Tartu is located in South Estonia, ca 185 km from Tallinn, capital of Estonia, ca 245 km from Riga in Latvia and ca 325 km from St. Petersburg, Russia. The town is situated at the valley of River Emajõgi, ca 35 m a.s.l.
Tartu, sometimes lyrically called Athens on River Emajõgi, is currently best known as a university town. The population rate of the town reaches 98,000 inhabitants. Besides the university, the main employers in the city are the Hospitals of the University, the Ministry of Education, which is located here, and a few industrial enterprises.
Central part of Tartu is remarkable for lots of parks, while numerous coffee shops are located in the town centre. the "Vanemuine" theatre, several museums, including Estonian National Museum, Estonian Historical Archives and the SAupreme Court of Estonia are located here.
The nearest international airports are located at Tallinn and Riga, from where intercity buses can be used to reach Tartu. Intercity train service between Tallinn and Tartu also exists, but trains run only twice a day each way.
Within Tartu, distances inside city centre are usually small enough for walking. Public transport consists of 24 bus lines.
First traces of human habitaton trace from the Stone Age. Archaeological investigations have revealed permanent habitation of the hillfort since the Viking Age at the latest. In written sources, the town is first mentioned in connection to the raid of Russian Prince Yaroslav in 1030.
During the German conquest of Estonia, Tartu was conquered in 1224 and shortly thereafter, chosen as the location of the Cathedral. Next to the Cathedral and Bishop's castle on Toome Hill (German: Domberg), a medieval town emerged. Besides Tallinn / Reval and Riga, Tartu / Dorpat was one of the "large" medieval towns of Old Livonia. It belonged to the Hanseatic League and with other Livonian towns controlled the lucrative trade with Russian towns Pskov and Novgorod.
During the Livonian War (1558-1583) and the following Polish-Swedish Wars, Tartu was conquered by the Russians, the Poles and the Swedes. From 1623-1656 and 1660-1707, it remained in the Swedish realm. Extensive fortifications were conducted, and the University was established in 1632.
From 1704, Tartu was incorporated into the Russian Empire. It was remarkably rebuilt in Classicist style during the late 18th and early 19th century, affected by the reestablishment of the university in 1802. During the second half of the 19th century, it became a centre of Estonian national awakening. In 1920, a peace treaty between the newly independent Republic of Estonia and Communist Russia was negotiated upon and signed in Tartu.
In Republic of Estonia, it was the second largest town, and has been the site of the largest Estonian university since then. It has been considered a city of intellectual elite, in contrast to the political and economic role of the capital Tallinn.
During WWII, Tartu was heavily bombed by the Soviet air forces and as a result several densly built areas were turned into green space. During the Soviet occupation (1944-1991), a military airport was established at Raadi on the northern border of Tartu, and the town was closed to foreigners.
At the same time with the seminar, a festival of Estonian theatres takes place in Tartu. Usually, many of the plays attract a full house, so if you are interested consider booking tickets beforehand.
On Saturday, 12th of September, a fair of St. Mary's Day will take place at Town Hall Square, wher local handicraft and agricultural products are sold.
You can find a list of museums in Tartu here. For local folk textiles in display, we recommend visiting Estonian National Museum.
First traces of human habitation in Estonian territory trace back to ca 9000 BC. Until the beginning of the 13th century AD, the area was developing in the same rhythm with its neighbours, but due to its peripheral situation to the power centres of Europe, was missing from the written sources. Thus, Christianization was relatively late and took the form of a violent crusade (120-1227).
Since then, the area has been divided between Livonian branch of the Teutonic Order, local bishopsrics, and kings of Denmark (until 1346). The medieval population was strictlyt divided between ruling class living in towns and castles, speaking mostly Low German, and local majority. The towns prospered due to the Hanseatic trade with Russia. THe beginning ofd the 16th century brought along Reformation, which resulted in the local population becoming Lutheran (except for Orthodox Setomaa in the southeast of the country, then under Muscovy). Since 1710 till 1918, the Estonian territory belonged to the Russian czars, but the Balric German ruling class retained its position in the Baltic provinces and was influential in the capital, St. Petersburg, as well. The last third of the 19th century brought along national awakening, similar to many other nations in Eastern Europe.
During a successful War of Independence against Communist Russia at the aftermath of WWI, Estonia reached independence and retained it until the beginning of WWII. The Soviet occupation of 1940-1941 and 1944-1991 witnessed several repressions against Estonian elite and has had long-lasting influences in the economic sphere (collective farming, out-of-date road and railway system, industry working for the needs of the Soviet Union, etc. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Estonia regained its independence, and is a member of EU since 1st May, 2004.
For a more detailed history of Estonia, please visit Estonica .
Places to see
Old Town of Tallinn. One of the best preserved medieval towns in Northern Europe. If you have not been there, it might be worth a visit, especially of your flight plan requires a longer stop in Tallinn.
Narva Castle and town.. A border town between Estonia and Russia at River Narva, with medieval castles on both sides of the river. Currently predominantly Russian-speaking town.
If you are planning a longer stay in Estonia, you can find additional information from the web pages of Estonian tourism.