Tartu University


Fronted by six Doric columns, the impressive main building of Tartu University was built between 1803 and 1809. The university itself was founded in 1632 by the Swedish king Gustaf II Adolf (Gustavus Adolphus) to train Lutheran clergy and government officials. Modelled on Uppsala University in Sweden, its principal campus and the site of its historic buildings lies behind this neoclassical pile, among the trees and winding paths of lovely Toomemägi.

The university closed in 1710 during the Great Northern War but reopened in 1802, later becoming one of the Russian empire’s foremost centres of learning. Its early emphasis on science is evidenced by the great scholars who worked here in the 19th century, including physical chemistry pioneer and Nobel prize winner for chemistry, Wilhelm Ostwald; physicist Heinrich Lenz; pioneering astronomer Friedrich Georg Wilhelm Struve; and the founder of embryology, natural scientist Karl Ernst von Baer.

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby Tartu attractions

1. Tartu University Art Museum

0.04 MILES

Within the main university building, this collection comprises mainly 19th-century plaster copies of ancient Greek sculptures, plus some mummies and other…

2. St John's Lutheran Church


Dating to at least 1323, this imposing red-brick church is unique for the rare terracotta sculptures placed in niches around its exterior and interior …

3. Town Hall


Built between 1782 and 1789, this graceful building was designed by German architect JHB Walter, who modelled it on a typical Dutch town hall. The clear…

4. Estonian Sports and Olympic Museum


Chronicling more than just Estonian Olympic excellence (although the glittering medal display serves that purpose admirably), this offbeat museum has a…

5. Tartu Toy Museum


A big hit with the under-eight crowd (and you won’t see too many adults anxious to leave), this is a great place to while away a few rainy hours. Set in…

6. Town Hall Square

0.12 MILES

Tartu’s main square is lined with grand buildings and echoes with the chink of glasses and plates in summer. The centrepiece is the town hall itself,…

7. Citizen’s Home Museum

0.14 MILES

This handsome wooden house, dating to the 1740s and nestled in one of the oldest surviving sections of the city, is furnished to show how a bourgeois…

8. Rotunda

0.15 MILES

This pretty-as-a-picture rotunda serves as a summertime cafe.