The Building (by Teddy Böckler)

Tallinn Town Hall is the oldest surviving Town Hall in Northern Europe. It is also one of the most well-known and significant architectural monuments of the he Republic of Estonia. Tallinn Town Hall is a late Gothic monumental building with some fortification elements. An open arcade runs along the front of the building and a crenellated decorative parapet along the top of it; the town hall has a slender minaret-like tower on the eastern front. Its impressiveness is further enhanced by details, beautifully carved from local limestone - the piers and arches of the arcade, window tracery and portals. The quoins and the crenellated parapet are also built of finely finished blocks.

The town hall stands on the south side of the market square. The present town hall was built in 1402-1404 incorporating some walls of earlier town halls which had been located at the same site. The present building measures 36.8 m x 14.7 m in the ground plan.

The town hall is much older than one would expect, or than its present appearance would suggest. Hidden behind the surface of the latest structures are parts of much older walls which testify to the gradual construction and rebuilding of the town hall. Recent studies have revealed that the town hall was built in five consecutive phases, enlarging the building towards east. For this reason its ground plan is irregular: the axis of the building is bent, and the western wall is nearly half a metre shorter than the eastern wall. The oldest of the preceding town halls was located in the western end of the present building and its façade was in line with the rear wall of the present arcade.

The main parts of the building - the foundations, walls and vaults - are built of limestone using lime mortar. The stones came from Toompea and other near-by quarries.

The building has two main storeys and an almost full-sized cellar. The main façade is supported by an open arcade with eight piers and topped by a crenellated parapet. High gables and a pitched roof make the building elegant, but the slender octagonal projecting tower with a gallery for bells gives it particular finesse. The tower is crowned by a late Renaissance spire comprising three cupolas and open galleries.

The building transformed from the original meeting place of the town council - consistorium - into a magnificent representational building of the magistrate, stressed by the two-stepped pointed main portal in the western end of the main façade.

Although the main architectural outlook of the façades is determined by functional construction logic - the location, interval and size of the windows is determined by the spatial organisation and function of the rooms behind them - there are traces of a number of earlier windows in the rear wall of the arcade. The present arcade is a result of a lengthy architectural evolution and developed as such from a roofed gallery in front of the fourteenth-century town hall.

The exterior of the town hall is significant not only because of the finely finished surfaces on the quoins, but also because of the rough texture of the carefully selected stone blocks of the walls, which have been only slightly smoothed with a thin layer of mortar pointing the joints. Originally, the building was whitewashed, leaving the neatly finished surfaces and details uncovered.

There is no direct prototype for the architecture of the town hall. It developed on the basis of the local stonemasonry and building tradition, and the craft of the local masters. Some foreign elements have been adapted in an original way and incorporated successfully into the existing context. Tallinn Town Hall in its completeness is a unique building in the whole of Northern Europe.

Teddy Böckler ©

Teddy Böckler (1930-2005) was the restoration architect of the Town Hall  1959-2005.