History of the Kiek in de Kök tower, the bastion passages and Maiden Tower


With the advent of firearms and cannons used in the siege warfare, the defences had to evolve accordingly. Initial version of the artillery tower was built in 1475-1483. Back then people called it just ‘the new tower behind the Boleman’s Sauna’.

The first written record of the current name of the battery tower or version thereof originates from 1577 as Kyck in de Kaeken and from there on, multiple forms and spellings of that name were used, e.g. Kik (Kyk) in de Kok, Kiek in die Küche, Pulffer-Thurm Giecken Köck. Finally, in 1696 the current spelling appears, Kiek in de Kök, meaning ‘peek into the kitchen’ in Low German. Well, one could say that it was indeed possible to watch what the enemy was ‘cooking’ in their ‘kitchen’ from the towering height of about 38m.

As early as in late 15th century the tower was somewhat reconstructed. Extra layers were added to the outer walls rendering these thicker, so the overall diameter of the tower was 17.3 m. The walls reached the current thickness of 4 metres; however, the tower itself was lower back then. The waterproofed upper floor paved with cobblestones was open from the top and had 22 embrasures in its parapet. The parapets must have been covered by some kind of roof, yet the middle part of the floor remained open allowing for better access in placing mortars and catapults.

Compared to other defence towers of Reval, the Kiek in de Kök tower had major fire power due to its 27 embrasures for cannons and 30 for handguns.

zepThe ground floor of the tower was used as a storage space and also had the original entrance. The floor itself had a narrow shaft for light and air and no embrasures. The ammunition was hoisted up through the openings in the domed vaults using a pulley.

On the defence floors of the tower, the guns were rigged in embrasures that were provided with niches for the logs that served to stop the backlash. The floors of the embrasures were initially stepped to enable the men handle the guns better. The fireplaces on every floor were necessary to provide easy access to fire for the use of firearms.

With the vast reconstructions carried out in the 16th and 17th centuries, the original look of the tower changed considerably. In the construction of the Ingermanland Bastion at the end of 17th century, the earth layers heaped up at the foot of the tower swallowed the lower floors, rendering two lower storeys of the tower underground floors inside the bastion earth mound. Abandoning the ground floor entrance, a opening for a new entrance to the tower from the bastion was made into the first floor. The four upper levels were rebuilt to fit the guns on wheel carriages. Most of the steps in the embrasure floors were levelled and the embrasure mouths were funnelled.

pommAbove the embrasure chambers vents were built for siphoning out the gunpowder smoke. The last floor got a new outer wall to support a new ceiling roof that was 2 m thick at its thinnest and 4 m thick at the top of the vault.

While the armaments developed, the defence wall around the town lost its significance. In 1760 the tower was taken over by the state and was used as a storage space, living quarters, and archive rooms.

At the beginning of the 20th century the first Estonian heavy athletes used some of the rooms as their gym. To remove the small buildings erected around the tower, some reconstruction took place in 1958, and on 20th July the same year a museum branch of the Tallinn City Museum was opened in the Kiek in de Kök tower.


jossifThe extensive reconstruction in 1966-1968 aimed at finding a compromise between the 15th-16th century architecture, the 17th century reconstructions, and the needs of a modern museum. New floors of flagstone plates were laid, central heating and running water pipes were installed, all stairs were repaired and, to some extent, renovated.

The earth mound of the bastion surrounding the tower was partly hollowed up in the southern and western sides of the tower. In the southern side, the excavated area was surrounded with a protective wall and an entrance to the tower was built in the south side.

The entrance led to the hall and auxiliary rooms. The annex and the original tower were connected by a former embrasure, nowadays used by the visitors to enter the first floor of the tower. The newer, additional staircase that takes the visitor upstairs was built during the restoration in 1966-68.






The mysterious ‘underground tunnels’, the bastion passages form a part of the defence system of the bastions and were built as a part of the bastions in late 17th and early 18th centuries.

There are other tunnels from the first half of the 17th century, e.g. the old Wismar Ravelin passages from the 1630s and more passages inside other fortifications.

When cannons and firearms were introduced and became a staple of warfare and sieges, also the fortifications had to develop accordingly. As walls were vulnerable to cannon fire, the fortifications became lower and wider, ditches and earth ramparts were used that would absorb and disperse the energy of cannon fire.

As early as already back in 1530, a roundel was heaped up at the bottom of the Kiek in de Kök battery tower. Throughout the 16th and 17th centuries, more earthwork fortifications were built, the peak time of these structures over here being the 17th century, during which close to 30 different earthwork fortifications were added to the defence belt of Reval: roundels, ravelins, redoubts, semi-bastions, and finally, most advanced angular, geometrical bastions that formed part of a larger system.

The Ingrian and Swedish bastions were built as a part of a colossal fortification plan devised by Eric Dahlberg (1625 – 1703), a prominent Swedish military engineer and architect. As his plans kept changing over the years when he returned to Reval for further inspections, we may say the complete plan consisted of 11 of 12 regular bastions with symmetrical faces and flanks encased in massive stone scarp wall interconnected with passages protected by curtain walls, and between and in front of the bastions ravelins, redoubts, then stone encased counterscarp walls at the outer side of the moat. According to the plan, cannons were mostly outside, at different levels on top of the structures. The construction work started in 1686. Due to the problems encountered while building these fortifications – political disagreements, financing, finding labour, war breaking out – only three bastions were completed by the time Russian Czar Peter the Great laid siege on Reval during the Great Northern War in 1710 and conquered this city. The bastions were never used for their intended purpose, i.e. to defend the city.

The passages are casemated, but do not have embrasures, just air holes (soupiraux). The passages or galleries are tracing the outer edge of a bastion on the inner side of the massive scarp wall and the curtain wall in-between the passages. The casements are vaulted and are underneath a layer of soil that is several metres thick. They have been built on the top of the ground, but as the street level is a bit higher nowadays as well as the passages are covered with such a huge mass of earth, people tend to refer to these as ‘underground’ passages.

The main purposes of these passages were to shelter the troops defending the city and curtained access from one defence structure to another, and to conceal from the enemy the redeployment of troops from one site to another. It also functioned as a storage space and was an easier way to move ammunition and equipment from one place to another. In case the enemy succeeds to breach the wall and infiltrate the bastion, the casemated structure of these passages helps against direct enemy fire and so to slow down the enemy advancement. In addition, using cleverly constructed device, it helped in reconnaissance by warning about any advancement of enemy troops or excavation activities.

The massive walls surrounding the passages and the vaulted ceiling (barrel vaults) are made of limestone. The galleries itself are about 1.5 m to 2.5 m wide and 2.5 to 3m high. The scarp wall is over 3 m, in places almost 4 metres thick. At the ends of bastion flanks and faces vertical passages, some of these with steep steps, lead up, providing access to the levels above. Adding up the passages known to us in different fortifications, we get about 1.3 km; however, these passages are not continuously connected. Right now, a total of 470m has been renovated, but not all of it is available for visitors.

As the bastions and the passages thereof were never used for their intended purposes, already back in the 18th century they were mainly used for storage space. After the Crimean War, in 1857 the Bastions were no longer listed as military sites and local municipality founded parks on top of these man-made hills. The passages were completely abandoned, yet from time to time the adventurous managed to get in through some opening and explore these, giving rise to countless stories and legends about the underground labyrinth. These legends are still popular.

 Back in 1930s, preparing for the impending war, several air raid and anti-gas shelters were built to Tallinn. In 1936 part of the passages under the Ingrian and Swedish Bastions were cleaned from rubble and converted into anti-gas air raid shelter with state of the art ventilation and air sealed doors and thick layer of sand on the original dirt floor. During the WWII the shelter was used during the air raids and saved many lives. However, gas weapon was never used in Tallinn.

During the Soviet era, in 1950s, the anti-gas air raid shelter got a complete overhaul, stone slabs were installed to the floors, independent ventilation and electricity systems installed together with telephone lines and pipelines for running water. The tunnels were equipped with toilets, three-level metal bunk beds, and all other necessary equipment to provide accommodation for people during a nuclear war. The nuclear war fall out shelter was abandoned in the second half of 1970s. In 1976-1977 the popular youth movement ‘Kodulinn’ (Home Town) carried out some cleaning of the passages. Some of the tunnel casements in the Ingrian bastion were used as a storage venue for several institutions up to the early 1980s, e.g. the sculptures of the Art Foundation were held there, some documents etc. The passages were not a safe place to storage anything due to occasional invaders and so the sculptures and other items from the casements used as storage were taken elsewhere and were no longer in any official use. So the punks hiding from the Soviet militia harassing them as well as some vagrants had tunnels for themselves.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, re-independent Estonia had many people who could not cope with rapid changes taking place and ended up in the streets. So from 1991 to 2004 the abandoned tunnels were populated by local homeless, who had set up camp over there and some of them lived there for over a decade.
In 2004, Tallinn city started to renovate the tunnels to make them accessible for public.



2-Storey House instead of the tower ( 1800-1969)

The tower is been called the Meghed Tower since the 14th century, in the depths of history, which is believed to have resulted from the name of the construction master, Hinze Meghed or from the rural language word “mägede” (mountain). It was erected on the so-called short hill (mons brevis), right next to the long mountain (mons longhi), which at that time was known as a unified rise beside the contemporary Tõnismägi and Toompea. The street names Short Leg for pedestrians, as well as Long Leg for horses and later for carriages, were derived from the short and long hill.

The Maiden Tower name started spreading only in the 19th century, when the Baltic German historians began calling me in a more pronounceable way, as Magde or Mädchen or the Maid Tower.


Vaade Neitsitorni majale Komandandi ( Vene kiriku) aia poolt

It was the only defensive tower in the city with a square base plan that was open from the back or without a wall. There are currently glass window walls there. Throughout history, it was probably the most rebuilt tower in this city! A three-storey became a four-storey roofed defensive tower. It then became a two-storey dwelling instead as the crown for the largest and most beautiful garden in the lower city and finally back to a medieval tower.


It did not look at all like a tower viewed from the city side when It was rebuilt as a dwelling, but like a  house with classicist facade and large windows. All kinds of important people lived here: the person who brought railways to this country and thereby the founder of the modern city, Baron Alexander von Pahlen, as well as many artists. Karl Burman was one of the last artists who lived here, on the second floor. He was our first architect and aquarellist. The large Nevsky Cathedral as the symbol of czarism and russification, near this location, was to be dismantled during the first republic, according to his drawings. That did not take place but instead, in the 1970s, the Maiden Tower residence was demolished, and I was restored as a tower. I became more widely known when the Maiden Tower Cafe was opened here in 1980.

It is said that the tower is haunted – an old man dressed in black has been spotted who was also depicted by a Russian artist in 1986. And also a girl – about who there is also a legend that she was buried alive between the walls! A ghostly figure is also said to have wandered late in the evening on the second floor of the tower, a cloud that did not let anyone or anything through. There is also a story circulating that the tower was a prison for prostitutes during Swedish times. A prisoner here, an woman, signed a contract with the devil, thereafter became popular amongst the clients, but eventually she was burned as a witch. This though is probably not a true story.