Tallinn City Museum, Tallinn, Estonia

Tallinn City Museum (Tallinna Linnamuuseum) encompasses 10 sites around Tallinn that give insight into the history of the town from the earliest times to the present. It includes museums for children, a photography museum, and extensive parts of the town fortifications, both medieval and modern. The mains site is located in a medieval merchant’s house in Tallinn’s historic Old Town.

Housed in a 14th century merchant house, this comprehensive museum provides an excellent introduction to Tallinn’s history. It covers all the vital aspects of the city’s past and its development. Various sectors of medieval society are explained using a combination of texts, artefacts, life-sized models and sound effects. High-quality displays on the upper floors are devoted to 20th-century life, its turbulent wars, Soviet occupation, and finally Estonia’s re-independence.

The idea to establish a city museum in Tallinn was first voiced in 1991. The museum, however, was officially founded only in 1937 as the Historic Museum of the City of Tallinn. Until then, the collections of historic items related to Tallinn was maintained by the City Archives.

Over time, a number of affiliate museums have been established in such historic buildings as the cannon tower Kiek in de Kök and the adjoining tunnels under 17–18c earthwork bastions, the Neitsitorn (Maiden Tower) tower of the city wall that now houses a café, former jail of the Town Council, now a photography museum, and the main building of the children’s park from the 1930s that serves as the Kadriorg Children’s Museum Miiamilla. In Kadriorg one can also visit the first residence of the Russian Emperor Peter the Great in Tallinn. Since 1997, we run the Children’s Museum in Kalamaja district and since 2004 we offer the possibility to study the remains of the medieval St John’s Almshouse, once located outside the city walls. In 2016, a display of decorative stones carved by Tallinn masters was opened in one of the bastion tunnels, and Tallinn Russian Museum became part of the City Museum.

Tallinn City Museum is located in a medieval merchant’s dwelling in the heart of Old Town. History of the building dates back to the 14th century, when owned by famous citizen – aldermen and tradesmen. Mantel chimney, salt cellar with a well and a fireplace, a portal dating back to the 16th century and window framing have preserved. The museum has been located in the building since 1965.

The collections of the City Museum now include c 150,000 items connected to the history of Tallinn.

The first statutes of the Tallinn City Museum from 1937 declare: “Tghe aim of the Historical Museum of the City of Tallinn is to acquie, collect and preserve all items of historic and artistic value and related to cultural history that directly or indirectly are related to Tallinn, their research and presentation to the wider public.”

In 2001 a new permanent exposition: The Town That Never Gets Ready was opened. The modernly designed attractive exhibition reflects the history of Tallinn from the very beginning until the Singing Revolution.

Tallinn City Museum is the first Estonian museum to open a virtual exhibition, enabling the museum and its assets to be accessed from anywhere in the world.

Multimedia solutions are already common in museums. However, a museum display becoming a part of media that reaches every corner of the world is a newer trend, with its effect on the museum scene still being impossible to predict. Thousands of cultural objects can already be accessed, national parks and museums all over the world, including the British Museum, MoMa, and Musée d’Orsay. Now, Tallinn City Museum is one of them.

The online display is comprised of 3D virtual tours and virtual exhibitions assembled from them, and of high-resolution photos of the museum exhibits. For this, the City Museum made public more than 160 museum exhibits, of which 2/3 have been held in depositories, away from spectators.

At present, five thematic exhibitions have been compiled from the material. The project is in development, also offering a lot to discover for the people engaged with it. For most of the objects, a link to the MuIS database of Estonian museums has been added. A view of the medieval merchant’s house of the Tallinn City Museum, as well as the artillery tower of Kiek in de Kök and Peter the Great House Museum is given.

“The first virtual exhibition by an Estonian museum on the Google Arts & Culture platform (the first local cultural institution was the National Archive) is available both online and in the form of an Android and iOS application,” says Karel Zova, Chief Specialist for Displays and Exhibitions at the Tallinn City Museum, introducing the project. The endeavour began in 2015, when depository managers selected the most interesting items not yet shown to the public from their collections and an operator from Google visited the buildings of the City Museum to photograph the 3D Street View panoramas. In the future it will be possible to capture works of art using super high resolution gigapixel-technology, but the global waiting list for this work is long.

Tallinn City Museum, celebrating its 80th anniversary at the end of 2017, currently covers 12 sub-units located in the Old Town and Kadriorg, which maintain and present local history and cultural heritage. Most of the 170,000 museum pieces preserved in the collections of the City Museum can be found in the MuIS database of Estonian museum collections, although Google Arts&Culture is offering unprecedented opportunities for revealing the stories being told by the museum. Initially, all of the content of the platform is available in English.

The medieval building at Vene 17 was turned into museum during extensive refurbishment works in 1963–65, another major renewal took place from 1997 to 2000. The same building also stores a major part of our collections and houses the administration of the Tallinn City Museum.

The permanent exhibition at Vene 17 covers the history of the town from pre-history to the 1990s. The cellar houses a study collection of our porcelain and faiance collection (have a glimpse here), in December 2017 our collections of historic ceramics, copper and brass, and pewter will be opened to the public, too.