Cultural Preservation in the City of Tartu: The Old and New – Savio (India)

Technological advancements have affected all alike; people, animals, and even cities and townships. Growth in the technological domain has left behind the cultural ethics that were once the crux of developing a society closely-knit among all those who resided within a settlement. Nonetheless, it should not be forgotten that the sweet fruits of the tree of development gain nutrition by the strong roots of cultural entanglement coursing through the routes that tell tales of heritage and traditions.

In this era of global technical advancements, the city of Tartu, about 186 kilometers southeast from the capital city of Tallinn and known as a University Town, comes across as an excellent example of a township that has not only established the millennial age within its ecosystem but also inspired the people to be aware of their heritage and preserve it.

Cobblestone Street in Tartu, Autumn2019
Photo credit: Anisha Absolom 

Sublime walks through routes of Tartu drift an individual towards sights of cultural amalgamation signifying the times and tide that the city has been through. Instances of walking on an asphalt road merging around a turn with a foundational cobblestone through-fare are indicative of the fact that not only is there been a beautiful conjecture of what is sought as ‘old’ and ‘new’ but also the older construction has proved itself sturdy and enigmatic to remain untouched amongst all developmental regimes.

Walls that bear the runts and bruises of weathering and shriveling, now mostly covered with street art and graffiti, are veterans that relate the tale of the city’s inception from Dorpat (first written mention in 1262 AD) to present Tartu. The city center (Estonian: Kesklinn) itself is a prime example of preservation of buildings built during the soviet union and the modern architecture that faces each other standing strongly portraying blissful harmony. Notable examples of cultural perseverance include the Tigutorn Tower and the Emajõe Centre, Tartu’s tallest and second tallest towers, respectively. They both were built during the emancipated period of independence. The world’s highest-ceiling pub, in the historic Gunpowder Cellar of Tartu constructed in the late 17th century over the site of an earlier fort, finds recognition in the Guinness World Book of Records. Remains of the old stone bridge over the Emajõgi, replaced by the arch bridge, lay foundations to the culturally artistic ideas that have floated ever since people started populating the area.

The stories of Tartu’s past and present have been well preserved in the old town of Tartu. The buildings and alleys showcase the insightful glories that have witnessed to the advancements the city has been through, to the extent that even the oldest constructed stone residences that house the medieval heating systems of rock kilns, also have the privilege of free Wi-Fi access. The blend is so vanilla, yet immensely significant to attest the cultural entanglement that has kept the residents of the city, sewn together within the fabric of chronological furtherance.

Walking by the church ruins, staring into the magnanimous construction reminds us of the fastidious architecture that prevailed during its time. Followed by its destruction during the Livonian War, yet rising again like a phoenix, as a symbol of rebirth, the city has not only shown its strength to build itself again but also the cultural sustenance that has outlived every hardship that came across its path.

Atop Dome Church in Tartu, Autumn 2019
Photo credit: Aditya Savio Paul

Right across the church ruins, the Johan Skytte Institute of Political Science, with its new-age construction, shows how well the two have had a symbiotic relationship with each other to foster the mindset of those who seek the true value of ‘Preservation’ and ‘Continuation’.

As it has been rightly said that society strives with advanced education, it can also be attested that the University of Tartu, established in 1632, has stood strong not only as a symbol of educative regimes but also in promoting cultural harmony to all who has received their pedagogy from the establishment. Being an academic town, every student finds comfort under the patronage of the university that has kept them driven towards progressive education.

Not only does the city and the university expose the students to the inherent culture that Tartu has preserved from time immemorial but also accommodates, all international cultures that are brought by students from their respective homeland, giving unbiased freedom of space to one and all.

Tartu also finds mention within multiple scientific laurels and academic inscriptions. Serving as a host to two major observatories in the Baltics; the Old observatory at Tahetorn, housing the Frahoaufer telescope along with being a UNESCO heritage site; and the state of the art Tartu Observatory at Tõravere (Tartu County); the city has paid homage to scientists and engineers in the field of astronomy, space technology, and remote sensing right from its very initial years of establishment.

This venture has kept stellar of research and development among senior and junior research enthusiasts alike which is yet another socio-cultural vibe that the city of good thoughts offers to all those who look up to it.

Old Telescope Tower at Tartu Observatory in Tõravere, Winter 2020
Photo credit: Umesh A. Bhat

Welcomed as a student within the City of Thoughts, I have personally felt the cultural vibe that the city offers to all who venture into the abyss of a new place, and come out enlightened with its historical past.

As the roots of a tree ambitiously expand towards resources to nourish the fruits of the tree, in the same way, the myriad of routes traverse through the city of Tartu joining institutes, laboratories, accommodation, cafes, parks, and infrastructure.

Tartu City Centre RoadMap, 2013
Photo credit: Regio.ee

All these together form the values that are shared among all its residents alike, to enrich cultural heritage that serves as the elixir to growth and unity. The realization comes by absorbing the bond which the patrimony has provided by the age-old culture and the spur that keeps it alive within the hearts of all those who en-route themselves through the City of Tartu.