The Danish King’s Garden, Tallinn – Art, History and Hauntings

Danish King’s Garden, Tallinn.

photography by: Yamen/ Wikimedia Commons

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Discernible from miles around, Tallinn’s oblong Toompea (“Cathedral Hill”) is the strategic heart of the city, housing Estonia’s parliament and centre of government to this day. Amidst the towering buildings and stone fortifications, an unassuming small green space on the south-east side of the mound is the birthplace of one of Tallinn’s most famous legends and an important part of its culture and history. Known as Taani kuninga aed (“Danish King’s Garden”), what this little park lacks in size it more than makes up for in intrigue, including a series of spooky sculptures personifying the spectral beings said to inhabit this part of town.

The Birthplace of Dannebrog

The tranquil beauty of this public space belies its violent historical significance. Desiring an end to the Estonian attacks that threatened the Baltic trade, the Danish king, Valdemar II, invaded Tallinn with his fleet in 1219. Initially believing that they had overcome the Estonian fortress with ease, the Danish forces were left unprepared for a vicious retaliation later that night and with significant losses on the Danish side, the king began to lose hope.


Praying to the heavens for divine help, a tiny piece of material drifted down into the arms of the desperate king. This cloth featured a white cross on a red background and taking inspiration from this seraphic sign, the Danish troops fought back and ultimately defeated the Estonian resistance. That portentous symbol became the longest serving national flag in the world, the Danish flag known as the “Dannebrog”.


Although there is no documented verification for this tale, it has taken root deep in Danish and Estonian society, so much so that Dannebrog is celebrated in the garden on 15 June each year, commemorating the day of the purported event.


The sculpture Tuli lipp (“The Flag Descended”) by Mari Rass and Liina Stratskas was added to the garden in 2012, providing an artistic rendering of the opportune moment. Even the city’s name retains its links to Denmark: Tallinn is thought to be a historical derivation of Taani linna (“Danish castle”), marking the stronghold built by the Danes following their victory in 1219.

History of the Area

Located on the south-eastern side of Toompea, the garden has changed significantly since the 13th century in both ownership and use. Given to the Lower Town in the 14th century and designated as a place where “no one was ever to stop or interfere with” local people from enjoying their rights, it was just outside the boundary between the provincial centre of Toompea and the politically and socially distinct Lower Town.


Over the years, the triangular flat area adjacent to the city wall served many purposes, including as a fish market, a flower market and a public garden, with its limestone base allowing roses and other local fauna to grow in abundance.


In the late 18th century, Tallinn’s rapid population growth and subsequent need for living space led to medieval fortifications such as the Maiden Tower, the Marstal Tower and the Short Leg Gate Tower being repurposed as dwelling spaces and between the 19th and 20th centuries, it was known simply as the King’s Garden or by the name of the owner – Nestler’s, Liemann’s or Sievers’ Garden.


However, it seems that it was not just the living that resided here; numerous ghost stories and sightings are associated with the towers, including a drunken monk, a repentant former executioner and a floating medieval lady, making this the most haunted part of Tallinn. Of all the spectral sightings, that of a monk or group of monks is most common, though it is debated whether their appearance should be considered a good or bad omen.


Either way, the legends were immortalised in 2015 by an art installation called “Three” by Simson von Seakyll and Paul Mänd. It depicts three 2.5-metre-tall bronze monks looming over the garden, with clever backlighting contributing to the eerie ambience.


The monks even have names: Ambrosius the “Waiting Monk”, Bartholomeus the “Praying Monk” and Claudius the “Observing Monk”. A fourth monk, Justinus the “Black Monk”, has also made his appearance over the years but for whatever reason, the sculptors decided a group of three worked best so he will have to live on in disembodied form only.

Recent Changes

Based on a lifelike model in the Kiek in de Kök Fortifications Museum depicting the area during the 1930s, the changes in the last century have been significant, from a privately owned space with low wooden houses and flourishing fruit trees to the secluded public greenery it is today.


Since the 1960s, restoration of the famous towers and passages has been painstakingly completed, converting them into museums to celebrate the city’s medieval history. Whether ghosts still haunt the area or not, the garden is a haven to enjoy a quiet moment overlooking the charming cobbled streets and spires of the Old Town while soaking in the illustrious Tallinn atmosphere.

Left: Neitsitorn (Maiden Tower) with Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in the background. Right: Tallitorn (Marstal Tower).

photography by: Sinéad Browne