Narva, the easternmost and third-largest city in Estonia, has always been surrounded by some mystical aura. One might think that it is here that the traces of different eras and powers are particularly strong. However, you might be surprised to find a destination for a romantic weekend instead.
Narva is separated from Estonia’s vast eastern neighbour of Russia by just a river. The towers of the fortresses standing on opposite sides of the river are adorned by completely different flags. It has a somewhat exotic feel about it. State borders are generally abstract for us today. Here they are tangibly real.
Walking down the picturesque promenade below Narva fortress in sunny weather, it feels unbelievable that exactly 70 years ago Narva was in ruins. After Tartu, it was the city that suffered the most damage in the bombardment of March 1944. Some 10% of Narva’s buildings, including those of the historic old town, were damaged or destroyed by the Soviet air force as a result of bomb attacks and cannonballs. Before the war, 34 000 people lived in the city. From 25th January to early March 1944, all civilians were evacuated from the city as the Soviet front approached. After the war ended, only a few people were left the city.
Although the attentive eye can still spot traces of World War II in some places, the aura of the town is extremely peaceful. It does not matter if you are here for a day or a weekend – you can spend this time discovering the streets of the city or its flea markets, enjoying a long breakfast at Muna Café or at a restaurant by the harbour. More adventurous travellers are welcome at Äkkeküla Sports and Recreation Area or the Lazerzone Centre.
A ghostly island becomes a stage in the middle of the river
Historically, the city of Narva has played an important role in the Estonian economy. Between 1857 and 2010, a textile company operated on the island of Kreenholm. In the second half of the 19th century, the Kreenholm factory was the most modern industrial enterprise in the Russian Empire and it was the largest textile factory in Europe for several decades. During the most successful period, the factory employed over 10 000 workers. Since 2010, the former buildings of the factory have been standing empty and the gates to the island are locked.
The ghostly territory of Kreenholm textile factory has since been chosen by Tartu New Theatre to be the stage for their new musical play “Nightingales of the Kremlin”. For the second August in a row the otherwise closed island of Kreenholm comes to life for 11 summer nights as Tartu New Theatre constructs the biggest open-air stage in Estonia there and performs its hit play. The gates of the island open up during this time and almost 2300 people visit it each evening.
During the performances, the island, where there is no electricity or water supply, lights up with the help of music ensemble Lexsoul Dancemachine, popular Soviet hits ring in the air and the real rock ‘n’ roll begins. “Nightingales of the Kremlin” portrays the music industry of the Soviet Union and gives you a glimpse into a typical day in 1987 of Soviet superstar Jaak Joala. There are also some fragments from the past and a glimpse into the future, which will bring many familiar artists and personalities to the audience, including Tõnis Mägi, Anne Veski, Urmas Alender, Kuldne Trio and many others. The production is translated into Russian and English.
Spend the day on the island of Kreenholm
The Narva Museum also organises special excursions to the Kreenholm factory during the day so that visitors can travel back in time and look at the 160-year history and admire the monumental industrial complex of this textile giant. Excursions take the visitor to those places that cannot be reached during the evening performances. In this way, you can spend almost the entire day on the island of Kreenholm.
In the evening, the island’s gates open to the public two hours before the start of the show, and guests can then dine in the area, buy souvenirs, take pictures and take a walk on the observation deck overlooking the Russian town of Ivangorod and maybe even the Kreenholm waterfalls.
Tartu New Theatre has made it very easy to travel to Narva – in cooperation with its partner Lux Charter, it is possible to buy a bus ticket for special buses, together with the theatre ticket, to Narva from Tallinn and Tartu. After the show ends, these buses take visitors back. But if you want to extend your weekend, there are the numerous spas of Narva-Jõesuu and the beautiful beach that stretches as far as the eye can see just a 20-minute drive away.
More information about the production at www.uusteater.ee
Tickets for shows, excursions and bus transfer at www.piletilevi.ee
Authors: Kärt Rosenfeld, Marika Goldman
Photos: Sergei Tsetvertnoi