"Tartu is a unique place. There are apparently very few towns in the world the influence of which has been so great on the endogenesis of a people. Tartu is something that reminds of a shared childhood.." (Valdur Mikita, writer and semiotician)
Tartu is the second largest town of Estonia, but is widely considered its intellectual capital city – vitally significant in developing the educational system, culture, science and literature in the Estonian language. Throughout the centuries, the versatile artistic and academic communities of Tartu have intellectually benefited from the country’s geopolitical position between the Nordic and Southern Baltic countries on one hand and between Russia and the West on the other. Thus, Tartu is like an experimental laboratory where global ideas, academic knowledge, artistic creativity and a broad variety of lifestyles are being synthesised.
The University of Tartu is one of the oldest universities in Northern Europe (founded in 1632). In addition to its high reputation as an eductional institution and research centre it also carries a central role in the lively cultural and creative scene in the city. The Estonian Literary Museum located in Tartu is another key contributor to the city’s profile as an intellectual and literary city. The two biggest libraries, the University of Tartu Library and Tartu Public Library offer rich collections, reading and working space as well as exhibitions and literary events. Tartu International Literary Festival Prima Vista has taken place since 2004 connecting the writers, readers and publishers as well as many institutions and organisers, featuring local and international guests and offering a diverse programme including a book fair, traditional book presentations and readings but also a variety of interdisciplinary events and innovative pilot projects. One of the central places of regular literary life, Tartu Writers’ House is home to the Tartu Department of the Estonian Writers Union and the Estonian Literary Society, a culture café Arhiiv which plays an integral role in attracting younger audiences.
The aims and activities of Tartu as a City of Literature
In the autumn of 2014 the City Government of Tartu summoned a committee of the representatives of various cultural and educational organisations and institutions to outline the main aims, plans and courses of action which helped the city to present its application to UNESCO for membership of the Creative Cities Network as a City of Literature and also remained the basis of the central strategy for the development of the literary field.
These aims and activities have been formulated as five main courses of action, including a wide range of necessities and plans for the future, but also many projects and activities at work already. The courses of action are: encouraging and developing the reading habit; developing the literary scene hrough local and international initiatives; contributing to the development of creative writing, literary studies and translating; protecting the freedom of speech and creative freedom; supporting the diversity of the literary culture.