Completed in 1917 as part of Peter the Great’s naval fortress, the Tallinn seaplane hangars were unique in their day for both their size and technology.
The building was among the first reinforced concrete shell structures realized at such an enormous magnitude, measuring in at a whopping 39-by-109 meters. Only over the course of the next decade or so would analogous structures begin to crop up in rest of the world, particularly during the aviation boom of the 1930s.
Back in Estonia, the 1920s and 1930s found the Seaplane Harbor serving as a holiday resort for the Estonian air force unit, providing an athletics hall as well as a tennis court under the hangars. After the Second World War, the hangars were taken over by the Soviet Army. They lost its importance, were neglected and mainly used as warehouses and wood shops.
When Soviet forces left and their assets were taken over by the Estonian government, the hangars were at the center of judicial dispute for a decade. Throughout this time, the building went unmaintained, and the general public was left wondering what was going on inside. Only in 2006 did the government obtain ownership of the property again, at which point it invested in the renovations and restoration necessary to save the building from further decay.
Currently the former hangars have been repurposed as the jaw-dropping home of the Estonian Maritime Museum’s collection. The museum’s exhibit includes the oldest shipwrecks found in Estonia, an explorable submarine called “Lembit” and a full size replica of a British seaplane, as well as a myriad of other related historic paraphernalia unique to the region. The real star here, though, is the old seaplane hangar itself; sound and light design create a surreal effect of feeling as if one is underwater, with waves lapping at the ceiling. Periodically a light show of planes traverses the big concrete domes.
Know Before You Go
Seaplane Harbour17 Küti Street / 6 Vesilennuki Street10415 Tallinn, Estonia