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History

The Estonian Maritime Museum was founded by former captains and sailors in 1935. During its long history, the museum has moved many times. Since 1981, its main exhibition is located in the artillery tower called Fat Margaret that is nearly 500 years old. In May 2012, the Maritime Museum opened its second exhibition at the Seaplane Harbour.

The founders of the Maritime Museum included: captains Madis Mei, Evald Past, Aleksander Heinmaa, August Gustavson, and the Director of the Waterways Authority, Eduard Avik, who were joined by their wish to record and preserve cultural heritage related to maritime history.

Collection of historical nautical material had already started in the late 1920s. On 2 September 1931, the daily newspaper Päevaleht printed a public call for collecting maritime-related heritage objects and bringing them to the Waterways Authority. Objects of greater interest were exhibited there in two small rooms.

On 24 December 1934, the Director of the Waterways Authority issued a directive for establishing the Maritime Museum Foundation; spacious lofty rooms were assigned to the museum in Tallinn, on the Baikov shore of the city centre port (not far from the present-day Terminal D of the Port of Tallinn). The festive opening of the museum on 23 February 1935 was attended by 360 persons, including the Head of State. Madis Mei became the first director of the museum.

Unfortunately, the museum could function without disruption only for five years, as on 4 November 1940, after the beginning of the Soviet occupation, the Head of the Estonian National Shipping Company issued a directive to close down the activity of the museum at the port and move it to the facilities of the Sailors’ Club at Uus-Sadama street.

However, due to troubled times and the war, the assets of the museum were packed up and stored in the basement of the Kiek in de Kök tower in Tallinn’s Old Town. The old museum building was completely destroyed in the war. After the war, the assets were officially transferred to Tallinn City Museum, and partly to museums of local history in the town of Haapsalu and the island of Saaremaa.On 18 August 1959, a Department of Maritime History with two employees (Viktor Tõnissoo and Helge Peterson) was established in Tallinn City Museum, and the assets were gathered to the Sailors’ Club. In July and August 1960, a successful exhibition entitled Estonia and the Sea was held, which contributed to the museum’s transition to official independence: the Estonian National Maritime Museum, headed by Ants Pärna, was re-established by a Directive of the Minister of Culture of 1 July 1961.

The story of Fat Margaret

Finding new facilities and preparing the exhibition took time, and the museum, now located at 70 Pikk street in Tallinn Old Town, was opened to guests only on 22 October 1965. The exhibition was rather compact and small because the facilities in an accessory building of the Fat Margaret tower did not allow for more. It was clear at the outset that the massive tower itself, standing empty and roofless, had to be renovated and put into use. However, everything did not go as swiftly as expected.

The decision of 23 October 1974 of the International Olympic Committee to hold the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow was the final incentive. The Olympic regatta would be held in Tallinn, and for that occasion, a number of buildings were to be restored in the Old Town, including the Great Coastal Gate complex. The museum was closed on 26 December 1977, and restorers from the Polish company Budimex arrived in the beginning of the following year. The works, however, were delayed, and therefore, only a temporary exhibition could be put on by the time of the Olympic regatta. The museum was fully opened on 27 April 1981.

Story of the Seaplane Harbour

In the same way as the Olympic regatta in Tallinn was the catalyst for quickly reconstructing the building promised to the Maritime Museum, Tallinn’s status as the Cultural Capital of Europe in 2011 gave a push to renovate the Seaplane Harbour as quickly as possible.

The Seaplane Harbour was built in 1917 on the initiative of the Russian Empire to become part of Peter the Great’s naval fortress. The project was designed by a Danish engineering office Christiani and Nielsen. Before being renovated into a museum, this architectural object, with its reinforced concrete domes that are unique in the world, was deserted for nearly 70 years.

The presence of the Estonian Maritime Museum at the Seaplane Harbour begins in 2004, when the naval fleet of the museum was moved here. An exhibition was created in the beginning of 2009. The Seaplane Harbour was officially opened on 11 May 2012 with the President of the Republic, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, also present. A year later, the Maritime Museum was recognised with Europe’s highest awards for the conservation and restoration of cultural heritage – Europa Nostra and European Union Cultural Heritage Grand Prix.

Read more:
Tallinn’s Seaplane Hangar. From Plane Shed To Museum / Composed by Mihkel Karu; Foreword: Urmas Dresen. [Tallinn]: Estonian Maritime Museum, 2014.