Tartu – The best city for the world


Tartu, with its population of 101,246 (Population Census data from 2000) in an area of 38.8 sq km, is the second largest city in Estonia. Tartu, lying 185 km south of Tallinn, is also the centre of southern Estonia. The River Emajõgi (Mother River), which connects the two largest lakes in Estonia, flows for 10 km within the city limits and adds colour to the city. The first written records of Tartu date from 1030.

When the Swedish King Gustav II Adolf signed the establishment order of Academia Gustaviana (University of Tartu) in 1632 Tartu had already been known as a city for six centuries. Tartu’s favourable, easytodefend and beautiful location did not go unnoticed for anybody on either side of the River Emajõgi. Both before and after the creation of the University of Tartu, the city had played a very large role in trade, science and culture.

The head of the Tartu City Government Public Relations Department, Indrek Mustimets, says we have heard a variety of cities claiming to be the world’s best cities. “But Tartu instead wants to be the best city for the world and thus fulfil its obligations, both historical and modern. We have never measured how well known we are in Europe and the world. But thinking about this, whoever has found Tartu for themselves throughout the centuries is something we may be proud of”.

Every era has left its mark

“Every era has left its mark on Tartu. So, we may talk about the conquering of Tartu, repeated major fires, diseases and rapacious conquerors. But we can also talk about the huge military airfield that Tartu inherited from the Soviet era and in the direct vicinity of which is one of the most interesting museums in the world – the Estonian National Museum. The international architectural competition was won by the work called “Memory Field” and which is full of symbolic meaning – Tartu has a large number of sources of Estonian folk and rich culture. Although Tartu was a closed city for half a century under Soviet control, good thoughts and spirituality never disappeared for a moment,” says Mustimets.

“If one of the architectural jewels is built on an old military airfield in Tartu and the old airfield is permanently closed, it is symbolic that the civilian airport in Tartu is extended. Through it, Tartu has its connections with the rest of the world. Tartu, although the capital of southern Estonia, has been without a fast link to the rest of the world for a long time. Citizens of Tartu can now also talk about the progress of road traffic between Tallinn and Tartu, and Tartu and Riga. The latest news from the Estonian government confirms that the state is also vigorously planning a Tallinn-Tartu-Valga-Riga-Warsaw railway line, Rail Baltica.”

Colourful and international

Tartu is undeniably an international city – nearly 1,000 foreign students are studying in various educational institutions. Researchers work at post-doctorate level and senior lecturers from different universities work alongside each other. Numerous spin-off companies have innovators from all over the world sharing their knowledge. In the world of theatre, the Vanemuine ballet stage features dancers from 15 different countries. All year round this captivating city is well known by artists, musicians, writers and theatrical people, not to mention ramblers for whom Tartu is an integral part of a visit to Estonia.

Indrek Mustimets thinks there are thousands of reasons and people to explain why Tartu is exactly like this and not a boring or colourless city. “City of good thoughts, it’s the slogan of Tartu, and it absorbs a lot of good and valuable things. Speaking of Tartu, the cradle of the ethnic awakening of Estonia, we can be proud that the foundation stone of spirit was laid here. Here we have the Estonian Literary Museum, the Estonian National Museum, Tartu University, Estonian University of Life Sciences, Estonia’s first professional theatre, with opera and ballet. Tartu is the birthplace of song festivals and the national media. This diversity and colour has given a great impulse to the whole Estonian culture, mental forces and statehood.”

Tartu = University of Tartu

“The heart of Tartu is the University of Tartu. There is probably no family with Estonian roots anywhere in the world that is not related to the university in some way. Through the independence years, the university has step by step restored and developed all of its legendary faculties, created new research centres, and supplied educational and research institutions with modern technology. All of this creates an opportunity. A hundred years ago Nobel Prize winner in chemistry, Wilhelm Ostwald, worked at the University of Tartu. We all hope that another scientist from the university will one day win the Nobel Prize. But in the University a lot of world famous scientists work,” says Mustimets.

“Being Estonia’s leading university, it competes with European and global research institutes and centres, and must hold onto a reputation gained over the centuries. The most outstanding research areas of the University of Tartu include molecular and cell biology, gene technology, immunology, pharmacology, chemistry, biochemistry, laser medicine, material science, laser spectroscopy, environmental technologies, computer linguistics, psychology and semiotics. This list could go on.

“Tartu is a well-known educational and scientific centre and the achievements of its scientists generate interest around the world, and in biotechnology some of the projects promise a real breakthrough. So For example, researchers of Tartu have reached the final stage of HIV vaccine development. Estonia’s largest biotechnology company, called Asper Biotech, is also working in Tartu. It developed gene analysis detectors which are operating in the French Cancer Research Centre, at a genetic analysis company in South Korea and in Columbia University in the US. These are just some examples of the great potential of the university of a small country like Estonia,” Mustimets adds.

“Of course, the potential of Tartu researchers is also used by domestic companies. Estonia’s largest dairy products manufacturer, Tere, has co-designed a unique product line that includes lactic acid bacteria ME-3, discovered by microbiologists of the University of Tartu. Tere worked in collaboration with researchers from the University of Tartu. Yoghurt and curd creams containing new bacteria are very popular among Estonians,” Mustimets says.

“The Estonian Genome Project was born in Tartu about 10 years ago. The Genome Project’s goal is to get – by the end of 2010 – the gene data of 100,000 Estonians. The collection of genetic data will allow the diagnosis of diseases, improved treatment and ways to determine cancer risk in the future.

“We may proudly name Tartu University Hospital the flagship of Estonian medical sciences. It recently opened an excellently equipped new building on the Maarjamõisa medical campus.”

A favourable business and natural environment

“In the economy of Estonia’s second largest city the rapid development of the information and communications sector sticks out,” says Mustimets. “Tartu has about 125 IT companies, with an estimated total annual turnover exceeding EUR 75 million, and approximately 1,200 employees.

“A favourable business environment and several support structures help create and develop businesses. This includes the Tartu Science Park, Business Advisory Services Tartu, Tartu Biotechnology Park, as well as the recently established Centre of Creative Industries. Enterprise development organizations are providing support and advice – to established and start-up companies – and offering them a variety of services,” says Mustimets.

“Tartu is a fascinating city where the modern infrastructure and industrial harmony is intertwined with a distinctive natural environment. So, for example, the downtown café surfer on the Internet (Tartu city centre is almost entirely covered with a free Wi-Fi network) can go to Toome Hill with its ancient trees within few minutes by foot or take a walk on the riverside promenade. Within a 20-minute walking distance from the city centre are biggest meadow regions of Estonia. Their rich flora and variety of birds belong to the Natura 2000 areas list.

“Both the developers and planners have to take into account the unique nature environment. And urban planning has led to a unique set of ideas in Estonia – the proposed housing estate will include islands for plants which are under protection,” adds Mustimets.

“If a city has so many values, good people, thoughts, glory and history, this city is the best city for the world and Tartu is happy to share it with everyone. Welcome!”


Source: Originally published in Business Estonia magazine.


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