old and new buildings in the centre of town. Notable examples include the Tigutorn Tower and the Emajõe Centre, both built during the current period of independence; Tartu's tallest and second tallest towers, respectively. Tartu's large student population means that it has a comparatively thriving nightlife, with many nightclubs, bars, and restaurants, including the world's highest-ceiling pub, in the historic Gunpowder Cellar of Tartu.
Annually, in the summer, Tartu hosts the Hanseatic Days festival (Estonian: Hansapäevad) to celebrate its Hanseatic heritage. The festival includes events such as handicraft markets, historic workshops and jousting tournaments.
Tartu is the home for basketball club Tartu Ülikool/Rock, which participates in the Korvpalli Meistriliiga, the Baltic Basketball League and the EuroChallenge.
Football club JK Tammeka Tartu, one of the Meistriliiga clubs, is located in Tartu. Their home stadium is the Tamme Staadion, which has a capacity of 1600. The city is also home to the Tartu JK Welco and FC Santos Tartu clubs, which play in the Esiliiga, the second division.
Tartu has a professional handball team, the Tartu Ülikool/Glassdrive, which plays in the second division of Estonian handball, as well as the volleyball club, BIGBANK Tartu.
Tartu is also the hometown of Clement "Puppey" Ivanov, captain of Team Secret, a professional Dota 2 team. He won the first International, and was runner-up two years in a row with Natus Vincere.
The 2017 World Orienteering Championships were held in Tartu.
The annual running event Tartu Sügisjooks takes place in Tartu.
- Andrus Ansip (1956), politician, former Prime Minister of Estonia
- Lauri Aus (1970–2003), professional road cyclist
- George Browne, (1698–1792), Irish-born Governor of Dorpat
- Jaan Einasto (1929), astrophysicist
- Elisabeth Erm (1993), fashion model
- George Hackenschmidt (1877–1968), strongman, professional wrestler, writer and philosopher
- Else Hueck-Dehio, Baltic German writer.
- Carl Robert Jakobson (1841–1882), writer, politician and teacher
- Maarja Jakobson (1977), actress
- Martin Järveoja (1987), rally co-driver
- Rasmus Kaljujärv (1981), actor
- Leonid Kulik (1883–1942), Russian mineralogist
- Emil Mattiesen (1875–1939), composer, pianist and philosopher
- Laura Põldvere (1988), singer
- Elsa Ratassepp (1893–1972), actress
- Eno Raud (1928-1996), children's author
- Zofia Romer (1885–1972), Polish painter
- Kristina Šmigun-Vähi (1977), cross-country skier
- Rein Taaramäe (1987), professional road cyclist
- Aino Talvi (1909–1992), actress
- Ants Veetõusme (born 1949), politician (former Mayor of Tartu) and financial figure
- Sally von Kügelgen (1860–1928) painter
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