Heritage Board blocks Tartu Cathedral ruins restaurant project

A render of KOKO Architects' design for a proposed restaurant located in the ruins of Tartu Cathedral.
A render of KOKO Architects' design for a proposed restaurant located in the ruins of Tartu Cathedral. Source: KOKO Architects

A restaurant project planned for the ruins of Tartu Cathedral has not been given the go ahead by the Heritage Board. According to the board, the proposed design threatens the preservation of the cultural heritage of both the site and the ruins. The University of Tartu, which owns the ruins, does not intend to challenge the decision.

Kaire Tooming of the Heritage Board, told ERR that a draft decision has been sent to the University of Tartu, stating that the board would not grant special heritage protection conditions for the planned restaurant and event space, which had been earmarked for the cathedral ruins, to go ahead.

"Our position is, that the proposed construction would be a threat to the monument's preservation," said Tooming.

"The planned construction would be built very close to the ruins and could therefore cause problems related to their preservation, conservation and maintenance. The construction would also be invasive in terms of the archaeological cultural heritage. The Heritage Board has presented the project to all the relevant consultative organizations and they have all come out against it," Tooming added.

"This is the draft decision that we sent to the University of Tartu for review. We are waiting for the views of the owners. If they disagree with our decision, we will begin a dialogue (with them). However, we cannot build a restaurant in the form currently planned. There would have to be fairly big changes to the project," Tooming explained.

Tooming added that, when it comes to the project currently planned, time appears to be of the essence, with the builders wanting to do everything quickly.

"That would not be possible, because if we were to do something in the ruins of the cathedral, it would require a full archaeological survey and conservation work to take place. It would require a lot of preliminary work, even though the plan is to build a temporary structure," Tooming said.

She added that, while it is still possible for something to be built in the ruins of Tartu Cathedral, the main issue is how much doing so would potentially threaten the structure and cultural heritage of the site. "We don't believe that nothing can be built there," Tooming said.

Toomas Asser, rector of the University of Tartu, said, that the university had no intention of contesting the Heritage Board's decision.

"The draft clearly states that the board refuses to grant special heritage protection conditions for the construction of a temporary glass building," Asser told ERR.

"It is not the position of the university to contest the decision. When the Heritage Board's final decision comes through formally, then for us, that will be the end of it and we will not take the issue any further. We do not want to enter into any discussions," Asser said, adding that one positive aspect of the recent planning process has been the opportunity to properly think through what ought to become of the cathedral ruins and the Toomemägi area in general

Michelin-star chef Tõnis Siiguri and his business partner Martti Siimann had wanted to open a restaurant in the ruins of Tartu Cathedral in time for 2024, when the city becomes European Capital of Culture. While their idea was approved by the University of Tartu's eleven-member council, it has been criticized from the off by heritage conservationists.


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Editor: Michael Cole

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