History in change

  • 2008-09-03
  • By Marge Tubalkain-Trell

Cleaning public monuments in Toomemagi.

TALLINN - Tartu is the only city in Estonia that wakes up in autumn. That's when students return to the city, filling it with their as yet unfulfilled dreams and restless energy.
Toomemagi, the hill in Tartu's center, is a heritage protection site.  It was a gift to the university from Paul I, czar of Russia from 1796 to 1801. Before that, city residents used it as a livestock range for cows and goats.
Paul I turned it into a public park and an excellent science center. Today Toomemagi is famous for its paved alleys and planted trees. There are two parts of Toomemagi, which are linked by two bridges: Kuradisild (Devil's Bridge) and Inglisild (Angel's Bridge). Angel's Bridge is the symbolic gate to Toomemagi. With its library, anatomicum, clinics and observatory, the hill is the psychological center of Tartu.

Anyone walking through the area today would find it hard to believe that the area was once used to herd cattle. For one thing, you can't imagine how the animals could even get in there.
Most of the old houses that predate the 20th century are still there, although they serve different purposes from those for which they were originally built. The Old Anatomicum, once a place of science and learning, is now an exhibition center and playhouse. It is open from Tuesday to Saturday. Another old building houses a women's clinic. There are paths under the trees, a children's playground and a viewing platform.
A walk through the rain reveals monuments and statues that seem to be in perpetual motion. The people of Tartu have found new uses for old structures; history seems to be alive in Toomemagi. The place looks like a museum piece but doesn't feel like one.

Still, Toomemagi has changed. The trees may look old, but actually only some have survived from the 19th century.  The little hill made of stones known as Kissing Hill is still there, though, and on it is a park bench. Indeed, it does seem like a romantic spot.
Built into the side of the hill is Gunpowder Cellar, a two-floor concert hall that fills with students on the weekends and is a popular place for concerts. The cellar is simple, charming and kind of rustic. Nobody makes an effort to clear the huge spider webs that hang from the ceiling, maybe to add to the charm of the place. It's never too hard to make friends or melt into a group when you go there alone.

Near Gunpowder Cellar is Pirogovi Square. When Estonia introduced its prohibition laws, it became the only place where anyone can drink alcohol in public on the street.
The hill and the streets are empty now; it can be like that if it's raining and the summer's nearly gone. If you are planning to go, a good time would be the beginning of October, when people are just beginning to settle in 's have a cup of take-away coffee and just walk to the top of the hill when the autumn colors are finally showing their glory.

Toomemagi is best in autumn, when it's raining a little and the leaves are floating softly to the ground in the cool breeze.