UNESCO Sites in the Baltic States
Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania have never watched the world go by; they have been an important link between east and west from the days of the Hanseatic league to the present, when tourists regularly fall in love with the region. Providing landfall on the southern coast of the Baltic Sea, touching Russia on one side and northern Europe on the other, it’s no wonder you’ll find mind-boggling UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Baltic States.
New: Discover the UNESCO sites of the Baltic with our interactive map!
The Baltics measure up – and down
A man born to a family of star-gazers, in what was 18th Denmark and is now Germany, made a huge contribution to our understanding of the Earth’s size and actual shape. He must also have been an engaging diplomat, because he inspired collaboration among scientists in ten different countries to achieve this. It is for these two reasons that the Struve Geodetic Arc is on the UNESCO World Heritage list. You can follow it through the Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, as well as Finland, Norway, Sweden, and Ukraine. Named after Friedrich Georg Wilhelm von Struve, the Arc was the first reliable measure of a long portion of a terrestrial meridian, or line running from the North Pole to the South Pole. The Struve Geodetic Arc required over 250 triangulations, which you can trace through almost three dozen extant marks such as station points, iron crosses, rocks marked by a drilled hole, obelisks, and cairns.
Beautiful Baltic Cities
The Old Town of Tallinn is a World Heritage Site because, despite the ravages of fires, occupations, bombings, and time itself, many of the oldest buildings are intact and in use. You can almost imagine yourself time traveling – except for the cafes featuring WiFi – when you climb to a tower in the city wall for a bird’s eye view, or enter the old guildhalls, churches, or just wander down an intriguing 13th century street! Visit the Brotherhood of the Blackheads to see the one remaining Renaissance era structure, and realize that this may have been one of the first singles’ organizations, as membership in this guild was limited to young, unmarried merchants.
The Historic Center of Riga in Latvia experienced its first boom between the 13th -15th centuries, thanks to its membership in the Hanseatic League. Further explosions of building and architectural development occurred in the 19th century when the suburbs surrounding the medieval center were developed and construction focused on neoclassical design and wooden structures. What makes Riga a must is its inimitable collection of Jugendstil (Art Nouveau in German) architecture, considered to be the finest in Europe. You have to walk carefully in these beautiful streets, because you will almost constantly be looking UP, at the lovely embellishments, sweeping lines, and sinuous curves that soften every corner. Mind the curb!
Visit the wealth of architectural styles in the Vilnius Historic Centerand you’ll understand why the Lithuanian capital had such an influence on architecture throughout Eastern Europe over the centuries - and is on the World Heritage List today. At well over 3 square kilometers in area, it is one of the largest medieval town centers in Europe and contains about 1,500 buildings! Despite the destruction resulting from years and years of various occupying forces during the 19th and 20th centuries, a variety of Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque architecture remains - and this in the same city with the world’s first bronze statue of Frank Zappa!