ICOMOS committee of Estonia: Plan to build restaurant in Tartu Cathedral ruin unacceptable

  • 2022-09-15
  • BNS/TBT Staff

TALLINN – The Estonian national committee of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) on Monday discussed possibilities of building a restaurant in the ruins of the Tartu Cathedral and found that it is unacceptable.

The Estonian committee of ICOMOS discussed the issues related to the planning of a restaurant business in the ruins of the cathedral, found that it was unacceptable and decided to make a public appeal to the Senate of the University of Tartu, the city government and the National Heritage Board.

The Toomemagi hill in Tartu is home to one of Estonia's oldest and rarest medieval cultural monuments. The Tartu Cathedral, built in the 13-15th century, was the most monumental sacred building in the whole of Old Livonia, that is, in the area of Estonia and Latvia. The comprehensive research, conservation and restoration works that took place at the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century have served the purpose of providing the most original picture of the building and architecture of the church. The cathedral is essentially also a cemetery, its basement was densely filled with coffins and individual burials in the Middle Ages. The ruins of the cathedral and the surrounding cemetery hold great intrinsic cultural heritage and public space value, the preservation of which as intact as possible for future generations must be the priority of the handling of this monument complex, it is said in the appeal.

In the first subparagraphs of the principles laid down in the Heritage Conservation Act, it is emphasized that when making changes to the historical environment, the actions must be guided by the principle of maintaining the quality of the cultural and living environment and that it must be ensure that the new addition supports and helps highlight previously created values. According to the Convention for the Protection of the Architectural Heritage of Europe, any structural development must not have a negative impact on the protected assets and the architectural and historical character of their surroundings. The ICOMOS committee of Estonia is of the opinion that the proposed new building does not meet the aforementioned principles and is in obvious contradiction with them.

A restaurant designed as a glass pavilion in the ruins of the cathedral for more than a hundred people with a service hall with glass walls as well as utility rooms and kitchen with opaque walls spoils the monument in its integrity and authenticity, closes the openness, transparency and public space of the ruins, breaks the views of the ruins and litters the overall picture of the dignified monument. The restaurant does not add value, but exploits and destroys the cultural value of the cathedral ruins. Building a restaurant in the ruins of the cathedral closes the public space and does not allow the continuation of public activities and events there, which did not violate the body of the cultural monument and took into account the dignity of the monument. Establishing a restaurant on top of funerals is inappropriate in our cultural space, the ICOMOS committee of Estonia said in the appeal.

The ruins of Tartu Cathedral on Toomemagi hill have a very high cultural heritage value and symbolic value. Such vigorous exploitation of a cultural monument and the closing of public space on Toomemagi for private and commercial gain is unacceptable. The ruins of the cathedral and the cemetery must be preserved in a complete and authentic manner as part of the public cultural space and environment for current and future generations.