Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Koentje3000 on April 2, 2008

Possibly the most interesting but also the most controversial church in Tallinn is the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, serving as the main church for Tallinn's large Russian Orthodox community. The church was named after St. Alexander Nevsky, the 13th century Prince of Novgorod and Vladimir, two semi-independent republics within the borders of the Kievan Rus', one of the greatest empires of that time and containing large portions of present-day Ukraine, Western Russia and Belarus. One of his greatest exploits was the so-called Battle of the ice in which he turned back the German crusaders of the Teutonic Knights, who occupied large parts of Estonia but not Danish-owned Tallinn, in a battle on the frozen water of Lake Peipus (a lake on the border between Estonia and Russia).

The church was built on Toompea Hill, close to the Baroque pink-coloured Toompea Castle and the massive medieval defensive tower Kiek in de Kök. It was ordered by Russian tsar Alexander III but it was only finished in the year 1900 during the reign of his son Nikolas II, the last tsar of Russia. The building was constructed in a style resembling the great medieval Russian architecture, complete with black onion domes, walls full of iconic paintings of saints and a white-and-pink façade resembling more a sugar glazed birthday cake than a cathedral.

Soon after its construction, the church was immediately controversial with local Estonians, who viewed it as another attempt by St. Petersburg (the then capital of Russia) to Russify the town. The Russians had indeed chosen a disputable location, near Tallinn Castle and the Estonian Lutheran cathedral. Resentment on this and other issues ultimately led to an independent Estonian Republic following WWI in the aftermath of the Bolshevik communist revolution that swept Russia. The new country became increasingly nationalist and firmly anti-Russian, which almost proved fatal to the church, as it was scheduled for demolition but this was luckily never performed due to lack of funds of the republic. As the USSR was officially non-religious, many churches including this cathedral were left to decline, with some of them even turned into a prison, a stable or simply demolished. When the country regained its independence in 1990 it clung firmly to its former western allies and soon Tallinn was swept by a huge building and reconstruction spree. Although at first quite reluctant the locals by 1995 seemed to come to terms with the overwhelming Russian past, which ultimately led to a refurbishment of this once much hated symbol of the tsar's imperialism that soon became a major attraction of the great town.
Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
Toompea, Upper Old Town
Tallinn, Estonia

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