Narva Revives Forgotten Stories

Starting from 10th of August, something completely unprecedented is open in the renovated Narva Town Hall building – the exhibition ’The New Life of Old Narva’ brings to life the city’s former glory with virtual reality.

Narva is a city with a long history. It has been ruled by the Danes, Germans, Russians, Swedes, and Estonians. Every century has changed Narva. Narva has burned down repeatedly over the years, but almost every time the city was rebuilt – until the Soviet occupation, when it was not rebuilt again, and the people who returned to the city at the end of World War II found only ruins of the former Baroque pearl of the Baltic Sea. Now, with the help of virtual reality glasses, you can travel through time and suddenly find yourself in the 17th-century Narva Town Hall Square, walk along the streets of Old Narva, and admire what Narva looked like at the height of its glory. With tablets, you can view photos and 3D images of Narva’s most exciting buildings and get acquainted with the pre-war life of the city. As part of the exhibition, two large panels with tactile models of Old Narva are mounted on the walls. One of them is a 3D-printed model of Old Narva, which is based on two models in the possession of Narva Museum – Fedor Shantsyn’s paper model and a historically accurate model of Narva by J. Kaljund and O. Kivisalu kept at Narva Castle. The second has sections of the facades of Old Narva’s marketplaces. These are supplemented by texts for the visually impaired.

In addition to architecture, modern technology is also used to tell the extraordinary stories of locals. These help visitors discover completely new sides of Narva and experience history through the eyes of the inhabitants of the time. One of them is Erik Dahlbergh, who made Narva an impregnable city – one of the most educated officers of his time, who, in the period 1696–1702, served as the Governor-General of Livonia and Riga and later also as the Chancellor of the Academy (now the University of Tartu) in Tartu.

Over time, he became a key figure in making Sweden’s strategic cities more secure. He was well known for his fortifications. Under his leadership, the fortifications in Gothenburg, Malmö, Kalmar, Karlskrona, Tallinn, Riga, Neumunde, Wismars, Stade, Tartu, Kuressaare, Karlsten, and also Narva were repaired and improved. In 1681, Dahlbergh presented King Charles XI of Sweden with three ideas for strengthening Narva. The King chose his design. This entailed abandoning the use of medieval city walls and establishing a new defensive zone, which made the city considerably larger. Narva was to be an impregnable city. Work began in 1682. As the political situation in Europe worsened, the pace of work was increased; however, the fortifications were not completed by the beginning of the Great Northern War in 1700. Naturally, when the Russians attacked Narva in 1704, they took advantage of the part of the fortress that had not yet been fully built.

Erik Dahlbergh’s story is just one of many. These stories are often based on urban lore from across the centuries. One must therefore be mindful of the sources of these stories, because there are no preserved direct sources for many of these tales. After visiting the exhibition, you will know about and can go and find several seemingly hidden places that still exist in Narva while walking around the city. For example, find the Honor Bastion and see where Peter the Great and his troops invaded Narva in 1704 after the fortress wall collapsed.

Narva Town Hall is located at Raekoja plats 1, Narva, and opened every day. The opening times of the exhibition ‘The New Life of Old Narva’ can be seen following the link. It is suitable for individual visitors and families, as well as larger groups. The centre can accommodate up to forty people at a time.

The virtual Old Narva exposition was created as part of “The New Life of Old Narva” project, supported by the European Regional Development Fund through the Estonian Business and Innovation Agency and funded as part of the EU’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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