The historical centre of the University of Tartu is located on and at the foot of Toome Hill. A main building of the university had been built here already in 1632, but in the 19th century Toome Hill evolved into a true “Mount Parnassus” when architect Johann Wilhelm Krause designed here the new iconic main building with its pillared portico, the Old Anatomical Theatre, the Old Observatory, and rebuilt the ruins of Tartu Cathedral to house the University Library.
The story of Toome Hill is also the story of the city of Tartu and the changes of powers that it has witnessed. Many people and their ideas have shaped the vistas of present-day Toome Hill. We invite you on a tour through the secret spots on Toome Hill, some of which can be traced only in memories and on photos, others have been buried under layers of soil, and yet others can be seen even today.
The water tower above the cathedral’s northern tower
In 1889–1979, there used to be a water tower on top of the northern tower of Tartu Cathedral. Over the years, the water tower was expanded when needed and reconstructions were made until its wooden structure was destroyed in the 1979 fire.
As there was no central water supply system in Tartu before 1929, the water used on Toome Hill was fetched from the nearby river Emajõgi. In the second half of the 19th century, the water quality no longer fulfilled the needs of the clinics situated on the hill, and the university built a water system to supply the buildings with ground water. Reinhold Guleke, the university’s architect at the time, found the cathedral’s northern tower as the most suitable place for the required water tank and, in 1889, designed a wooden pavilion in Gothic style around the reservoir (the original pavilion can be seen in photo 2).
To satisfy the growing water demand, in 1913 the building was expanded to accommodate also a second water tank (see photos 3 and 4). In 1934, the pavilion in Gothic style was replaced with a simpler construction (photo 5). The latter remained there until the 1979 fire, after which the water tanks were ultimately demolished.
A medieval grave slab and a human skeleton
In the medieval period, Tartu Cathedral used to have a graveyard. According to the Christian tradition at the time, the dead were buried both inside and around the cathedral. While there are no written documents about the cathedral graveyard, human bones and objects found in the course of construction works and archaeological excavations are proof of its existence. Two of such archaeological findings are on display in the foyer of the cathedral – a medieval grave slab and a burial chamber.Continue reading