Traveling stones tell about history

Uwe Gnadenteich
, reporter
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Photo: Foto: Repro

The demolition of the old sea wall on the way of the future Reidi Road brought out several curious stones, which have traveled several times through Tallinn in the course of history.

Out of curiosity, the historian Robert Treufeldt went to look at what the demolition of the old sea wall near the Rusalka monument would bring into daylight. The earthmover first excavated an old wheel which was considered a detail of a mill.

Then Treufeldt noticed some granite blocks of familiar shape. He remembers that similar stone blocks were used in the Double Battery, which used to be located in the Kalaranna district of Tallinn. “We can see the holes of the clamps which used to bind the cornice stones to the façade. When the Double Battery was sold for construction materials, these stones could be taken anywhere,” Treufeldt said.

The underwater part of the battery has been preserved and Treufeldt has studied it repeatedly. An observer on the seashore can see it only as a low pile of stones a couple of hundred meters from the shore.

“This stone is slightly slanted towards the edge. When they were sold off they were apparently placed upright and used as headstones,” the historian guessed. Treufeldt found a total of six such blocks at the demolished sea wall.

Since the Double Battery was demolished in the 19th century and its stone blocjs were sold as building material, some of them must have reached the Kopli cemetery. When the Soviet authorities destroyed the cemetery, some of the former Double Battery blocks were used to build the sea wall.

Treufeldt as an expert of fortifications considers this find invaluable. However, after his initial delight had passed, he admitted that he cannot state with absolute certainty that the blocks came from the Double Battery.

Not quite part of a monument

But he is certain that the blocks were part of some long-demolished fortification. “ I am not sure what to do with them. They used to store such thing in the Hose Mill, Since the remaining part of the Double Battery is an officially protected monument, these blocks must be a part of it,” Treufeldt said.

Ragnar Nurk, an archaeologist of the Tallinn Urban Planning Board, disagrees. “The Double Battery was demolished, and the stones removed long before it was declared a historical monument. Thus formally these blocks are not a paerr of a monument, Which does not mean that they should not be perderbed and studied,” he said.

Nurk visited the Reido Road construction site one more time and decided that they may have been a part of the Double Battery, but possibly some other structure as well. He explained that similar cornice blocks had been used in a number of buildings.

Janno Oja, project manager of the construction firm KMG Inseneriehitus, who suspended the work to let the specialists study the blocks, was prepared for similar surprises.

“We have no problem with that, it is easy to lift some stones aside. All we need is a specialist to say which stone is valuable and which one isn’t.” he said.

“Well, I have no instruction to hand out how to recognize the Double Battery remnants. But I can tell the profile of these cornice stones. It is interesting that after these blocks were removed from the battery and sold for building material, the profile was retained. Apparently it was a fashion of the time. I have now seen six blocks here which come from the Double Battery. Four definitely come from the battery, about two others I am not that certain,” Treufeldt said.

Nurk promised that all such stones will be carefully kept apart. “We certainly want to preserve these stones and find them a suitable place. But as of now I cannot say what that place could be.”

“We shall not take them back to the Double Battery site for sure. We have previously found stone blocks during excavations in the port area, which may have been a part of some coastal fortification or a battery. Now we have to think whether to combine them as some kind of display or if they had been used in cemeteries as headstones or pedestals for crosses, maybe they could be exhibited together with relics from cemeteries,” the archaeologist said.

What is the Double Battery?

The Tallinn fortress commandant ordered, besides the construction of the Kalaranna fort, later known as the Battery Prison, that the Double Battery be built in the sea. Its location is currently marked by a row of stones in the water, clearly visible from the Kalaranna port.

Several painters have depicted the Double Battery, including Ivan Aivazovski and Luigi Premazzi.  When looking from Kalarand towards the sea today, one can see a shapeless pile of stones topped by the basement of an old beacon light and a stand for searchlight. It is hard to believe that it used to be a proud fortification in the middle of the 19th century, containing barracks for some 250 soldiers and armed with 50 cannons.

When the allied forces took the Bomarsund fortress in Aland during the Crimean War in 1854, it was a considerable shock for the Russians. The Bomarsund fortress was stronger than that of Tallinn and it was taken in four days. After that the Russians began to abandon fortifications requiring supplying by sea, since the allied naval forces were stronger. On the other hand, the Russians had advantage on  dry land.

This is why they gave up the separate forts on the coast or in sea and demolished them. Tallinn lost its fortress town status after the war and most of the Double Battery stones were sold as construction material. The underwater part of the structure has been partly preserved.