Tallinn Kiek in de Kök
This medieval Estonian tower provides access to a series of tunnels that have been home to soldiers, punks, and fine art.
Tallinn, Estonia’s Kiek in de Kök (translated as “Peep into the Kitchen” since the high tower windows could see into the kitchens of the houses around it) is a historic fortification which includes a system of tunnels which have been used for all manner of subterranean purpose but are not open as a museum.
Neighboring a number of countries (Denmark, Sweden, Germany, Russia), the city of Tallinn has had a historic need for fortification. The Kiek in de Kök was built in 1475 to defend the city from invaders and the 16th century cannonballs still embedded in the outer walls show that it did its job admirably.
As the centuries churned on, the simple tower was expanded and a series of tunnels was added to the fortification in the 17th century. The bastion tunnels were originally intended to shelter men, ammunition, and supplies, and were also used as an observation post to spy enemies. However they were never put to use in the era of their building since Tallinn was hit with a plague that effectively removed them from the wars of the time.
Having missed their original calling, the tunnels were then used to house prisoners for a time. After the World War I the tunnels were again adapted to be used as air-raid shelters saving a number of lives when Tallinn was bombed during World War II. During the Cold War the tunnels were equipped with independent electricity, ventilation, water, and phone connections, preparing to shelter the noble elite in case of a nuclear strike.
Luckily the bomb was never dropped and the tunnels were once again without a purpose, so they were put to use as a store room to house sculptures from the National Art Foundation. After couple of years the sculptures were moved elsewhere in the fear of art thieves finding a way into the wide network of passages. Once the art was removed the tunnels were left empty and soon slipped into disrepair. Since that the tunnels were empty. Soon the abandoned passages were being used by punks and rebels to hide from the police who avoided the tunnels because of heavy rat and flea infestations. The corridors also became home to a number of displaced people seeking shelter.
In 2005 the Kiek in de Kök was finally turned into a museum and the tunnels were cleaned of both humans and vermin so that they could be opened to the public. Today the tower and its tunnels display exhibitions on the history of Tallinn and the tower as well as contemporary art. Time will tell how long the tunnels can keep just one purpose.
Know Before You Go
The tunnels can be visited by previous appointment only. Entry is free with the Tallinn Card and a ticket covers the museums in the towers joined by a section of the curtain wall.
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