The Great Guild Hall is located right by the Town Hall Square of the UNESCO-listed Old Town of Tallinn. Built in 1410, the building was used as a place for guild celebrations and meetings. Over the centuries, it has served as a wedding hall and a courthouse, a stock exchange, a place of worship and a concert venue.
During the restoration works, all rooms on the main floor of the building as well as the spaces below ground level, which had been closed to the public until then, were made accessible. Other areas in and outside the building were also renovated, including the attic walkway, Börsi Passage and the courtyard facing Lai Street. The project team improved the accessibility of the building for people with disabilities. Architectural details were accentuated, stairs were opened that connect the main floor with the cellar, and the number of toilets was increased to meet the demands for quality customer service.
The layout of the exhibition is designed to both showcase the outstanding architecture of the medieval building and meet the requirements of a modern museum environment.
All the rooms of the exhibition have been reconfigured as spatial environments, inspired by the structure of the exhibitions and conveying a Nordic atmosphere.
Glass and metal were selected as the main materials. Like the contrast of light tones against black in the interior colour scheme, these play into the conceptual core of the exhibitions, which highlights the perseverance of the people who have survived in our northern climate, defying difficult times. As part of the visual identity of the History Museum and the coat of arms of the Great Guild Hall, red also makes an occasional appearance in the interior design.
Several solutions, such as the floor of the main hall of the building, were guided by heritage protection requirements. Discreet solutions were used to ensure the security of museum exhibits.
As an innovation in Estonia, exhibits in the main hall are displayed without the use of the traditional shelving system. The way the objects have been installed makes it seem as if they are floating in space. The more risky techniques in the exhibition design include the use of fibre glass sheets and an epoxy resin counter including grains. The audio and lighting used in the exhibition spaces accentuates the multiple layers of the museum and the entire building.
The Great Guild Hall tells the story of Estonia’s colourful history through the millennia. The attractive exhibition “Spirit of Survival – 11,000 Years of Estonian History” illuminates the extraordinary nature of the people who have lived here and introduces the historical events that have shaped them. The exhibition sheds light on the history of the Estonian people through several exciting thematic spaces. The Coin Room provides an overview of the means of payment used in Estonia throughout the ages. In the underground spaces, visitors can learn about the history of the Great Guild and its building, think back to the former wine cellar, and take part in historical events in an interactive time capsule. The exhibition “Spirit of the Thing” presents an array of exotic and rare objects from the collections of the History Museum. More exciting discoveries await in the Armory and the Experimentarium educational centre.
The museum building along with “The Path of History” in Börsi Passage, the museum shop and courtyard designed to entertain the youngest museum visitors, forms an integral whole.