History of the Building

The prologue of Stenbock House on Toompea is related to the establishment of regency in the Baltic provinces in 1783, when a closer association of the provinces of Estonia and Livonia with the rest of the Russian Empire began. On the initiative and financial support of the state, intensive planning of state buildings commenced.

In 1784, each province was allocated 20,000 roubles annually for this purpose, and the required buildings were to be constructed between 1785 and 1790. Among other things, the construction of a new courthouse on Toompea was deemed necessary. The province architect Johann Caspar Mohr drew up the blueprints for the courthouse in 1784.

As a result of tenders started in 1786 and held several times after that, the Brigadier General, Count Jakob Pontus Stenbock (9.X 1744 - 23.IX 1824), who was a landlord in Hiiumaa and a descendant of a Swedish noble family, finally undertook construction of the court house for 72,000 roubles on 20 July of the same year.

However, war with Turkey had had its impact on the finances of Russia, and St. Petersburg stopped allocating funds for the construction of state offices. As a result, the province government was not able to fulfil its contractual obligations to the constructor and had to find ways to pay its debts to him. The half-finished house was transferred to Stenbock's ownership. As there was cheap labour available in serf peasants and most of the construction materials had already been supplied, the Count decided to complete the construction. He may have hoped that the state's interest in the building would rekindle, financing resume and he might be able to sell the house to the state. Also, the Brigadier General may have counted on renting the building to state offices and courts.

It is likely that the building was completed in early 1792. This assumption is based on the fact that at that time, Stenbock pledged his Putkaste manor in Hiiumaa to Baron Ungern Sternberg for 60 years, so it is reasonable to assume that the Count made the new house his town residence. Since 1828, following the death of Count Stenbock, the group of buildings that are still called the Stenbock House today, belonged to Paul von Benckendorff, chief of the rural police court.

In reality, the building was used for a long time by the knighthood: since 1855, the building sheltered the Toomkooli Boarding School and was sold to the Knighthood of Estonia in 1873. After that, in 1891, the house was transferred to the ownership of the Administration of the Guberniya of Estonia, which, 100 years after the completion of construction, first started using the building as a courthouse. After Estonia became independent, the building complex was transferred to state possession on 8 March 1924. During the first independence era, the house was used by the County Court (Rahukohus) – this is also where the street got its name. During the Soviet occupation, Stenbock House functioned as Tallinn School of Law, the Supreme Court of the ESSR, various district courts, the Pharmacy Board, a notary's office and for art classes of the Tallinn Pedagogical Institute.

Until November 1987, the building was used by the People's Courts of the October and Kalinin District of Tallinn, who left the building because of the cracked walls, draughty windows, frozen plumbing and unusable heating system. During the 20th century, living rooms had found place in the arc-shaped outbuilding in addition to various public offices – only at the end of the 1980s did the last inhabitants move out of the building as it was in danger of collapse.

Stenbock House in the beginning of 20 Century. Photo: Tallinn City Museum


Rahukohtu Street at 1963. Photo: Library of Tartu University

Renovations for the Government of the Republic and the Government Office.

The house has undergone three substantial reconstructions: first when it was adjusted for use as the Toomkooli Boarding House, the second time in 1891 when court instances were accommodated here for the first time, and finally when the building was renovated for the Government of the Republic and the Government Office.

The building in danger of collapse was transferred to the assets of the Government Office in early 1990s, and renovation work started at the beginning of 1996. Thorough renovations started with demolishing works, as most of the caved-in roof structures, beams that had lost their bearing capacity and damaged inner walls of the building that had been standing empty for almost ten years, rotting and ravaged by thieves, needed to be removed.

When the ceiling structures and partition walls were removed, wall and ceiling paintings were revealed in several places, the largest ones emerging from under the plaster in the central rooms of the 1st floor. For instance, in the central room of the 1st floor, the main motive of the decoration painted on plaster was an ornament of oak leaves. In the course of renovation works, the paintings were conserved and covered with plaster once again, as they were too fragmented for restoration.

Renovation of Stenbock House. May 13 1997. Photo: Hans Teetlaus, Estonian National Museum
Renovation of Stenbock House. December 23 1998. Photo: Hans Teetlaus, Estonian National Museum
Renovation of Stenbock House. June 9 1999. Photo: Hans Teetlaus, Estonian National Museum

During reconstruction, most of the roofs, inner walls and ceilings were replaced, along with nearly all the windows and doors of the building – all new windows and doors were made to replicate the original ones removed during the renovation. In the part of the main building's stairwell that lies between the ground floor and 1st floor, the limestone slabs of all stairs and staircase curves were replaced with new ones, while the existing ones were retained between the 1st and 2nd floor. The wooden staircase leading from the 2nd floor to the attic has been largely retained as it was built in the late 19th century.

A shaft going throughout the whole building in the centre of the rectangular stairwell has been retained – before the last renovations, there was a goods lift here; now the shaft is lit up at night.

The restoration of the whole building ensemble was completed by the beginning of 2000 and on 23 February it was introduced to the press for the first time. 26 June was the first working day for the officials of the Government Office in this house of 6,795 square metres of office area. The state paid 69 million kroons for restoration works and 3.37 million kroons for furnishings. The Government of the Republic was in session for the first time in the Stenbock House on 8 August 2000. The inauguration ceremony performed by Jaan Kiivit, Archbishop of the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church, took place on 6 September 2000.

Project - Architecture bureau of Kalle Rõõmus

Construction works - Restor AS

Interior design - Vaikla Disain (Argo and Katrin Vaikla, Peeter Tambu, Angeelika Pärna, Raja Gonestov, Tiina Teng), consultants Leila Pärtelpoeg and Mart Kalm

Renovation of Stenbock House

Last updated: 30.09.2020