An underappreciated city
The castle is Narva’s best-known sight, but beautiful views can also be found elsewhere.
“Is it really Russia on the other side?”, a Finnish tourist asks standing in the Narva castle courtyard looking over the river towards Ivangorod.
“How can they control the border when you can just wade across?”, another boy remarks.
“Narva is one of the biggest tourist attractions for visitors to Estonia”, confirms the museum’s director Andres Toode.
For Estonians, the general consensus seems to be that Narva is ugly and is a city that looks east rather than towards Estonia. The lamented Baroque centre was destroyed in the war. Ninety percent of the city’s population is Russian speaking.
“Narva has changed considerably over the last five years”, claims Olga Tšerjomuškina from the Narva travel agency.
Changes can be seen in the cityscape. The dilapidated facade of the Town Hall came back to life when the architectural award-winning Narva College was built beside it. A promenade and swimming beach, as well as a modern pavilion, have been built in the river valley.
Ivan Sergejev, the new city architect, longs for change. The 29 year old wants to see the city’s problems as possibilities and minuses as pluses. For example, one of the city’s ugliest buildings – an apartment building with a water tower on top, could become a nightclub.
One of the biggest challenges is the Kreenholm factory, once Europe’s largest and most modern textile manufacturer. The beautiful red brick building has now stood empty for over five years. There are plans to turn it into a museum, a creative economic centre, and apartments. All of these things would fit into the spacious rooms.
Bats & Legends
The queue for the border checkpoint passes in front of the Narva travel agency. Travel to Ida-Virumaa fell a little bit due to the sanctions against Russia, though there were many Russian number plates seen this summer.
St. Petersburg is about 100km away. About one third of tourists are from Russia, another third from Estonia, and the rest from elsewhere.
“The Toila spa is popular among visitors, but many do not venture further than that”, expresses Olga Tšerjomuškina.
There are no grounds for fear, Narva is safe and often too quiet, even if it it is Estonia’s third largest city. A year ago a playground was opened along the promenade, as well as terraces, and a concert stage, all welcome additions to the area.
“The Victoria bastion tunnels are a newly-opened attraction, where you can take a guided tour”. The castle’s bastion tunnels were part of what protected the stronghold, during the war they were also used as civil defence. Much of Narva’s history and legends are tied to these. “During the last war, a lady from the Kreenholm factory brought a bed, mugs, and other personal belongings there”, explains Tšerjomuškina. The caves are among other things, home to eight different species of bat. If you’re lucky, you may even see one at night.
The castle gets a facelift too
The Narva medieval fortress and the Russian Ivangorod stronghold are a stone’s throw away from one another. There is a long history of fighting here, since the times of Viking trading.
The castles are now partners, as Narva and Ivangorod have teamed up for funding from the EU. The museum’s director, Andres Toode thinks that funding has now reached the next stage and will be completed in 2019.
TEXT ARJA KORHONEN, PHOTOS ANDREI CHERTKOV
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