Tallinn to fix up old Jewish cemetery

The city of Tallinn has picked a basic project for fixing up the old Jewish cemetery area for which purpose €400,000 have been earmarked in next year’s budget.

The Kesklinn city district government’s procurement for a basic project for renewing the old cemetery area at Magasini 27 favored Loovmaastik OÜ, the city government’s press service communicated.

“Architects of Loovmaastik OÜ have to shape the former cemetery into a discrete green area that considers both its historical significance and the expectations of modern citizens in what is a task involving no small measure of responsibility. However, both aspects have been considered in last year’s draft project,” Monika Haukanõmm, district mayor for Kesklinn, said in a press release.

The area should be fixed up by late 2021 and the cost of the work should fit inside €400,000 earmarked for the purpose.

The former cemetery will be divided in two: a solemn section with marked burial sites and a chapel and a recreational area open to everyone. The project includes restoration of walls and the construction of new walkways, greenery, as well as installation of benches and lighting.

“A cozy and safe environment combined with historical legacy creates the feeling of an undivided city space. The old cemetery is of great value not just for folklorists but those who appreciate Tallinn’s cultural and confessional wealth,” member of the Tallinn city council Aleksandr Zdankevitš said. “It is important to consider and preserve the history of the site when designing the green area, also with the help of information boards outlining the history of Tallinn’s oldest Jewish cemetery and the life of Schaje Levinovitš who was one of the leaders of the local Jewish community at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. Levinovitš was responsible for the start of construction of the Maakri street synagogue and his mausoleum was designed by famous architect Jacques Rosenbaum.”

The Jewish cemetery was likely opened in the late 18th century. The area was surrounded with a limestone wall in 1870-1880, complete with gates, a guardhouse and a chapel that was later followed by a funeral chapel. The city stopped issuing burial plots for the cemetery in the 1920s when the new Jewish cemetery was opened in Rahumäe. The old cemetery was destroyed in the 1960s and a motor depot constructed there in 1967. Repair shops were built that remained there for decades before being demolished a few years ago.

The heritage conservation department of the City Planning Department commissioned an archeological survey of the area’s historical buildings and the extent of burial sites a year and a half ago. The Kesklinn city district government, the Estonian Jewish community and local residents have worked together to clear the area and discuss the location’s future.

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