Tallinn is the capital and largest city of Estonia. It occupies an area of 159.2 km2 (61.5 sq mi) with a population of 412,144. It is situated on the northern coast of the country, on the banks of the Gulf of Finland, 80 km (50 mi) south of Helsinki, east of Stockholm and west of Saint Petersburg. Tallinn's Old Town is in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Tallinn is ranked as a global city and has been listed among the top 10 digital cities in the world. Tallinn is a European Capital of Culture for 2011, along with Turku, Finland.
The first traces of human settlement found in Tallinn's city center by archeologists are about 5000 years old. The comb ceramic pottery found on the site dates to about 3000 BC and corded ware pottery c. 2500 BC. In 1050 the first fortress was built on Tallinn Toompea. As an important port for trade between Russia and Scandinavia, it became a target for the expansion of the Teutonic Knights and the Kingdom of Denmark during the period of Northern Crusades in the beginning of the 13th century when Christianity was forcibly imposed on the local population. Danish rule of Tallinn and Northern Estonia started in 1219. In 1285 the city became the northernmost member of the Hanseatic League – a mercantile and military alliance of German-dominated cities in Northern Europe. The Danes sold Tallinn along with their other land possessions in northern Estonia to the Teutonic Knights in 1346. Medieval Tallinn enjoyed a strategic position at the crossroads of trade between Western and Northern Europe and Russia.
The city, with a population of 8,000, was very well fortified with city walls and 66 defence towers. A weather vane, the figure of an old warrior called Old Thomas, was put on top of the spire of the Tallinn's Town Hall in 1530 that became the symbol for the city. With the start of the Protestant Reformation the German influence became even stronger as the city was converted to Lutheranism. In 1561 Tallinn politically became a dominion of Sweden. During the Great Northern War, Tallinn along with Swedish Estonia and Livonia capitulated to Imperial Russia in 1710, but the local self-government institutions (Magistracy of Reval and Chivalry of Estonia) retained their cultural and economical autonomy within Imperial Russia as the Duchy of Estonia.
The Magistracy of Reval was abolished in 1889. The 19th century brought industrialization of the city and the port kept its importance. During the last decades of the century Russification measures became stronger. On 24 February 1918, the Independence Manifesto was proclaimed in Tallinn, followed by Imperial German occupation and a war of independence with Russia. On 2 February 1920, the Tartu Peace Treaty was signed with Soviet Russia, wherein Russia acknowledged the independence of the Estonian Republic. Tallinn became the capital of an independent Estonia. After World War II started, Estonia was occupied by the Soviet Union (USSR) in 1940, and later occupied by Nazi Germany from 1941–44.
After the Nazi retreat in 1944, it was again occupied by the USSR. After annexation into the Soviet Union, Tallinn became the capital of the Estonian SSR. During the 1980 Summer Olympics, the sailing (then known as yachting) events were held at Pirita, north-east of central Tallinn. Many buildings, such as the "Olümpia" hotel, the new Main Post Office building, and the Regatta Center, were built for the Olympics. Tallinn on an 1890s photochrom In August 1991 an independent democratic Estonian state was re-established and a period of quick development to a modern European capital ensued.
Tallinn became the capital of a de facto independent country once again on August 20, 1991. Tallinn has historically consisted of three parts: The Toompea (Domberg) or "Cathedral Hill", which was the seat of the central authority: first the Danish captains, then the komturs of the Teutonic Order, and Swedish and Russian governors. It was until 1877 a separate town (Dom zu Reval), the residence of the aristocracy; it is today the seat of the Estonian government and many embassies and residencies. The Old Town, which is the old Hanseatic town, the "city of the citizens", was not administratively united with Cathedral Hill until the late 19th century. It was the centre of the medieval trade on which it grew prosperous.
The Estonian town forms a crescent to the south of the Old Town, where the Estonians came to settle. It was not until the mid-19th century that ethnic Estonians replaced the local Baltic Germans as the majority amongst the residents of Tallinn. Historically, the city has been attacked, sacked, razed and pillaged on numerous occasions. Although extensively bombed by Soviet air forces during the latter stages of World War II, much of the medieval Old Town still retains its charm. The Tallinn Old Town (including Toompea) became a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site in 1997. At the end of the 15th century a new 159 m (521.65 ft) high Gothic spire was built for St. Olaf's Church. Between 1549 and 1625 it was the tallest church in the world. After several fires and following rebuilding, its overall height is now 123 m (403.54 ft).
Tallinn is situated on the southern coast of the Gulf of Finland, in north-western Estonia. The largest lake in Tallinn is Lake Ülemiste (covering 9.6 km²). It is the main source of the city's drinking water. Lake Harku is the second largest lake within the borders of Tallinn and its area is 1.6 km². Tallinn does not lie on a major river. The only significant river in Tallinn is Pirita River in Pirita, a city district counted as a suburb. Historically, the small Härjapea River flowed from Lake Ülemiste through the town into the sea, but the river was diverted for sewage in the 1930s and has since completely disappeared from the cityscape. A limestone cliff runs through the city. It can be seen at Toompea, Lasnamäe and Astangu. However, Toompea is not a part of the cliff, but a separate hill. The highest point in Tallinn, at 64 meters above sea level, is situated in Hiiu, Nõmme District, in the south-west of the city. The length of the coastline is 46 kilometres. It comprises three bigger peninsulas: Kopli peninsula, Paljassaare peninsula and Kakumäe peninsula.
In addition to longtime functions as seaport and capital city, Tallinn has seen development of an information technology sector; in its 13 December 2005, edition, The New York Times characterized Estonia as "a sort of Silicon Valley on the Baltic Sea". One of Tallinn's sister cities is the Silicon Valley town of Los Gatos, California. Skype is one of the best-known of several Estonian start-ups originating from Tallinn. Many start-ups started from the Soviet-era Institute of Cybernetics. The economic sectors of Tallinn also include the light, textile, and food industry, as well as the service and government sector. There is a small fleet of ocean going-trawlers that operate out of Tallinn. Port of Tallinn is one of the biggest ports in the Baltic sea region. Currently, over half of the Estonian GDP is created in Tallinn. In 2008, the GDP per capita of Tallinn stood at 172% of the Estonian average. This makes the GDP of Tallinn number in at 115% of the European Union average, while the overall GDP level of Estonia is at 67% of the EU average.
Since independence, improving air and sea transport links with Western Europe and Estonia's accession to the European Union have made Tallinn easily accessible to tourists. Estonia has made rapid economic progress since independence and this is reflected in local prices. Although not extortionate, neither are prices as cheap as in other former Eastern Bloc countries. St. Catherine's Passage The main attractions are in the two old towns (Lower Town and Toompea) which are both easily explored on foot. Eastern districts around Pirita and Kadriorg are also worth visiting and the Estonian Open Air Museum (Eesti Vabaõhumuuseum) in Rocca al Mare, west of the city, preserves aspects of Estonian rural culture and architecture.
Toompea – Upper Town This area was once a separate town (Dom zu Reval), the residence of the Chivalry of Estonia, Roman Catholic bishops of Tallinn (until 1561) and Lutheran superintendents of Estonia, occupying an easily defensible site overlooking the surrounding districts. The major attractions are the walls and various bastions of Castrum Danorum, the Russian Orthodox Alexander Nevsky Cathedral (built during the period of Russian Empire, the church was built on a site that formerly housed a statue of Martin Luther) and the Lutheran Cathedral (Toomkirik) and the old Estonian Royal Palace now the Parliament building.
All-linn – Lower Town Viru Gate, entrance to the Old Town. One of two remaining towers that were once part of a larger gate system built in the 14th century Part of Lower Town city wall This area is one of the best preserved old towns in Europe and the authorities are continuing its rehabilitation. Major sights include Raekoja plats (Town Hall square), the town walls and towers (notably "Fat Margaret" and "Kiek in de Kök") and St Olaf church tower (124 m).
Kadriorg Palace This is 2 kilometres east of the centre and is served by buses and trams. Kadriorg Palace, the former palace of Peter the Great, built just after the Great Northern War, now houses (part of) the Art Museum of Estonia, presidential residence and the surrounding grounds include formal gardens and woodland. Restored 2001–2004 with a large donation from the Swedish Government The new residence of the Art Museum of Estonia: KUMU (Kunstimuuseum, Art Museum) was built several years ago.
Pirita This coastal district is a further 2 kilometres north-east of Kadriorg. The marina was built for the Moscow Olympics of 1980, and boats can be hired on the Pirita River. Two kilometres inland are the Botanic Gardens and the Tallinn television tower.