The elegant White Hall extends through the central part of the main storey, or piano nobile. The White Hall of Toompea Castle was used as the session hall by the 120 members of the Constituent Assembly of the newborn Republic of Estonia: this is where the first Constitution of the Republic of Estonia was adopted on 15 June 1920. The Hall was built as part of the Estonian provincial government building in 1767–1773. It has since served as the office of the government during various eras.
The Estonian territory was annexed to the Tsardom of Russia in 1710, during the Great Northern War. The Russian Tsar Peter the Great stayed in Toompea during Christmas 1711. He was not impressed with the area and decided to build his residence in Kadriorg instead. Consequently, Toompea was forgotten for nearly half a century and remained untouched by large scale constructions. The situation changed after the Russian Empress Catherine II visited the Baltic provinces in 1764. As a result of the visit, the Empress gave orders in 1766 as well as in 1767 to build the Estonian province government building on Toompea (1767–1773). The White Hall was part of the design.
The building was constructed in the eastern part of the castle. During the construction work, part of the medieval city wall was demolished along with the Stür den Kerl (“deter the enemy” in Lower German) tower in the southeast corner. The author of the project was the architect and stucco master Johann Schultz from Jena, Germany, who had settled in Estonia. While Baroque motifs grace the façade, the inside of the building already reflects a striving for Enlightenment Classicism. The chosen style gave the building the resemblance of a nobleman’s palace from the outside as well as the interior. This is probably why it has been called Toompea Palace in Estonian since the end of the 18th century, although it is mostly known as Toompea Castle in English.
Hall of important decisions
The elegant White Hall extends through the central part of the main storey, or piano nobile. After the Republic of Estonia became independent in 1918, it became the session hall for the 120-member Constituent Assembly that held its first meeting here on 27 May 1919. The conditions in the Hall were cramped, which is why the Constituent Assembly soon decided to construct a new building with a bigger hall for the national assembly over the ruins of the prison, which itself had been built on the spot of the medieval convent.
The first Constitution of the Republic of Estonia was adopted in the White Hall on 15 June 1920. The Constituent Assembly held its last sitting there on 20 December 1920. The 1st Riigikogu, which convened at the beginning of the next year, held its sittings in the White Hall until the new parliament building was completed in autumn 1922. The White Hall was then used by the Government of the Republic.
During the authoritarian regime that was established in 1934, Toompea Castle as the symbol of nationhood was redecorated according to the demands of the new era. The palace was renovated and a south wing added in a palatial formal traditionalist style. The White Hall was also rebuilt and the décor by Johann Schultz completely removed. The intention was to turn the hall into the cabinet of the Government.
From government cabinet into a formal space
Currently, the seat of the Government of the Republic is the Stenbock House on the north ledge of Toompea Hill.
Before the renovation work on Stenbock House was completed at the end of 2000, the Government worked in the White Hall of the Castle, as it had done since Estonia had regained its independence in August 1991.
After the Government moved out, the White Hall became a space for formal events organised by the parliament, and is used as such today. The end wall with the paintings serves as a backdrop for the national flags positioned there for official photographs.
The initial design of the early Classical style Hall was showy and pompous. Its artificial marble panels were decorated with antique motifs, mainly victory trophies in white stucco relief. The panels were topped by images of vases and victory wreaths.
The other end wall of the Hall has been covered in mirrors as a nod to the 1935 design – it used to have a mirrored fireplace and book cases which sadly have not survived in their original form. The Renaissance style stucco ceiling is clearly influenced by Ancient Rome.
Since 2000, the interior of the White Hall has been restored and maintained with full respect of the requirements of the Tallinn Cultural Heritage Department and the special conditions of the National Heritage Board. This means that the 1935 design has been restored.
The White Hall was thoroughly renovated in 2013. Two original paintings – Public Economy and The Triumph of Estonia – by August Jansen were placed in the lunettes above the doors. The paintings had won a design competition organised in 1936 especially for the lunettes. The first is a typical architectural decoration of its time, portraying the hard work and determination of the Estonians. The painting depicts agriculture and industry, construction and sea trade in a symbolic form.
The second depicts Estonia’s triumph in the War of Independence through an antique allegory. The central motif of the painting is a quadriga, or a four horse carriage, victoriously galloping across the sky under the reigns of a blonde peasant girl. She is accompanied by ancient wreathed warriors carrying Estonian flags. The group is greeted by women and children who had stayed at home waiting for the victory. Similar antique allegories were popular across Europe.
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