Tartu and its Secret Airfield

By Valery Collins | May 2, 2020

 Tartu in Estonia is to be applauded for its innovative reclamation of a secret Soviet air base.  This once barren wasteland is now occupied by a state of the art building that houses the Estonian National Museum.

 Raadi Airfield in Tartu, Estonia

Airfield Raadi, also known as Tartu Air Base, began operations in 1912 when Estonia was under Russian occupation.  Since it opened the airfield has changed hands three times.  The first when Estonia became independent in 1920.  The second, during the Second World War when the Russians regained control.  Aft the war it became a secret Soviet air base.  The Russians constructed large mounds around the perimeter to hide the aircraft using the base.  The town of Tartu was isolated from the rest of the world.  The third, when Estonia regained its independence in 1991 and used it as an airport.

Air Field Raadi in Tartu in Estonia Credit: Valery Collins


The Estonian National Museum

The airfield closed down in 1999.  A large area of polluted ground.  Pilots had been in the habit of dumping fuel as they can in to land.  It was not suitable for housing.  However, it was ideal as the site for the new Estonian National Museum – a project that took one hundred years to complete.  A competition to decide the best design for the new building was won by the Paris-based architects DGT.  This ultra-modern single storey building features a huge canopy over the main entrance.

Estonia National Museum in Tartu in Estonia Credit Valery Collins

The huge interior of this museum has two permanent exhibitions, space for temporary exhibitions, a conference hall, a cinema, a restaurant and a café.  Many interesting exhibits trace the history and traditions of Estonia.   I amused myself by trying to outwit the spotlight that the Russians used to watch people – interaction at its best.  But pride of place for Estonians is the original Estonian flag.  This tricolour flag is the symbol of Estonia’s struggle for freedom.  The colours reflect the importance of nature to the Estonian culture.  Blue for the sky and Baltic Sea, black for the fertile soil and dark forests and white for snow and bright summer nights.

European Capital of Culture 2024

Tartu, the second largest city in Estonia, has emerged triumphant from Russian and Soviet domination.  A delightful mix of Bohemian café culture and scientific success it has been designate the European Capital of Culture 2024.  Visitors will be able to enjoy a wide range of attractions from the grandeur of its old university buildings and museums to the nostalgia of a teddy bears’ picnic in the Toy Museum

University Buildings in Tartu in Estonia Credit: Valery Collins

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