More background info:
The TV Tower was built for the 1980 Moscow
Olympics, as the sailing regatta events were to be held in Tallinn
(The Linnahall complex on the Baltic Sea shores was also built by the Soviets for this purpose – see under Soviet Tallinn
The location chosen was deliberately a sizeable distance (over 8 km / 5 miles) away from Tallinn’s historic Old Town, so as not to interfere with its iconic skyline.
Construction began in 1975 and was completed just in time with the tower officially opening on 11 July 1980. The Olympic sailing events were held from 22 July to 1 August.
The tower weighs some 20,000 tons and consists of two parts, the main tower, made from 50cm (20 inches) thick concrete rings, which is 190m (623 feet) tall and with a structure near the top for the viewing platform and restaurant at a height of 170m (558 feet). On top of the concrete tower came a 124m (407 feet) high steel antenna, bringing the total height of the tower to 314m (1030 feet). The diameter at the base is just over 15m (50 feet) and thins out towards the top to 8.2m (27 feet). The structure with the observation deck is 38m (125 feet) in diameter.
A day after the beginning of the putsch against Mikhail Gorbachev in Moscow
on 19 August 1991 the Estonian Supreme Council decided to secede from the USSR
and declare Estonia
independent again. The next morning, on 21 August, Soviet military units attempted to seize the TV Tower and stop transmissions. As earlier in Vilnius
(in January – see Vilnius TV Tower
), large numbers of civilians came out on the streets and also gathered at the TV Tower to protect it from having its free media transmissions severed.
The technicians inside the tower’s operating rooms at the top, so the legend goes, blocked the elevator doors by as simple a means as matchboxes between the doors and the frame, so the doors couldn’t fully close, thus incapacitating the lifts. That way the soldiers would have had to climb the over 1000 steps of the stairwell to get to the top. The technicians allegedly also threatened to use an oxygen-extraction system (designed as a fire-fighting measure) which would have asphyxiated the soldiers in the stairwell (and the technicians themselves too!). Whether or not this was a bluff, the Soviet soldiers retreated and left the TV Tower. By 22 August the attempted coup in Moscow had failed anyway. Two weeks later the USSR
as an independent country.
This is why the “Teletorn” is seen as an important symbol of the country’s regaining its independence. Unlike at the TV Tower in Vilnius
on 13 January 1991, nobody got killed at Tallinn’s Teletorn on 21/22 August. So it’s less of a dark site than its Lithuanian counterpart, but still historically important.
In 2007 the observation deck and restaurant had to be closed as they no longer complied with contemporary fire safety regulations. However, a full restoration and modernization programme was started in 2010, and in May 2012 the tower was reopened to the public.
What there is to see:
As you walk from the road towards the tower’s base, take in the whole view of the soaring structure – I think, as far as TV towers go, this is a rather aesthetically pleasing one, especially the “Martini-glass”-shaped structure holding the observation deck and restaurant. (Though I don’t think it can compete with the beauties that are the TV towers in Berlin
As you approach the tower take note of the memorial stone
by the car park that is dedicated to the defenders of the tower during the 21 August attack by Soviet forces in 1991 (see above
). The inscription on the stone (which was erected in 2005) is in Estonian only, but a small metal text plaque next to it explains the background briefly in English and Russian as well.
Allegedly you can also still find bullet holes from the Soviet attack on the base of the tower – but these eluded me. And parked on the lawn to the west of the tower’s base is a Soviet-era military armoured personnel carrier.
Along the glass-roofed approach path you next have to take in the large blow-ups of photos from the years of the tower’s construction – Soviet
civil engineering at its best.
Inside the base
is a large shop where you also buy your tickets. Before taking the lift up, check out the small exhibition
on the upper level of the base building. This covers the history of the tower, details of its construction and technical specs – everything is in Estonian, English and Russian. The role that the tower played in the August 1991 confrontations during the attempted coup in the USSR
) is naturally covered too, though not in as much detail as I would have expected. Also in the base is a mock-up of a TV studio, and a sign proclaimed “we are improving the exhibit”, so there may be more to see by now.
Then you take the high-speed elevator up to the observation deck. From here you get 360 degree views of the surroundings, Tallinn to the south-west, and on clear days all the way to Finland to the north. Also note the round glass plates in the floor through which you can look straight down to the tower’s base 170m (558 feet) below.
The area space inside the observation deck level is also used for more exhibitions. At the time of my visit in August 2021 this was one entitled “GENE-IUS” and was about genetics, mostly human genetics, and its associated fields of research (e.g. medicine).
A spiral staircase leads up to the level above the main observation deck. Here you can find the restaurant/café/bar
. Unlike at other Soviet-era TV Towers (e.g. the one in Vilnius
or Ostankino Tower
) the Teletorn restaurant does not have a revolving floor. Here you can have a snack and/or drink and enjoy the views further. But it’s also from here that you can walk an outdoor observation deck
, secured by wire mesh. Through larger viewing holes you get unobstructed views. There are also a couple of telescope binoculars you can use. The public part of the outdoor section only goes halfway around the tower. Looking up you can see the steel antenna soaring to the very tip of the tower.
Thrill seekers can also pay (a hefty) extra for a “walk on the edge” experience. You get strapped into a harness which is then attached to a steel cable for safety and then you can walk the other half of the deck completely in the open and even sit on the edge and dangle your legs down, 175m (574 feet) above the ground!
Back down in the shop have a look around to see if any of the wares offered here tickle your fancy. Amongst the T-shirts on sale is one that is advertised with a photo of Queen guitarist Brian May wearing this T-shirt design on stage!
All in all, this isn’t an especially dark destination by any means, but it’s still a historically important spot, and it’s good fun if you have the time spare (and aren’t a vertigo sufferer, for whom this is not recommended)
outside of Tallinn
in the north-eastern suburb of Pirita next to the Botanical Gardens.
Access and costs: far out of the city centre but fairly easy to get to by bus or car; not cheap.
Details: To get to the TV Tower you have to drive or take public transport. If you’re driving leave Tallinn city centre eastwards on Narva mnt. When you come to the seafront at the Russalka shipwreck victims monument keep left on to Pirita tee. Keep going past Maarjamäe and just after crossing the Pirita River bridge turn off right on to Kloostrimetsa tee. This road winds through the forest and past a large cemetery and the Botanical Gardens and eventually takes you right to the turn-off for the TV Tower’s car park.
By public transport, the most convenient connection is by bus line 34A or 38 from the Viru Keskus underground bus station, which take you directly to the Teletorn stop in just under half an hour (16 stops).
Opening times: Mondays to Fridays 12 noon to 9 p.m., at weekends from 11 a.m., last admission an hour before closing time. The shop closes at 6 p.m. (7 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays).
Admission: 13 EUR (students, pensioners and children aged 7-19 pay only 7 EUR), after 6 p.m. 9 EUR (card payment on the spot only). For just entrance to the restaurant between 6 and 9 p.m. you need a restaurant ticket, which costs 3 EUR – a prior table reservation is required.
The “walk on the edge” activity costs 30 EUR (40 EUR on special evening openings after dark).
It is recommended to buy tickets online in advance to avoid queueing, especially at peak times (weekends in particular); these are available directly from the tower’s website (teletorn.ee).
Time required: depends on how closely you want to inspect the exhibitions and for how long you want to admire the views. I spent a bit over an hour at the tower (including a quick drink in the restaurant/bar).
Combinations with other dark destinations:
Since the Maarjamäe memorial complex
and Contemporary History Museum are en route (on the same bus lines) this makes the best combination.
Also physically fairly near is the Estonian War Museum
. But it’s not so easy to reach from the TV Tower. So that’s actually better done on a different day.
For more see under Tallinn
Combinations with non-dark destinations: In the immediate vicinity, practically next door to the west of the TV Tower, is Tallinn’s Botanical Gardens, for those who appreciate such things.
Otherwise see under Tallinn
- Teletorn 1 - elegant structure
- Teletorn 2 - photo from construction time
- Teletorn 3 - mock TV studio
- Teletorn 4 - know your history
- Teletorn 5 - observation deck
- Teletorn 6 - looking down
- Teletorn 7 - looking towards Tallinn
- Teletorn 8 - outdoor obersvation deck
- Teletorn 9 - the top