Once you get to know Tallinn’s medieval street names, you’ll find that they pretty much mean exactly what they say. For example, Pikk (Long) was named that way because it was the longest street in Old Town while Lai (Wide) got its name for being the widest. At first glance, the descriptive name of Uus (New) might seem to be a bit confusing because the street is so old. But back when it was built, it was the first new street to appear outside of Tallinn’s city walls. Looking at it that way, the old name of Uus (New) starts to make sense.
Tallinn’s Uus Turg (New Market) got its name in a similar way. Just don’t bother looking for the New Market on a map of modern Tallinn because it no longer exists. The market’s main building was severely damaged during the Soviet Air Force’s March 1944 punishment bombing of Tallinn and was never rebuilt. Instead, what was left of the market was torn down by the Soviets in 1948 after they’d opened Tallinn’s Central Market in Keldrimäe (Cellar Hill).
New Market – or Neuer Markt as it was known to the city’s former Baltic-Germans residents – lasted for around 50 years after it opened for business back in October 1896. It earned the name of New Market because it replaced the old market – Tallinn’s original market – which had been held for centuries on and around Town Hall Square. If you visit present-day Tammsaare Park, you can see where the New Market – or at least most of it – used to be.
The best place to start your journey back in time is outside of Viru Mall – which itself was once home to another vanished market called Vene Turg (the Russian Market). First, you should find the western exit of the mall which people use when they’re headed towards Old Town. Viru Hotel should be behind you and to your right as you face the park named after Anton Hansen Tammsaare, Estonia’s great writer. By the way, the place you’re standing right now was supposed to become the new home to Tallinn’s Town Hall – a project abandoned at the start of the First World War.
To start your visit to New Market, make your way uphill into the park, heading south-west. Estonia Boulevard will be on your left while the start of Pärnu Road will be on your right. Back then, Pärnu Road was known by the name of Jaani (John’s Street) after it was formed by removing parts of the Swedish bastion of which only the elevated park of Musumägi (Kissing Hill) remains today. Once you cross the footpath now called Kunstitänav (Art Street) thanks to its huge hanging picture frames, you’ll have entered the grounds of the New Market.
New Market was huge – much bigger than either Tallinn’s Central Market or even BJT is today. It took up pretty much the entire area that you can see up until the Estonia Theater on your left and the Estonian Drama Theater even further up on your right. All this open space – including the various parking lots as well parts of both Pärnu Road and Estonia Boulevard before they were widened – formed part of the vast outdoor market which spilled out from New Market’s single building. On one of the park’s new information boards, you can see a wonderful aerial photo of the market dating back to its 1935 heyday which shows the full extent of a market complex which had no Estonian rivals.
If you keep walking across the tiled circle in the middle of the park and past the statue dedicated to Anton Hansen Tammsaare on your left, you’ll eventually reach the former site of the New Market’s main market hall which was designed by a Baltic-German architect from Riga and completed in 1900. Today, only the foundations of the old market hall are visible – and even they are hard to see because of the scaffolding that surrounds them. The current plan calls for a glass pavilion to be built on top of the foundations of the former market hall. If all goes according to plan, then this new structure will become a new gathering point for Tallinn residents and visitors – although not in quite the same way as the New Market used to be – as it may host exhibits, events, and a café instead. The other part of the former market ground currently hidden by the scaffolding is supposed to become a new children’s playground.
Walk around the scaffolding to your right and you’ll end up in a strange paved square which once housed part of the outdoor market. These days, this area has been given the new name of Uue Turu Plats (New Market Square). If the name sticks, then New Market may one day reappear on Tallinn city maps. Incidentally, one part of this old market territory was also home to a cinema and a cabaret although that building is long gone as it was destroyed as well during the Soviet bombing.
To your left, you can see the outdoor market’s southern border which is delineated by the Estonia Theater originally funded by the Estonia Society to out-do their Baltic-German rivals. The Estonia Theater’s building – once Jugendstil in style – was designed by two Finnish architects from Helsinki and completed in 1913. The building suffered extensively during the Soviet bombing and ended up looking rather more classical after its Stalin-era reconstruction.
Looking straight ahead, you’ll see the outdoor market’s south-western border: the lovely Jugendstil building of today’s Estonian Drama Theater. This building began its life as the German Theater before Estonia’s independence. Designed by two Russian architects from St. Petersburg and completed in 1910, the same space had been occupied by an interim wooden theater which burnt down during the events of the 1905 Revolution.
It should come as no surprise that New Market – Tallinn’s forum – was one of the main gathering points for protesters of the day. More than 90 people were killed – and more than twice as many were injured – when Russian Imperial Army troops used their guns to quell the riots which involved as many as 10,000 protesters. You should be able to spot the huge monument to the 1905 Revolution up ahead.
While Estonian sculptor Juhan Raudsepp designed the original monument to those who died, the Soviets clearly didn’t find his 1931 sculpture “revolutionary enough” after they occupied Tallinn. As a result, his memorial ended up getting moved to Rahumäe (Peace Hill) Cemetery were the victims were buried. The current Soviet-era statue by sculptor Lembit Paluteder and architect Mart Port went up in 1959. In certain circles, the statue has earned the unfortunate nickname of “A Soviet Wife Hailing a Taxi for Her Drunken Husband” even though the original events of 1905 affected all of Tallinn’s different nationalities – especially the Estonians who used the opportunity to press for greater political freedom.
Sadly, Soviet propaganda always had a way of tainting everything that it touched. After clearing up the rubble left by their own March 1944 punishment bombing, the Soviets named the new park in honor of “The 16th of October” – the day of the 1905 protest march and massacre which they tried to rewrite as a worker’s uprising. In any case, it wasn’t until 1978 with the dedication of the new Tammsaare statue designed by sculptor Jaak Soan and architect Rein Lupp that the park received its current name.
Anyways, the next time that you pass by Tammsaare Park, why not take some time to imagine what it must have been like to walk through Estonia’s main inter-war market? Once the current reconstruction of the park has been fully completed, Tallinn City Government plans to use New Market Square – that paved area between the Estonia Theater and the Estonian Drama Theater – as a site for future outdoor markets and fairs. To me, this seems like a very appropriate way of keeping the New Market’s memory alive for generations to come.
Image: My watermelon-shaped coin purse (designer unknown).