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Is it worth visiting Tartu? Estonia capital of culture 2024

Is it worth visiting Tartu? Estonia capital of culture 2024

In the elegant Town Hall Square in the old town of Tartu, Estonia’s second biggest city and site of the country’s oldest, most important university, stands a statue in the middle of a fountain.

The Kissing Students portrays a young man and women in a passionate, eternal lip-on-lip embrace, sheltered under an umbrella. On a date to be decided – Valentine’s Day would seem appropriate – the statue will be the focus of what will probably be one of the most publicised events in the 2024 European Capital of Culture programme when Tartu takes on the role.

The occasion invites residents and visitors to replicate the sculpture’s pose as one of a “variety of kissing activities” extolling the values of “openness, humanity and respect”. The main, mass kissing event in the square promises “unprecedented simultaneous kissing action”, organisers say, following a concert of Eurovision tunes, all of it broadcast live on TV.

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In case you’re either licking your lips or outraged at the prospect of a wild 1960s-style speed-dating snogathon, that’s not quite what the organisers have in mind. Pecks on the cheek, or even on the hand, are as much a part of kissing culture as a meeting of lips, and there will also be a “First Kiss” educational element for schools to enhance sexual health and safety.

The embracing couple have stood in Tartu’s central square for more than 70 years

(Tim Bird)

Such an open and communal display of affection is bound to attract attention, but this will be only one of the eye-catching items on an imaginative agenda for 2024. Visitors to Estonia, one of the three Baltic republics (along with Latvia and Lithuania), often head to the charming old town in the capital Tallinn, on the Baltic coast, without venturing much further. Tartu, a two-hour train ride from Tallinn to the south-east, intends to exploit its cultural capital status to attract visitors and acquaint them with its own considerable delights, as well as those of the surrounding region.

Top of the list of Tartu attractions at any time is the Estonian National Museum, whose sleek glass edifice, gradually sloping towards the ground from its towering triangular entrance, is an architectural statement of this small nation’s pride and independence. That’s before you even go in to marvel at the displays, with texts…

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