About the festival

About the festival

Since 1983, Old Town Days has used a beige-dark brown logo designed by VEEV (Tallinn Old Town Housing Exploitation Government) artist Pille Karemaa. The spiral-filled central shape of the emblem is based on a Renaissance wall anchor, the likes of which are still preserved in some of Tallinn’s architectural monuments. The wall anchor is a symbol of durability.


In the late 1950s/early 1960s, the idea of demolishing Tallinn's Old Town spread widely because the renovation of old houses was not considered a profitable activity. In 1962, a project was announced, according to which 80% of the buildings in the Old Town would have been demolished, and up to ten-story office buildings would have been built in their place. Fortunately, the forces appreciating cultural heritage prevailed, and by 1965, it became clear that the Old Town would be preserved.
In 1971, the Old Town was placed under heritage protection as a whole ensemble. The construction of tall new buildings was prohibited in the regulated zone bordering the Old Town. In 1980, Tallinn hosted the sailing regatta of the Moscow Olympics, and funds were allocated from the all-Union budget to renovate the unique Old Town. This brought restorers from a Polish company, PKZ, to Tallinn. The Maritime Museum was completed in the Great Coastal Gun Tower, the Town Hall Museum in the former Town Hall Prison, the Estonian Applied Art Museum in a Swedish-era granary, and several other objects. In the Old Town, the facades of 400 houses were painted, and roofs were repaired. In the 1980s, the city emerged from the grayness as a shining and interesting place, providing unprecedented decorations with a historical atmosphere for organizing the Old Town Days.
Thanks in large part to the Old Town Days, in the 1980s, the uniqueness of medieval Tallinn began to be understood. The opportunity to separate from the socialist reality and the oppression caused by occupation increased interest in history. The Old Town Days quickly became carriers of Estonian identity and openness, helping the suppressed people to find themselves again and resist the rootlessness spreading in the new urban areas. The Old Town Days evolved into a week-long series of festivities within a few years. Every year, a new theme was found around which the current cultural events were organized. Design elements depicting the Old Town were prepared according to the theme. The Old Town Days were dedicated to Hanseatic traditions and Northern peoples' heritage, as well as to Tallinn as a fortress and master city.

From a party of the Housing Authority to a living tradition (1982-1990)

On July 16, 1982, the 10th anniversary of the formation of the Tallinn Old Town Housing Exploitation Government was celebrated. A concert and a parade of horses took place on Town Hall Square, and a performance about the trial of Johann von Üxküll, who had condemned his former peasant to death in 1535, was staged in the Town Hall. An exhibition of photos and children's drawings was held in the Golden Leg Tower. On the same day, a conference on restoration was held at the Cinema House for officials involved in restoration. The tradition of the Old Town Days began. The atmosphere of the years is considered as stagnation. Everything in social life remained under the surveillance of the communist party and state repressive organs until the last third of the decade. Countless approvals had to be obtained for organizing events, and opposition from the party nomenklatura had to be overcome. Nevertheless, the organizers of the Old Town Days managed to initiate a popular event that gained popularity year by year, reaching its peak in 1988 with patriotic songs at the Song Festivals. The Old Town Days became a window through which many young and active people found an opportunity for self-expression. Although numerous occupation army soldiers were walking the streets during the Old Town Days, the revelers felt only the exuberance comparable to jubilee song festivals.
The duration and number of events of the Old Town Days grew. Already in 1983, the celebrations lasted for an entire week. New venues were continuously used. The wall anchor found its place on the official logo of the Old Town Days.

Impact on the development of the old town

In 1985, as part of the Old Town Days, an international colloquium on "The Problems of Protecting Architectural Monuments and Their Modern Use" was held, attended by delegates from 25 foreign countries, including UNESCO's President of the Council for the Protection of Monuments, Michel Parent, and Executive Committee member Andras Roman. The Old Town Days took on an international dimension. For the first time, the St. Nicholas Church concert hall, which received its spire in 1984, was used as a concert venue. In the same year, the "Homeland" house and the Music House on Uus Street were opened. Guest performers from Finland, Poland, East Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Armenia, and Azerbaijan participated in the Old Town Days. As a sign of the increasingly critical era, a mock court was held in Town Hall Square, and socially critical songs were sung at "Song Festival" concerts on Harju Hill. In the humor corner of "Aara," jokes and humorous stories were told, the telling of which just a few years earlier could have led to detention.
After the sixth Old Town Days, there was talk of the need for more quality and historically harmonious entertainment. For the first time, there was also discussion in the media about reviving the tradition of electing the May Lord and the suitability of knight tournaments for the Old Town Days program.
By 1990, on the eve of liberation from occupation, some critics felt that the Old Town Days had lost some of their national impulse. Yet even the harshest critics agreed that the people deserved their celebration.

Old Town Days - an international festival

The year 1991 brought liberation to Estonia after half a century of occupation. The tricolor was raised on the Tall Hermann Tower in place of the red flag. Although the occupying forces did not withdraw from Estonian territory until 1994, rapid changes occurred in both the economy and societal beliefs. Alongside societal development, the emphasis and goals of the Old Town Days changed, yet maintained continuity and connection to previous national celebrations thanks to the established rules of the historic urban space.
In March 1993, the Tallinn City Council decided to divide the city into eight districts. The Old Town became part of the Central District's jurisdiction, bringing with it the responsibility for organizing the Old Town Days.
With the fall of the Iron Curtain, the world had become more open, and the eagerness to proclaim oneself once again part of the European cultural space was reflected in the events of the Old Town Days. From June 1st to 5th, 1991, the Old Town Days took place under the motto "Tallinn - Nordic City." Guests from seven foreign countries participated in the event. The cityscape was dominated by runic inscriptions and Nordic patterns. An international scientific conference on "The Worldview of the Nordic Peoples" was held.
In 1993, parrot shooting competitions were held for the first time, and the May Lord was elected.
In the Brotherhood of Blackheads, it was customary to organize spring parrot shooting competitions, also known as bird shooting, for the old hunters. A colorful or silver-plated parrot figurine was commissioned from a woodcarver as a target. The parrot was set up in the "Parrot Garden," where people would go on spring Sundays from Easter to midsummer to shoot the bird. They went in a ceremonial procession accompanied by city musicians. Steel anvils were used for shooting. The king of shooters was declared the one who knocked the bird off its base with a shot. The competition was followed by a feast in the guild house on Pikk Street or in the Brotherhood of Blackheads' building.
In 1996, the motto of the Old Town Days was 'Tallinn at the Crossroads of Europe,' dividing the events into Danish, German, Swedish, Slavic, and Estonian days. The themes of the days followed the chronological order of the dominant participation of these nations in Tallinn's political history. One entire day of the Old Town Days was dedicated to the sister city Kotka, from which a distinguished delegation led by Mayor Hannu Tapiola arrived for the festivities. The unforgettable finale of the days was the concert by ERSO (Estonian National Symphony Orchestra) in Town Hall Square. The theme of the scientific conference held in the Town Hall was 'Openness or Closure of Cultural Heritage.' The year also brought breakthroughs in various markets for the Old Town Days. The public celebrations, which began on June 6th, covered 19 markets trading in handicrafts and art objects. The creators of the idea saw them as revitalizers of the gray cityscape, while critics saw the dominance of business spirit over culture.

Professional program

1999The highlight of the Old Town Days in 1999 was the Estonian Concert tent on Freedom Square, where maestro Eri Klas's 60th birthday was celebrated with a grand opera gala. However, signs of fatigue were evident throughout the entire event. One reason was certainly the noise ban imposed at the insistence of heritage conservationists and residents of the Old Town, which prevented livelier events and concerts from taking place. The Old Town Days faced a serious choice. "Aut vincendum, aut moriendum – to conquer or to die?" asked art historian Jüri Kuuskemaa, dressed as a medieval herald, as he introduced the historical city celebration.
2000By the time of the 2000 national celebration, the strange noise ban had been forgotten, and new sports attractions had been found. The biggest crowd-puller was the mountain bike rally on the cobblestones of the Old Town and the slopes of Toompea, where the best Estonian cyclists competed against each other. Children were thrilled to play football with Mart Poom, while beach volleyball courts in front of Toompea Castle offered a novel experience. It seemed that the Old Town Days were overcoming the crisis because, despite windy weather, participants and spectators flocked to all the party venues.
The rise in the pace of life, the reassessment of existing values, new opportunities, and the risks brought by independence were reflected in the events of the Old Town Days. Yet, the idea of preserving heritage and connecting with modernity remained attractive to the people, bringing the streets, courtyards, and buildings of the Old Town to life.
In the anxious anticipation of the approaching millennium change, the Old Town Days were important bearers of tradition and instillers of confidence.

New Rise - New Concept (2001-2005)

The maturation and stabilization of society have also left their mark on the Old Town Days. When planning the program, organizers are aware that it's challenging to surprise the Estonian people. Instead, the organizers of the Old Town festival aim to give people the opportunity to relax and discover new historical corners in the heart of the summer city. Despite the increasing number of entertainment events, the Old Town Days are anticipated as an annual highlight, featuring historical parrot shooting and the election of the Maikrahv.
XX vanalinna päevad tõid linnasüdamesse keskaegse karnevalikultuuri. Peeti välisinvestoritele suunatud ettevõtlusalane konverents “The City in Motion”. Raekoja platsil toimus rida suurkontserte.
2002 aastast peetav “Rat race”, kontorirottide võidujooks, leiab oma lõbusa korralduse ja huumoriga hulgaliselt kaasalööjaid ja ergutajaid.
As the 22nd Old Town Days approached, the recurring question was raised once again: what's next? In the media, there are opinions that the Old Town Days have become tired, overly commercialized, and lost their identity. Organizers promise to add high-culture events and return to the roots, but city dwellers still enjoy meaningful summer days in the old town and delight in life and sunshine.

Back to core values

2004. In 2004, the organizers aimed to introduce the city dwellers and guests to the courtyards and lesser-known nooks of the old town. Consequently, there were fewer major concerts in Town Hall Square, but there were more intimate events and workshops. A highlight was the Ancient Times Courtyard at the Archaeological Center on Rüütli Street, where authentic Viking combat could be observed. In Hirvepark, there was an Open Space Chamber in yurts, hosting lectures on Eastern culture and the role of parks in urban spaces. The events also included the conference "Spirit and Spirits in the Old Town" by the Academy of Arts Restoration School and a conference and forum on cooperation between the Mauritian Institute, the medieval Tallinn Dominican monastery, and the universities of Cologne and Paris, titled "Who Owns the Old Town?"
2005. In 2005, the focus of the days shifted to Church Night and Museum Day with their concerts. Of course, traditional parrot shooting, the election of the Maikrahv, and the office workers' race also took place. The slogan "Every Second is Creation" led to a higher-quality concert program and a more diverse selection of events. For the first time, the program was based on proposals submitted to a project competition.
As the XXIV Old Town Days came to an end, preparations began for the anniversary celebrations. Tallinn woke up for the XXV Old Town Days on June 2-4, 2006. The tradition continues.
2007. The theme for the 2007 Old Town Days, "Dignified Citizens, Valuable Masters," honored those who throughout history have helped sustain cultural heritage and created the city as a unique living environment. This was an important argument for awarding Tallinn the status of European Capital of Culture for 2011. This title placed a great responsibility on behaving with dignity towards its history and traditions, values that the Old Town Days have embodied throughout the ages.
The XXVII Old Town Days from June 2-8, 2008, were based on the idea of the intersection of cultures. Tallinn's geopolitical position has given the city a powerful historical added value as a meeting point for different cultures. Therefore, there was a call to appreciate how different people, nations, and their customs contribute to the functioning of urban life.
The Green City Celebration in 2009 focused on seeking harmony between body and mind in the urban context and sought to find an answer to how to combine spiritual wealth and physical activity. The focus was on the Old Town surrounded by green areas, which provides a great opportunity for refreshing breaks and active leisure time.
The theme of the XXIX Old Town Days, "Theatrical Old Town," called for playfulness and creativity. It highlighted not only professional actors and musicians but also creative enthusiasts. The theatricality of the Old Town is evident in its connections to history, which we experience daily against the backdrop of magnificent medieval decorations.
2011. The theme for the anniversary celebrations in 2011, "Open-Hearted City," carries the message of the ancient Hanseatic city's openness, hospitality, receptiveness to good initiatives, and progressive ideas. But it also acknowledges that the peculiarities of nature and human creativity have given the Old Town the shape of a heart – those who have been fortunate enough to see the Old Town panorama from a bird's eye view may have noticed this. (The works of Arne Maasik displayed in the previous days' photo exhibition showed the heart-shaped Old Town, which inspired the idea for the slogan and symbolism of the XXX Old Town Days.) The title of European Capital of Culture adds an international dimension to the Old Town Days.
With the XXXI Old Town Days in 2012, a new team (Anne Velt, Katrin Valkna, Vladimir Svet) took charge. This brought new energy and bold ideas. Under the slogan "The Courtyard Gate Opens," many privately owned Old Town courtyards, traditionally closed doors, and windows were opened. Unprecedented tricks were performed: for the first time, the opening performance was directed by Saša Pepeljajev, who had climbers scale the Town Hall wall and cyclists-air acrobats ride a rope from the tower of the Church of the Holy Spirit to the Town Hall tower. A segment of the performance even made it to CNN News. In collaboration with the Old Town Society, over fifty Old Town courtyards were opened and filled with music and activities. The traditional medieval knight tournament at Skoone Stadium concluded the event.
2013. In 2013, each tower had its own story – this was the theme of the Old Town Days, inspired by the towers of the Old Town, including defense, wall, and church towers. Concerts, exhibitions, and various activities involved almost all the surviving defense and church towers of Tallinn. Some of them are privately owned or rented out. Through good cooperation, they were also open to visitors. The Bremen Tower long closed to the townspeople, was opened as an exhibition and prison tower. The opening performance, the powerful Carl Orff opera "Carmina Burana," was staged by Eri Klas with the ERSO and soloists, along with the dance theater Fine 5.
This was followed by Old Town Days with the themes "Living Streets" (2014), "Masters Through the Centuries" (2015), and "Changing City" (2016). In 2017, the theme was "Young Old Town," focusing particularly on children's and youth culture. There were numerous youth concerts, performances by young artists, the youth urban space project "Designing the Old Town Young," and the youth forum at Hopner House, inviting reflection on today's Old Town and life here through the eyes of the youth.
2018. In 2018, we celebrated the centenary of the Republic of Estonia with the theme "A Hundred Steps in a Century. Estonia100." The program, spread over five days, consisted of a hundred significant steps or events that characterize different eras from 1918 to 2018. Each day was dedicated to a different period in the last century of Estonian history and carried a corresponding message: May 30th "Joyfully National" (1918-1938), May 31st "Under the Black Shadow" (1939-1955), June 1st "Life Like a Movie" (1956-1980), June 2nd "Sing it Out Loud!" (1981-1991), and June 3rd "Variable Freedom" (1992-2018).
2019. The year 2019 went down in history as the jubilee year of Tallinn. To commemorate the city's first mention in the Livonian Chronicle of Henry and the beginning of its significant written urban culture, the Old Town Days with the theme "City's Birth" were dedicated to the 800-year-old city. Legend has it that in 1219, the Battle of Lindanise took place, where local Estonians fought against Danish invading forces that arrived across the sea. This historical event is associated with the legend of the fallen flag from the sky, the Danish national flag Dannebrog. Therefore, much of the program was associated with Denmark, which also saw the arrival of several performers. At the opening ceremony, a gigantic Danish flag "fell from the sky." The Old Town marked places associated with the city's beginning and the Danish era. History tours and excursions were popular. The traditional theatrical Maikrahv tournament and sword fighting tournament Old Tallinn Cup took place. For the first time, a street art program gained momentum. The folk culture area was filled with the heritage festival Baltica. Over the course of four days, nearly 400 events took place, with an estimated attendance of over 50,000 visitors.
The Old Town Days planned for 2020 with the subtitle "Stories and Legends" were canceled due to the global health crisis. However, these stories and legends were still told, as the 39th Old Town Days took place on the same theme in 2021. True to tradition, they were held in August instead of the usual June. Trad. Attack! kicked off the event with a concert in Town Hall Square, capturing audiences' hearts with their storytelling by blending old traditions and heritage with contemporary rock music. Over the next four days, attendees experienced both old and new music, as well as newer and older art, including a COVID memes exhibition. Excursions took people to cafes associated with Jaan Kross and to film locations.
2022. In 2022, the Tallinn Old Town Days celebrated their 40th anniversary! The program focused on both traditions and new and fresh experiences. It was important for the Old Town Days to find their way into the hearts of the younger generation, whose parents and grandparents witnessed the beginning of this journey in 1982. The program's name, "See You in the Old Town!", meant both a meeting place in the Old Town and new exciting things to experience there. The jubilee festival was opened by Lexsoul Dancemachine with the Tallinn Police Orchestra big band and the Trikivabrik. The stage saw stars from all generations during the festival - Reket, Kukerpillid, Smilers, Ivo and Robert Linna, Mihkel Raud, Stefan, Alika Milova, and others. Different areas offered enjoyment of both folk culture and newer trends. Katariina Church opened its doors for exciting auditory and visual experiences. But not only the Old Town Days celebrated the jubilee. Raeapteek marked its 600th anniversary, and an adventure game took participants on the trails of the apothecary Melchior.
2023. The 2023 Tallinn Old Town Days continued in the spirit of freshness and involving new generations. The program titled "Fresh Perspective" directed its gaze not only to the past but also to the future, focusing on novelty and curiosity. And not to oppose but to complement. Tours were organized to discover the biodiversity of the bastion zone, and yoga sessions were held. The Old Town Society introduced a community garden as a symbol of communal space. The main stage, however, had moved next to Niguliste Church because, for the first time, a new summer park was located in the usual Town Hall Square. Traditionally, the program featured favorite musicians from different generations and traditional arts.


Chief organizer Annely Pantalon

Project manager Kaire Siiner