October…and there’s a chill in Old Tallinn’s foggy air. But it doesn’t simply herald winter’s onset. Estonia’s gloriously gothic capital lays claim to being Europe’s spookiest city.
Tallinn comes straight from the pages of the Grimm Brothers’ darker fables: dragon-headed gargoyles and squat stone towers with russet-colored caps…needle-thin spires colored black and copper…gilded weathervanes adorned with mythical creatures. Names like Long Leg Street, Goldfoot Tower, Hanging Hill, and the Wall of Hatred all add to the dark magic.
Come twilight, old-fashioned lamps add a delicious menace to the cobbled alleys and stairways. But even in daytime, you feel shadowed by otherworldly footsteps. Skeletons have been found sealed in the walls of more than a few medieval houses. And one street is actually called Vaimu, Estonian for “ghost.”
Tallinn’s spectral inhabitants include the Stable Tower’s phosphorescent bone-man and a drunken monk who haunts the mischievously-named “Maidens’ Tower,” where medieval prostitutes were imprisoned. The gate tower on Luhike Jalg (Short Leg Street) is apparently haunted by a fire-spitting dog, three monks (one dressed in red), a woman in old-fashioned clothing, and the unquiet spirit of a town executioner.
Don’t linger too long on Rataskaevu Street. Passers-by often hear inexplicable noises coming from No. 16 after midnight. This 15th-century inn (now a sushi restaurant) is rumored to be the devil’s party place. A cloaked man rented a top-floor room for the night, insisting on complete privacy. Following what sounded like the noise of a hundred people, one luckless servant peeked around the door…and saw the devil himself. Look up and you’ll see the room–it’s the one with the bricked-up window and false painted curtains.
Cornering Rataskaevu and Dunkri streets is the Wheel Well, also known as Cat Well. Tallinn’s medieval citizens believed a demon dwelt at the bottom–a hungry demon that needed appeasing with animal sacrifices. Rather than giving it pigs and chickens, they fed it pussy-cats.
A demonic builder constructed St. Olav’s church, which at one time boasted the tallest spire in Europe. The story goes that a stranger turned up, saying he would build the church in record time, if paid a huge bag of gold. However, if the townsfolk guessed his name, he would forego payment.
The church got built in the blink of an eye, and someone did indeed guess the stranger’s name: Olav. He was up the spire at the time, and hearing his name called, he tumbled to his death. A toad and a serpent crawled out of his mouth–a sure sign of devilry.
In a corner of Toomkirik, the Dome Church, is the tomb of Pontus de la Gardie. A French mercenary, he led Swedish forces during one of their Estonian forays. De la Gardie had a reputation for cruelty: his favorite punishment was skinning prisoners alive. It’s said he wanders Tallinn at night…and won’t rest until enough unsuspecting strangers have bought the skins from him.
Are you sure you want to venture out after dark tonight?
Ghost-finder General, International Living