“If only Tallinn weren’t so modern and didn’t host such masses of St. Petersburg upper class ladies,” sighed the wife of Russian poet baron Anton Delvig, who had come here to improve her health. Aurika Meimre, senior research fellow and associate professor of Russian Culture at the School of Humanities explains how popular Tallinn actually was among the Russian nobility.
Tallinn, or more specifically Kadriorg, was very popular among the Russian blue-bloods in the 19th century. Mostly as a resort, where they came to rest and heal. Thanks to the medieval Old Town and the biggest “summer cottage” in Estonia – Kadriorg Palace, the Czar’s summer residence – it did not need any additional tourist magnets. Many other Estonian resorts had to utilise additional ‘magnets’, for example Haapsalu boasted with hosting the Romanov dynasty, Sillamäe was frequented by the Russian Nobel Prize laureate Ivan Pavlov, and the Russian poet David Samoilov moved to Pärnu during the Soviet Era. During a few summers, the Czar’s family multiplied the number of vacationers in Tallinn.
The daughters of Nikolai I, grand duchesses Olga, Maria and Alexandra arrived here in 1832 by chance, since Doberan in Germany was infected by cholera, which they found out here beside Reval. The Czar decided to host the girls here for the summer, against their will, and the adventure could begin.
The girls were hastily accommodated at the Kadriorg Palace, a jetty was erected for them by the tenth day of their stay and they could start bathing, which gave great joy to Olga and Alexandra. Maria, “who was hopelessly cold all the time, had to give up swimming”. The girls were only bothered by the weekly ‘exhibitions’, wherein they had to take a walk in the park in front of the audience that had gathered to see them.
“It was much more pleasurable to look at them ourselves, rather than be judged from head to toe. But these walks were compulsory,” Olga complained later in her memoires.
The next time the Palace became a summer cottage was in 1849, when the heir to the throne, Alexander Nikolayevich (the future Alexander II) decided to send his family here to rest and improve their health. The little grand dukes Nikolai, Alexander (the future Alexander III) and Vladimir probably had to take the compulsory walks once again, but they still had time to be the children they were.
For example, the eldest, the five-year old Nikolai decided to fortify Reval “in case of to unforeseen circumstances”. The children were aided by the combat engineers of the Czar’s army. The fortification at Kadriorg Park was named “Debertšin”.
To their surprise, the grand dukes discovered the redoubt and the tools they used untouched at the park while passing through Reval in 1857. In addition to establishing a “fort” the little grand dukes got to enjoy most of the summer like regular kids: walk, run and play games. The historian Sergei Tatištšev has written that their schedules during the stay here were much looser than those at Tsarskoje Selo and Peterhof.
It is more than obvious that a minute-long lecture cannot contain all the exciting, intriguing and fun activities the Russian nobility got up to in Tallinn. Aurika Meimre paraphrases our own classic Oskar Luts and says that reading a list of all Russian celebrities and cultural figures who spent their vacations here would take so long the “Lord’s sun will set before it is complete”. If only Estonia hadn’t been so popular!