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Overlooking Town Hall Square from Toome Hill
Overlooking Town Hall Square from Toome Hill
Flag of Tartu
Coat of arms of Tartu
Coat of arms
Motto: Heade mõtete linn ("City of good thoughts")
Tartu is located in Estonia
Location in Estonia
Country  Estonia
County Tartu County
First settled 5th century AD
First mentioned 1030
City rights before 1262
Named for Taara or tarvas (Aurochs)
 • Mayor Urmas Klaas (Reform Party)
 • Total 38.86 km2 (15 sq mi)
 • Land 37.9 km2 (14.6 sq mi)
 • Water 1.3 km2 (0.5 sq mi)  3.39%
Elevation 57.2 m (188 ft)
Highest elevation 79 m (259 ft)
Population (2013)[1]
 • Total 98,449
 • Density 2,679/km2 (6,936/sq mi)
 • Estonians 81,2%
 • Russians 14,6%
 • other 4,2%
Time zone EET (UTC+2)
 • Summer (DST) EEST (UTC+3)
Postal code 50050 to 51111
Vehicle registration T

Tartu is the second largest city of Estonia, following Estonia's political and financial capital Tallinn, Tartu is often considered the intellectual centre of the country, especially since it is home to the nation's oldest and most renowned university, the University of Tartu. The city also houses the Supreme Court of Estonia and the Ministry of Education and Research. Situated 186 kilometres (116 miles) southeast of Tallinn, Tartu is the centre of southern Estonia and lies on the Emajõgi ("Mother river"), which connects the two largest lakes of Estonia. The city is served by Tartu Airport.

The ancient Estonian fortress of Tarbatu[2] was founded in the 5th century AD.[3] Historical names for the city include German Dorpat (from the 13th century) and Russian Yuryev (Юрьев, from 1030) and Derpt (Дерпт).


  • Historical names 1
  • History 2
    • Beginnings 2.1
    • Medieval bishopric 2.2
    • Polish–Lithuanian and Swedish rule 2.3
    • Imperial Russia 2.4
    • First independence period 2.5
    • Soviet period 2.6
    • Modern era 2.7
  • Climate 3
  • Government 4
  • Population 5
  • Neighbourhoods 6
  • Economy 7
  • Education and culture 8
  • Science 9
  • Main sights 10
  • Sport 11
  • International relations 12
    • Twin towns – Sister cities 12.1
  • Gallery 13
  • See also 14
  • References 15
  • External links 16

Historical names

Since 1918 the Estonian name Tartu has been used, but as Tartu has been under control of various rulers throughout its history, there are various names for the city in different languages. Most of them derive from the earliest attested form, the Estonian Tarbatu. In German, Swedish and Polish the town has been known and is sometimes still referred to as    , a variant of Tarbatu. In Russian, the city has been known as Юрьев (Yuryev) after Yaroslav I the Wise and Дерпт (Derpt), a variant of Dorpat. Similarly, the city has been known as Tērbata in Latvian. In Finnish, the toponym is Tartto.

University of Tartu main building.



Archaeological evidence of the first permanent settlement on the site of modern Tartu dates to as early as the 5th century AD.[4][5] By the 7th century, local inhabitants had built a wooden fortification on the east side of Toome Hill (Toomemägi).[5]

The first documented record of the area was made in 1030 by chroniclers of Ugaunia, possibly until 1061, when, according to chronicles, Yuryev was burned down by another tribe of Chudes (Sosols). Kievan Rus' again controlled Tartu from 1133 for an unknown period, possibly up to 1176/1177.[6] In the 12th century Tartu was the most notable Slavic settlement in Chud territory.[7]

Estonian historian Enn Haabsaar speculates that the "Yuryev" mentioned in this context is actually Bila Tserkva, Ukraine, a town that was also founded by Yaroslav I the Wise as Yuriev about the same time, 1032.[8]

Medieval bishopric

Rüütli street in the historic city center of Tartu.

During the period of Northern Crusades in the beginning of the 13th century the fort of Tarbatu (or Tharbata, Tartu) was captured by the crusading Livonian Knights — also known as the Brothers of the Sword (German: Schwertbrüderorden) — and recaptured by Estonians on several occasions. In 1224, after additional troops led by prince Vyachko of Kukenois had been installed in the fort, it was besieged and conquered for one last time by the German crusaders. Subsequently known as Dorpat (Latin: Tarbatum), Tartu became a commercial centre of considerable importance during the later Middle Ages and the capital of the semi-independent Bishopric of Dorpat.

In 1262 the army of Prince Dmitri of Pereslavl, son of Alexander Nevsky launched an assault on Dorpat, capturing and destroying the town. His troops did not manage to capture the bishop's fortress on Toome Hill. The event was recorded both in German and Old East Slavic chronicles, which also provided the first record of a settlement of German merchants and artisans which had arisen alongside the bishop's fortress.

In medieval times, after the Livonian Order was subsumed into the Teutonic Knights in 1236, the town became an important trading city. In the 1280s Dorpat joined the Hanseatic League. As in all of Estonia and Latvia, the largely German-speaking nobility, but in Tartu/Dorpat (as in Tallinn) even more so, the Baltic German bourgeoisie, the literati, dominated culture, religion, architecture, education, and politics until the late 19th century. For example, the town hall of Dorpat was designed by an architect from Rostock in Mecklenburg, while the university buildings were designed by Johann Wilhelm Krause, another German. Many, if not most, of the students, and more than 90 percent of the faculty members were of German descent, and numerous statues of notable scholars with German names can still be found in Tartu today. Most Germans left during the first half of the 20th century, in particular as part of the Heim ins Reich program of the Nazis, following the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact in 1939.

Polish–Lithuanian and Swedish rule

In 1558 the forces of Stephen Bathory.

The activities of both the grammar school and the seminary were stopped by the Polish–Swedish War. Already in late 1600 the forces of Charles IX of Sweden besieged the city defended by three banners of reiters and the city's burghers. Despite repeated assaults, the Swedes could not enter the city. Finally in 1601 Capt. Hermann Wrangel switched sides, assaulted the castellan and opened the gates for the Swedish forces. The town was retaken by Poland on 13 April 1603 following a brief siege led by hetman Jan Chodkiewicz; roughly 1000 Swedish soldiers surrendered and were escorted to Tallinn.

In the effect of yet another Polish-Swedish War, in 1625 Tartu was once again captured by Sweden, this time for good. In the effect of the 1629 Truce of Altmark the city became part of the Dominions of Sweden, which led to the foundation of the University of Tartu in 1632 by king Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden.

Imperial Russia

Tartu University's old observatory on Toome Hill

With the Treaty of Nystad in 1721, the city became part of the Russian Empire and was known as Derpt. Fires in the 18th century destroyed much of the medieval architecture, the Great Fire of Tartu in 1775 removed most of the buildings in the centre. The city was rebuilt along Late Baroque and Neoclassical lines including the Tartu Town Hall which was built between 1782 and 1789.[9] During the second half of the 19th century, Tartu was the cultural centre for Estonians in the era of Romantic nationalism. The city hosted Estonia's first song festival in 1869. Vanemuine, the first national theatre, was established in 1870. Tartu was also the setting for the foundation of the Society of Estonian Writers in 1872.

In 1893, the city was officially retitled to the ancient Russian name Yuryev. The university was subsequently russified from 1895 on with the introduction of compulsory Russian in teaching. The Russian imperial university was relocated to Voronezh in 1918, but the Estonian University of Tartu opened in 1919.

First independence period

With Estonian independence after World War I, the city officially became known by the Estonian name Tartu. At the end of Estonian War of Independence following World War I, a peace treaty between the Bolsheviks and Estonia was signed on 2 February 1920 in Tartu. The treaty meant that Bolshevist Russia renounced territorial claims to Estonia "for all time". However, as a result of the Nazi-Soviet Pact of 1939, the Soviet Union occupied Estonia and Tartu in 1940.

Soviet period

During World War II, a large part of the city as well as the historical Kivisild (Stone Bridge) (built by Catherine II of Russia in 1776–1778) over the Emajõgi River were destroyed by the German Army, partly in 1941 and almost completely in 1944. Already heavily damaged Tartu was bombed by Soviet forces on 27 January 1943, 26 February 1944, 7–8 March 1944, and 25–26 March 1944. After the war ended, much of the historical downtown area was left in ruins. Even the less damaged buildings in entire city blocks were torn down by the order of the occupational authorities and large swaths of land turned into public parks.

After the war, Tartu was declared a "closed town" to foreigners, as an air base for bombers was constructed on Raadi Airfield, in the northeast outskirts of the city. The asphalt runway there now houses a large used cars market, and is sometimes used for automotive racing.

During Soviet times the population of Tartu almost doubled from 57,000 to 100,000, in large part due to mass immigration from other areas of the Soviet Union.

Modern era

Since Estonia regained its independence in 1991, the old town centre is being renovated. Notably, St. John's Church, in ruins since World War II, has been restored.


Climate chart ()
Average max. and min. temperatures in °C
Precipitation totals in mm
Source: World Meteorological Organization

Tartu lies within the temperate humid continental climate zone. The climate is rather mild considering the high latitude, largely due to the proximity of the Baltic Sea and warm airflows from the Atlantic. Nevertheless, continental influence can be felt on hot summer days and cold spells in winter, when temperature can occasionally (but rarely) drop below −30 °C (−22 °F). Generally, summers are cool to warm and winters are cold.

Climate data for Tartu
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °C (°F) 7.7
Average high °C (°F) −4.2
Average low °C (°F) −10.5
Record low °C (°F) −37.5
Precipitation mm (inches) 29
Mean monthly sunshine hours 31.9 61.3 123.5 167.6 251.9 258.9 257.5 215.5 133.4 84.1 31.6 23.3 1,642.3
Source: Estonian Institute of Meteorology and Hydrology[10]


Tigutorn Tower, Tartu's tallest building, behind the Emajõe Centre, the city's second highest tower

There are 49 members on the town council, elected by residents every four years using a proportional system of representation.[11]

The executive branch of the town government consists of a mayor and five deputy mayors.[12] The current mayor is Urmas Klaas. Andrus Ansip, the current Prime Minister of Estonia, was mayor for several years. Both Ansip and Kruuse are members of the Estonian Reform Party, which has dominated in Tartu in recent times.


According to Statistics Estonia, Tartu's population comprised the following self-reported ethnic groups in January 2013:[13]

Nationality Number Percentage
Total 97,117 100%
Estonians 79,700 82.06%
Russians 14,340 14.7%
Ukrainians 891 0.9%
Finns 713 0.7%
Belorussians 355 0.3%
Germans 118 0.12%
Jews 113 0.1%
Latvians 113 0.11%
Poles 92 0.09%
Armenians 92 0.09%
Lithuanians 74 0.07%
Tatars 65 0.06%
Others 805 0.8%

Tartu's historic population is presented in the following table, based on data from official censuses since 1881[14] and Estonian Statistical Office:[1]

Population of Tartu (in thousands) from 1990–2009.[1]
Year Population
1881 29,974
1897 42,308
1922 50,342
1934 58,876
1959 74,263
1970 90,459
1979 104,381
1989 113,320
1995 104,874
2000 101,241
2005 101,483
2010 103,284
2011 103,740
2012 104,109
2013 97,117


Neighborhood Area (ha) Residents 2001 Residents 2006 Residents 2012
Annelinn 541 30000 28200 27480
Ihaste 424 1000 1800 2322
Jaamamõisa 149 3000 3000 3202
Karlova 230 9500 9000 9073
Kesklinn 180 7500 6700 6575
Maarjamõisa 113 800 500 377
Raadi-Kruusamäe 283 5000 4800 4626
Ropka 146 5500 5300 5120
Ropka industrial district 354 2700 2700 2511
Ränilinn 122 2500 1800 1732
Supilinn 48 2100 1800 1790
Tammelinn 311 8000 8100 8195
Tähtvere 250 4500 3500 3023
Vaksali 75 2900 3100 3206
Variku 77 2000 1900 1840
Veeriku 281 5500 5300 5561
Ülejõe 302 8200 7700 7876


Mostly known as a university town, Tartu is also a site of heavy industry. In the beginning of the 21st century, many ICT enterprises and other high-tech companies have taken a foothold in Tartu. Notable examples include Playtech Estonia, Nortal (formerly Webmedia Group), ZeroTurnaround, Tarkon, Regio and Raintree Estonia. Skype has an office in Tartu. The university is one of the largest employers, which explains the large proportion of highly skilled professionals – researchers, professors, doctors.

Education and culture

The fountain "Kissing Students" (Estonian: Suudlevad Tudengid) reminds visitors that the University of Tartu and its students have a profound effect on life in Tartu.

The city is best known for being home to the University of Tartu, founded under King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden in 1632. Mainly for this reason, Tartu is also – tongue-in-cheek – known as "Athens of the Emajõgi" or as "Heidelberg of the North".

Tartu is also the seat of the Estonian University of Life Sciences, the Baltic Defence College, Estonian Aviation Academy (formerly known as Tartu Aviation College), and the Estonian Ministry of Education and Research. Other notable institutions include the Supreme Court of Estonia (re-established in Tartu in autumn 1993), the Estonian Historical Archives, Estonian National Museum, Estonian Sports Museum as well as the oldest and renowned theatre in the country, Vanemuine.

In music, there exists the Tartu school of composition.


Tartu has been an intellectual centre of both Estonia and Baltic countries for several centuries. Scholars hailing from Tartu include the pioneer of embryology Karl Ernst von Baer, a pioneer of animal behaviour studies Jakob von Uexküll, and a cultural theorist and semiotician Juri Lotman. Tartu School is one of the leading scientific schools in the field of semiotics.

Main sights

The architecture and city planning of historical Tartu mainly go back to the pre-independence period, with Germans forming the upper and middle classes of society, and therefore contributing many architects, professors and local politicians.

Most notable are the old Lutheran St. John's Church (Estonian: Jaani Kirik, German: Johanneskirche), the 18th-century town hall, the university building, ruins of the 13th-century cathedral, the botanical gardens, the main shopping street, many buildings around the town hall square and Barclay Square.

The historical slum area called Supilinn (Soup Town) is located on the bank of river Emajõgi, near the town centre and is regarded as one of the few surviving "poor" neighbourhoods of 19th-century Europe. At the moment Supilinn is being rapidly renovated, undergoing a slow transformation from the historic slum into a prestigious high-class neighborhood. The active community embodied by the Supilinn Society is committed to preserving the heritage.

The Second World War destroyed large parts of the city centre and during the Soviet occupation many new buildings were erected – notably the new Vanemuine Theater. The effects of the war are still witnessed by the relative abundance of parks and greenery in the historic centre. Typical Soviet-style neighbourhoods of blocks of high-rise flats were built between World War II and the restoration of Estonian independence in 1991, the largest such district being Annelinn.

Presently, Tartu is also known for several modern buildings of the "steel, concrete and glass" variation, but has managed to retain a mix of old and new buildings in the centre of town. Notable examples include the Tigutorn Tower and the Emajõe Centre, both built during the current period of independence; Tartu's tallest and second tallest towers, respectively. Tartu's large student population means that it has a comparatively thriving nightlife, with many nightclubs, bars, and restaurants, including the world's highest-ceiling pub, in the historic Gunpowder Cellar of Tartu.

Annually, in the summer, Tartu hosts the Hanseatic Days festival (Estonian: Hansapäevad) to celebrate its Hanseatic heritage. The festival includes events such as handicraft markets, historic workshops and jousting tournaments.


Tartu is the home for basketball club Tartu Ülikool/Rock, which is participating in the Korvpalli Meistriliiga, the Baltic Basketball League and the EuroChallenge.

Football club JK Tammeka Tartu, one of the Meistriliiga clubs, is located in Tartu.

Tartu is also the hometown of Clement Ivanov, known by most as Puppey. He captains the world renowned Natus Vincere professional Dota 2 team and has won the first International and has been runner-up two years in a row.[15]

International relations

Twin towns – Sister cities

Tartu is twinned with:[16]


See also


  1. ^ a b c "Population by sex, age group and county, 1 January". Statistics Estonia. 16 March 2012. Retrieved 19 February 2014. 
  2. ^ ( 
  3. ^ Ludvíková, Vlasta; Ladislav Skokan, Translated from Russian by E. Skelley (1976). The Soviet Union: A Guide and Information Handbook. Collet. 
  4. ^ "Tartu".  
  5. ^ a b c Mäesalu, Ain (12 October 2001). "Vene kroonikate Jurjev oli tõenäoliselt siiski Tartu" (in Estonian).  
  6. ^ Freymuth, Otto (1927). "Tartu orduajal" (in Estonian). Retrieved 26 January 2013. 
  7. ^ Юрьев уездный город Лифляндской губернии (in Russian). 14 March 1957. Retrieved 6 May 2009. 
  8. ^ , 21.09.2001.SirpHaabsaar, E. Kas Vene kroonikate Jurjev oli tõepoolest Tartu?
  9. ^ The Town Hall of Tartu,, retrieved 27 December 2013
  10. ^ "Estonian Institute of Meteorology and Hydrology" (in Estonian). Retrieved 11 September 2007. 
  11. ^ "Tartu Linnavolikogu liikmete nimekiri". 17 November 2009. Retrieved 21 November 2010. 
  12. ^ "Linnavalitsuse koosseis". 15 June 2010. Retrieved 21 November 2010. 
  13. ^ "Population by sex, ethnic nationality and county, 1 January". Statistics Estonia. 13 October 2013. Retrieved 21 November 2013. 
  14. ^ Statistics Estonia: General Data for 1881, 1897, 1922, 1934, 1959, 1970, 1979, 1989 Censuses
  15. ^ "International Teams".  
  16. ^ "Tartu sõpruslinnad" (in Estonian). Tartu. Retrieved 1 May 2012. 
  17. ^ "Frederiksberg Municipality – Twin Towns" (in Danish).  
  18. ^ "Tartu arendab suhteid Armeenia linna Gümriga" (in Estonian).  

External links

  • Official website
  • Tourism website
  • University of Tartu
  • Maps of Tartu (in Estonian)
  • Interactive map of modern architecture in Tartu (in Estonian)
  • Live webcameras overlooking Town Hall Square
  • Weather in Tartu
  • Educational portal of Tartu in Russian
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