Vana Toomas (Old Thomas) is probably the most famous persona in Estonia – being a symbol of Tallinn, his figure has been on the Tallinn souvenirs as long as anyone can remember, from lamps to drinking glasses to fridge magnets… There is a restaurant, a cigarette brand, a liqueur, a band and who knows what else named after him… Even a movie has been made… He has been around for almost 500 years. So who is this very old but still timelessly popular guy? He is the weather-vane on top of Tallinn’s Town Hall tower.
Vana Toomas became the symbolic guard of Tallinn in 1530. He is 6 ft 5, dressed like a medieval soldier should be, boasting a strong sward, fancy hat and bold moustache. He is holding a flag and showing the citizens from which direction the wind blows – but he also kept company to the Town Hall guards who rang the bell if they saw enemy troupes or ships approach – or noticed a fire somewhere in town.
There are different legends about how Old Toomas got his name… One goes like that: Every year in the month of May an archery competition was held in medieval Tallinn. The competition took place at Parrot’s Garden and the winner was rewarded with a silver beaker. The competitors had to shoot down the wooden parrot, which was placed to the top of a high pole. One day, when all honourable knights had just made their shots the competition was coming to an end, the parrot suddenly fell to the ground pierced by an arrow. The archer with the steadiest hand turned out to be a poor town boy called Toomas. All knights were very annoyed with Toomas and told him to place the parrot back on the top of the pole. The boy was about to get in trouble, but the news spread quickly and things took a surprising turn. The Mayor of Tallinn offered to fund the boy’s education and asked Toomas to become the town-guard, which was a great honour for poor young man these days. Later Toomas proved his reliability several times in battles during Livonian war. When he got older, he had a big moustache similar to the Town Hall weather vane – and that’s when people started calling it Toomas.
Since he was first put up to the tower in 1530, the first Toomas held his post for 414 years, 2 months and 9 days. In 1944, on March 9th when Tallinn was bombed, the tower got hit and fell. Vana Toomas got badly hurt and lost his flag. After the reconstruction of the steeple, a copy was put up. The one you can see on top of the tower today – the third one through the years – was put up in 1996, when the roof of the tower was repaired again. The 44-year old Toomas had lost his sword – it had apparently broken off in the wind and perhaps ended up as a valuable souvenir in somebody’s attic. The original Vana Toomas can still be seen in the Town Hall Museum and the second “version” found his home in the Tallinn City Museum. The height of the current tower, including Vana Toomas, is 65 m and 75cm.
Vana Toomas has been the symbol of the city for centuries – but his job has not always been 100% secure. It has been subject to political discussion, as when the tower was reconstructed after the 1944, some eager soviet officials wanted to replace this “German influence” with a thought “proper” five-point star – or a hammer and sickle. But luckily common sense prevailed and a renewed Vana Toomas found his old place on top of the tower.
Having a city guard as a weather-vane on top of the Town Hall is quite unique in the world – but the building itself is unique as well, one of the oldest Town Halls in Europe where the City Council still meets, built in the year 1402.