Tallinn, Estonia

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, Tallinn, Estonia

Sitting at the highest point on Toompea Hill in the heart of Old Tallinn is Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. To explain how such a prominent position is home to what is, essentially, a foreign power’s main church a little history is needed.

Tallinn, or Reval as it was then known, has a long history of occupation by foreign powers; the Danes, the Hanseatic Germans, the Swedes, the Livonians and in 1710 the Russian Empire of Peter the Great.

Tallinn remained part of the Russian Empire until a brief flurry of independence between the two World Wars after which it was absorbed into the Soviet Union.

In 1894 with Tallinn firmly in the Russian Empire it was decided to build a Russian Orthodox Cathedral in the heart of the Old City. The design was by Mikhail Preobrazhensky and was in the Russian Revival style; with onion domes, cupolas and towers. By 1900 the Cathedral was complete, and it is today the largest Orthodox Church in Estonia.

As independence for Estonia became a possibility the Cathedral became a symbol of Russian overlordship. When Estonia declared independence in 1918 many Estonians wanted to demolish the Cathedral, and such demolition was scheduled for 1924. In the end economics saved it – demolishing such a large and central structure would have cost too much. Estonian independence was to be fleeting, after World War II the Soviet Union absorbed the Baltic States and so Tallinn became a closed city within the USSR.

The Soviets had an official policy of non-religion and the Cathedral was allowed to fall into disrepair. In 1991 Estonia, along with Lithuania and Latvia, became independent from the disintegrating USSR and work began on rebuilding the Cathedral. Today it is in immaculate condition and is one of the landmark structures of the City.

Photo - Andrew J. Müller

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