The Finnish Embassy in Tallinn is the oldest Finnish mission abroad. Finland regained the original property after the re-establishment of Estonian independence.
Toompea has played a central role in the history of the whole of Estonia and also of Tallinn. Over the centuries it has been a citadel protecting the country, and the centre of secular and religious power.
The Finnish Embassy is situated in the centre of Toompea, in Kiriku plats (Church Square). The Estonian Riigikogu in Toompea Castle and Stenbock House, the home of the Estonian government, are only a few metres away. In the early years of the independent Republic of Estonia, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs operated in the former building of the Knighthood of Estonia, located nearby.
In 1993, when the restoration of the Embassy building began, it was clear that it would be impossible to break the soil with a spade on Toompea without the careful supervision of the National Heritage Board and the archaeologist's brush. In the excavation of the Embassy's foundations, traces of ancient human settlement were found, and as the results of the radiocarbon dating analyses showed, some of these even dated from the 7th century.
During the excavations, archaeologists found, among other things, a roughly 700-year-old bronze horse, which was intended as a decoration, and many other objects.
Probably the most remarkable find, however, was the remains of the foundation of the old peel (defensive tower) dating from the 13th century. It came to light completely by chance, during the construction of the underground archive room. One wall of the tower was built into the old town wall, whereas the other wall was semi-circular and thus actually for centuries dictated the architecture of the buildings built on top of it. Thus the present ambassador's office, the residence's main hall and the guests' room also have a semi-circular shape. One could say that in this way, the past revealed its secrets during the excavation work, and now everyone can observe these secrets.
The Embassy's property consists of five buildings that have been built here since the 1770s. The complex acquired its present form in the middle of the last century, when Bernhard Otto Jakob von Uexküll, a member of the Baltic nobility and prosperous owner of the large Vigala Manor finished construction of the main building. At that time it was customary for members of the nobility to live in their manors during the summer and to move to Tallinn for the winter, in order to spend time in the so-called high society, in their palaces on Toompea.
It was apparently quite important to the architect, Georg Winterhalter, that the site was located on a high cliff on Toompea. From here there was a spectacular view of the whole city, its multicoloured stone roofs and church steeples, and in the distance green parks and the sea. The city's most beautiful view is now supplemented by the silhouettes of tall buildings and the maze of buildings in the suburbs. The renaissance-style villa designed by Winterhalter was modern for its time, and represented a new aesthetic approach.
During the land reform that was implemented after Estonia became independent (on 24.02.1918), the noblemen's land was divided up among the peasantry, and like many other manor owners, the von Uexkülls too had to recognise that feudalism had ended in Estonia. Both they and many others were forced to sell their urban residences. One of the buyers was one of the most notable Estonian politicians of the period of Estonian independence, a banker and later Riigivanem and President Konstantin Päts. The year was 1922.
Konstantin Päts had extensive renovations done in the building, and came to live in the side of the building that faced onto Kiriku plats. In 1923 the side of the building that was adjacent to Pikk Jalg Street acquired distinguished renters, namely the Finnish and Hungarian Embassies.
The repayment of his bank loan proved to be more difficult than expected, however, and thus Päts was forced initially to raise the rent and then to offer the entire building for sale to Finland and Hungary. Finland was interested in this offer, and the country's government indeed decided to purchase the property for the price of 25 million Estonian marks. That was a significant decision - to buy a property in a young country in which the political situation was still quite unstable. The decision was influenced by the property's excellent position and Estonia's importance for Finland. The standard of the Embassy building was to reflect the relations between our countries. The Hungarian Embassy that had also operated in the building moved to Helsinki a few years later, in 1928.
Thus Konstantin Päts went from being owner to renter, but he continued to reside in the building. Konstantin Päts' career went from strength to strength - he became the leader of the young Estonian state, Riigivanem, and then in 1937 he was elected the first president of Estonia on the basis of the new constitution. One good example of the close relations between two countries was the fact that the Estonian president lived in a building that was owned by the Finnish Embassy, and this was not considered unusual. Päts lived in the building until spring 1940, when he terminated his lease. Incidentally, no written contract was ever signed. In July 1940, Päts was arrested and deported to Russia, where he was held in confinement.
The Finnish Embassy complex shared the same fate as the Estonian state in the turmoil of the Second World War. Immediately after the Winter War, in spring 1940, preparations began for the evacuation of the embassy. In June 1940, making reference to the Bases Agreement, Estonia was occupied by Soviet troops, and annexed to the Soviet Union on 6 August of the same year after farcical elections. After that, the Soviet Union presented a note to Finland, in which it demanded the closure of the Embassy. On 24 August, Uno Salomon, the Embassy's last secretary, paid his Estonian employees their wages and left the country.
During the German occupation, which lasted from 1941 to 1944, the Embassy buildings were used by the German court martial and SS forces, and at the end of the occupation, the German security police were located here. After extensive negotiations, Germany finally agreed to pay Finland rent retroactively for that period. After the war, Finland ceded its former Embassy buildings to the Soviet Union in accordance with the terms of the Paris Peace Agreement.
Several departments of the Tallinn Polytechnic Institute moved into the 'Päts wing' of the complex, and the the National Library's music department operated in the main building almost until the restoration of Estonian independence. The buildings were in relatively poor condition in 1991, and this was particularly true about the 'Päts wing', which was almost on the verge of collapse. This was the last chance to preserve this symbol of the history shared between of Estonia and Finland.
On 24 August 1991, diplomatic relations between Finland and newly independent Estonia were restored, 51 years to the day from the date the Embassy was completely vacated. From the very beginning, many nurtured thoughts of securing the return of the former Embassy buildings and restoring the old spirit that was embodied in them. Indeed, in June 1993 an agreement for the return of the embassy buildings was signed.
Soon after that, Finland gave Estonia back its former Embassy building in Helsinki. This led to rapid planning work, and then construction. Architects Käpy and Simo Paavilainen devoted all of their strength and technical skills to the completion of this task, which required special abilities. The primary objectives were to preserve the old architecture and the restoration of original architectural details. Technical devices and new technologies were supposed to achieve this objective, but it was not always easy.
The practical beginning of the construction work, which proved to be quite difficult yet even more interesting as a result, took place in November 1994. Archaeologists and planners continually battled with the unforgiving schedule. During the work, many surprises came to light that forced repeated changes in the plans. By 1 October 1996, however, the work was completed, and the Embassy moved into its freshly renovated rooms. At the festive ceremonies for the opening of the Embassy on 12 November 1996, which were attended by Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari and Estonian President Lennart Meri and their spouses, the Finnish flag once again rose on Toompea after such a long interruption.