Riigikogu
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Riigikogu

Toompea Castle complex consists of four parts. The Riigikogu building is situated in the courtyard of the Castle. In the eastern part, there are the White Hall, and the rooms of the President of the Riigikogu, the committees and factions. In the southern and western part, there are the offices of the members of the Riigikogu. The Chamber is in the Riigikogu building. In the northern part, there are the working rooms of the Chancellery of the Riigikogu. The castle complex consists of buildings of different styles. It got its present outlook in the course of many centuries.

The Riigikogu building

After World War I, the Empires of Russia and Austria-Hungary collapsed and several new states were founded in Europe. Of these new states, the Republic of Estonia was the first who decided to build a new parliamentary building. The medieval convent building that had been burned down during the February Revolution in 1917 was chosen to be the site for the building. Thus, in 1920–1922 the Riigikogu building, designed by architects Eugen Habermann and Herbert Johanson, was erected right in the heart of the ancient Toompea stronghold. Three-storeyed building with four wings is built on medieval foundations around the trapeze-shaped inner courtyard. The outer facade of the building is decorated by three entrances, and above them, large windows of the Chamber, which are surrounded by decoration consisting of black triangles made of Finnish granite.

Originally the building was designed in Art Nouveau style, but in the course of construction it became Expressionist. As far as it is known, the Riigikogu building is the only expressionist parliamentary building in the world, and in the beginning its modernism was criticised both in Estonia and abroad. The Riigikogu building was the first public building in Estonia which was designed to have electric power and where the architects connected impressive lighting solutions with Expressionist architecture.

Riigikogu building. Photo: Martin Siplane, 2013
The Riigikogu building was constructed on the site of the medieval convent building that had been burned down during the February Revolution of 1917

Convent building

The Riigikogu building stands on the foundations of the old convent building. The building of the Brethren or the convent measured 34×39 metres, and it had been built by the knights of the Order of the Brethren of the Sword who started to fortify Toompea in the beginning of the 13th century. On the ground floor, there were storerooms and hypocaust-type furnaces for heating the rooms. Kitchen and dining hall may also have been located there. On the main floor, there were the communal rooms: meeting hall or chapterhouse and the chapel. It is though that the communal sleeping room of the knights or the dormitory was also on this floor.

In the Middle Ages, there were a ditch and a well for watering animals in front of the convent building. It is known from historical sources that in the 15th–16th century the convent building was rebuilt to be as high as the castle wall. In 1843 the convent building was reconstructed into a prison according to the design of the province architect Johann Schelbach. During the February Revolution in 1917 the crowds who had forced their way into the castle courtyard set the convent building that had been turned into the prison on fire to free the prisoners there. After Estonia became independent, the Constituent Assembly in 1920 passed the decision that the building for the parliament of Estonia or Riigikogu would be built on the foundations of the convent building.

North wall of the medieval convent building (the North wall of the Riigikogu building from 1922 is in the same place)

State Hall

In the second half of the 16th century the Estonian nobility placed themselves under the protection of the King of Sweden. However, in the opinion of the Swedes, the convent building that was located in the central part of the castle complex was not suitable for a Renaissance representative building. Therefore they decided to build a new State Hall on the western side of the castle wall. It was completed in 1589 as one of the most outstanding Renaissance buildings in Estonia.

The architect of the State Hall was Hans von Aachen, who used the royal castle in Stockholm as an example. In the centre of the facade there was a two-way grand staircase decorated with obelisks on balls. On the first floor there was a large hall with log ceiling and on the outer side of the western wall, an open balcony for trumpet players. In order to get light into the hall, large windows were cut into the western wall. These windows can be seen also today. The building was completed in August 1589, and the King of Sweden Johan III and his son, the King of Poland Sigismund III met there.

When the eastern and southern wing of the complex were undergoing extensive reconstructions in 1935, a narrow three-storeyed dwelling house for officials was built next to the western wall.

Province government building

The Toompea Palace, where the Baroque and emerging early Classicist styles merge, was constructed in 1767–1773 by the order of the Russian Empress Catherine II. There is a story behind it. Namely, the Empress visited the Baltic provinces in 1764, spent a night in Kadriorg Palace and fell ill because her room there did not have double-paned windows and was cold.

Therefore she decided to have a more modern and magnificent representative building of the province built at Toompea. A tax which ranged from 1 to 15 roubles, depending on the rank, was imposed on the people to collect money for the building. The building was designed by architect Johann Schultz, who had settled to Estonia from Jena in Germany, and several outstanding masters took part in the construction work.

The building was constructed in the eastern part of the castle. During the construction, part of the circular wall was demolished together with the tower Stür den Kerl and the State Hall. Baroque motifs dominate in the exterior design of the main facade of the Palace, but in the interior, early Classicism prevails. Because of the style chosen for it, the building resembled a nobleman’s palace both outside and by its interior. This is probably why it became known as the Toompea Palace in the end of the 18th century. Later this name has been used also to denote the whole complex of buildings at Toompea.

Southern wing of Toompea Castle

Southern wing of Toompea

Until the beginning of the 20th century, the southern wing of Toompea Castle was the castle wall. When the modern centre of government was completed in the 1930s, it was decided that the southern wing should also be rebuilt. The original design was by Konstantin Bölau and August Tauk, architects of the Ministry of Roads, later it was changed by young architect Alar Kotli. According to his vision, the rooms intended for the ministry of the Interior in the southern wing had to be in harmony with the Palace of Toompea. Kotli’s design followed the modernist logic of his times, but proceeded from the historicist form. The Governor’s Garden that surrounded the southern wing was also reconstructed to decorate and highlight the new palace-like exterior.

Governor's Garden

Governor’s Garden

Originally there was an empty space between the walls of the southern part of Toompea, which was used as a pasture. When the province government building was constructed in the end of the 18th century, a public park called the Governor’s Garden was founded on this land. It was one of the first public parks in Tallinn. Originally the Governor’s Garden stretched also in front of the Palace, but in the 1890s, during the height of Russification, an Orthodox church, the Nevski Cathedral was built there.

The park got its present appearance during the reconstructions of 1936, when the Governor’s Garden was brought into harmony with the new design of the southern wing. The supporting walls were built higher, and this lifted the garden on the same level as the square in front of the Palace. The plan of the garden was classical and stressed the new palace-like southern facade.

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Last updated: 07.07.2016

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