Tartu, Estonia

Tartu became the fourteenth UNESCO City of Literature in December 2015, on the same day as Ulyanovsk (Russia), Baghdad (Iraq), Lviv (Ukraine), Ljubljana (Slovenia), Barcelona (Spain), Nottingham (UK), Óbidos (Portugal) and Montevideo (Uruguay) joined the Creative Cities Network.

These all join the eleven existing UNESCO Cities of Literature – Edinburgh (UK), Melbourne (Australia), Iowa City (USA), Dublin (Ireland), Reykjavik (Iceland), Norwich (UK), Krakow (Poland), Dunedin (New Zealand), Prague (Czech Republic), Heidelberg (Germany) and Granada (Spain) – to bring the total amount of Cities of Literature in the UNESCO Creative Cities Network to twenty.

To receive a permanent UNESCO City of Literature designation cities must apply to UNESCO and meet exacting criteria. They must show that they have outstanding literary heritage, a vibrant contemporary scene, and importantly, that they are a city where their sector works collaboratively to grow and develop through their chosen artform, via capital development and cultural engagement programmes.

1. Cultural City

The city of Tartu is the second is the largest city of Estonia, with a population of 97,000. It is viewed as the pioneer of Estonian culture, encouraging constant collaboration between its citizens and visitors. The city is working towards its development strategy “Tartu 2030”, with strong plans for Tartu and future cultural ambitions. In 2030, Tartu will mark the 1000th anniversary of its first mentioning in a Kievan chronicle.

2. Literary Festivals

Other literary festivals in Tartu are Crazy Tartu, which is organised by the Estonian Literary Society and the Estonian Writers’ Union, which brings together writers, poets, musicians and artists from all over Estonia and abroad. The Estonian Theatre Festival Draama has been held since 1996 and brings theatrical performance to the heart of Tartu, whilst the Russian Poetry Festival is running as a new initiative.

3. The University of Tartu

The University of Tartu has over 18,000 students and is one of the oldest Universities in Northern and Eastern Europe. Founded in 1632, it is the national University of Estonia with departments in Arts, Estonian and Comparative Folklore, Ethnology and Literature, and Theatre Studies. The University of Tartu Press also publishes journals in various disciplines, furthering the reach of the written word both in academic and public circles.

4. International Conference

The 10th international conference of the Estonian Association of Comparative Literature was held at the Tartu Literature House on 23-25 September 2015. The title for the conference was “National Literature and Comparative Literary Research”, and discussed a number of issues, such as the importance of research in comparative literature within universities. The conference has been held biannually since 1995, bringing a wide range of literary scholars to Tartu.

5. Oskar Luts

Oskar Luts, known for his novels Kevade, Suvi and Sugis which exist now as a mythical tales in Estonia, was the first Estonian writer to receive the title of National Writer of the Estonian SSR in 1945. After being released from military service during WWII for health reasons, Oskar Luts set up permanent residence in his home on Riia Street in Tartu, which has now been converted into a museum.

6. Estonian Literary Museum

Tartu is home to the Estonian Literary Museum, a national research institute administrated by the Ministry of Education and Research. The museum carries out work and research in the fields of folklore, religion, literature, art and culture, cultural history, life writing, ethnomusicology and bibliography, housing a number of archives within the very impressive building.

7. Creative Industries

Tartu Centre for Creative Industries (TCCI) was founded on May 14th, 2009 by Tartu City Council and is a pioneer for Estonian creative industries, with over 1,300 creative industries flourishing in Tartu. The centre provides information and a wide-range of training to creative entrepreneurs, and has been commended by the research bureau KEA European Affairs. It is also involved in a number of projects, one being the Urban Creative Poles project, which focuses on the collaborative work of five cities around the Baltic sea.

8. Literary Organisations

Tartu’s literary organisations work to bring the question of literature to the city, by encouraging active involvement and discourse. Since opening in 1927, the Tartu branch of Estonian Writers Union is a professional association made up of writers and literary critics, of approximately 80 members, with a broader membership of 302 members in the whole organisation.

Other literary organisations include The Estonian Literary Society, which, after running for over 100 years, serves as Estonia’s oldest literary society. The society has and continues to collect and put research into literature, as well as organising poetry readings, seminars, conferences and other literary events. As well as this, The Estonian Association of Comparative Literature was established in Tartu in 1994, with a current membership of over 40. The association founded the magazine Interlitteraria in 1996, to a platform in which Estonia could exchange both literary and philosophical ideas worldwide.

9. Literary Projects

As part of Tartu’s continual innovation in the creative sector, the city places emphasis on running projects in order to strengthen creative ideas circulating its streets. Tartu in Fiction is a project run by the Tartu Public Library as a means of presenting the city of Tartu through the lens of fiction, where Estonian writers observe and write about the everyday aspects of the city and details which some may overlook, enriching the image of the city. As well as this, The Estonian Literary Society recently initiated a project called Bus Poetry, in order to introduce literary works into the everyday urban space.

10. Libraries

Tartu University Library is Estonia’s oldest and biggest scientific library that was established in 1802, holding 3.7 million books and attracting 2000 visitors every day. As well as its broad collection of books, the library also hosts exhibitions and conferences, being an important centre for historical and cultural research and discussion.