The Whispering Lights of the Old Town of Tallinn

The oldest sections of Tallinn’s city wall were built in the 13th century. During the next three centuries, it became one of the largest and strongest defense systems of Northern Europe. Today, the Tallinn Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

More than half of the magnificent defense system has been preserved as a city wall – this includes 1.85 km of the wall, 26 defense towers, 2 gates and fragments of the two front gates.

In 2019, the city wall and towers of Tallinn’s Old Town received a new and contemporary lighting solution that reveals the beauty of this historical site, but also tells its story.

Transformation the nighttime scenery

The former lighting of the Old Town was incoherent and scattered, giving the city a fragmented image at night. Parts of the wall were illuminated with spots with different color temperatures and light intensities next to each other, causing a chaotic nighttime scenery.

Besides reducing energy consumption, the City of Tallinn wanted the nighttime scene to be comprehensive as well as respectful both for the architecture and citizens.

A strong lighting concept

The lighting project was designed by the world renowned Lighting Design Collective Oy from Finland that won the competition organized by the City of Tallinn in 2017. The winning project, named  Whispering Lights of the Old Town, pays tribute to the scars and fragments of the Old Town’s history that are expressed through the lighting on the walls. The lighting designers have meticulously adjusted the light intensity, angles, and levels to respect the original character of the Old Town as well as create an intimate atmosphere in the urban space.

Instead of creating an abundantly lit scene, the designers wanted to make the walls and towers whisper their history. The aim was to trigger emotion through visual poetry, illuminating fragments of the objects, walls and even its scars. The designers decided to focus on subtle ways to provoke an emotional response in the users of the space by not overexposing any of the areas with too much light. The overall approach was purely sensitive instead of mathematical.

The new lighting solution brings the walls and towers to life when darkness arrives. The buildings seem to whisper, telling us stories about the long and exciting history of Tallinn. With the help of light and shadows, the dignified forms of the buildings and interesting details are revealed, resulting in a fascinating nightscape.


As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, extra precautions were taken in order to providee a non-intrusive lighting solution where none of the installations would harm the buildings.

All locations and solutions were first designed using a 3D point model-based drone laser scanning. This way the design team could see the objects much better as a very minimal number of drawings in scale could be found for these historical buildings. The resulting 3D models facilitated accurate placement of the luminaires and in the future, this documentation will serve as a basis for the maintenance of the luminaires as the position of each luminaire can be exactly pinpointed.

Numerous mock-ups and tests were done on site, because finding suitable places for luminaires was a real challenge.

Another specific design challenge was to find locations for the spotlighting for the towers, as many of the buildings where the projectors were to be installed are private.

Technical information and budget

The project spans across the whole Old Town and incorporates around 40 lit objects including amongst others 27 towers and 2 km of walls.

Nearly 600 LED luminaires were installed. The new warm LED’s offer 57% energy saving compared to the previous installation and cast a warm, gentle glow on the walls, creating a cozy and pleasant atmosphere.

Budget of the projects:

Idea competition: 21 000 euros

Lighting design: 75 000 euros

Electrical design and site supervision: 75 000 euros

Installation and luminaires: 650 000 euros    

With the new LED installation and reduced energy consumption, the project supports the city’s sustainability goals. The lighting solution is glare free with low light levels, supporting visual comfort and respectful lighting towards historical buildings.

The lighting project has its own website and audio guidesSee the old town in a new light”. The lighting introduces history in a new and clever way, helping people to bond with the quarter’s inheritance.

Check it here >>

The Whispering Lights of the Old Town of Tallinn considers all different aspects of lighting – energy savings, heritage conservation, nature conservation, the emotional power of light, citizen’s wellbeing as well as tourism.

Stakeholders involved in the project

Contracting authority: Tallinn Urban Environment and Public Works Department

Project coordinator: Eva Tallo 

Lighting design: Light Design Collective Oy

Installation: Merko Ehitus AS

Maintenance: Enefit Connect OÜ

Tallinn, Estonia 🇪🇪

Population size: 454 162 in Tallinn and 1 331 000 in Estonia
Overall Municipal budget (overall in EUR):
Tallinn budget 1 032 770 665 € (2022)
Name of current Mayor (2023):
Mihhail Kõlvart
Upcoming municipal election date:

Pictures: ©Tallinn City; ©Tiit Veermae

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