Over the past two decades, the city of Jõhvi has managed to take a place in the top league of cities, along with Tallinn, Tartu and Pärnu. Jõhvi had to work hard to become a player on a par with the above-mentioned ones. As a result, the architecture and living environment here have changed beyond recognition.
On May 4, 1938, the Põhja Kodu paper wrote: „The largest center of Alutaguse is Jõhwi, which so far listed as a village, but with the introduction of the new law on towns, it became a town. On this occasion, on May 1, a solemn meeting was held in Jõhwi, which was opened by the city elder A. Danilevsky. An explanatory review of the work of the city government was given by the Municipal Secretary G. Raudheiding.
A solemn speech was made by the state Commissioner E. Lehtmets, who expressed the opinion that Jõhwi as the largest center of industry and agriculture will be able to develop as a town better than before.“
The story of Jõhvi is not a story of the town which was growing-and-growing and became very-very big, but it is a unique example of how the value of a city can exceed its size and a modest population of ten thousand people. For Jõhvi, which is listed as the fourth regional center of Estonia along with Tallinn, Tartu and Pärnu, it is a great achievement to fulfill this role. Figuratively speaking, a ’fly swatter’ got into a wrestling competition and had to measure forces with heavyweights. And here speed, density and accuracy are the advantages that matter. All these qualities Jõhvi demonstrated for many years.
The main advantage of Jõhvi is in its geographical location. Jõhvi is located at the crossroads of roads leading to St. Petersburg, Tallinn and Tartu, and a considerable number of people living in local parishes open opportunities for the city to become a center of trade and service in the region.
Immediately after the restoration of the city’s rights in 1991, when Jõhvi separated from its neighbor Kohtla-Järve, the local government decided that one of the priorities for the development of Jõhvi should be to obtain the status of a regional administrative center.
Therefore, various state institutions immediately began to appear here. Such rapid development was a surprise to the envy of neighbors – the cities and attractions of Narva and Rakvere who have long wanted to assign themselves the title of ’navel’ of the Viru land.
A sign of a new era – the Concert Hall of Jõhvi
At one point, the city heads of Jõhvi realized that a central location alone is not enough if there is no place in the city where people are offered high-quality culture and entertainment, and together with Eesti Kontsert, with the support of the state, construction of a modern concert house soon began.
Jõhvi Concert Hall, which became a new attraction in the city (in this place, a former Jõhvi manor was once located, it was destroyed during the war; in Soviet times there was ’October’ Palace of Culture), opened on October 8, 2005.
Aivar Mäe, who was the Director of Eesti Kontsert at the time, said on the eve of the completion of construction: „There is no doubt about it, and all my feelings tell me that there will be a concert hall with the best acoustics in Estonia. Here the sound transfers like in a temple, and since the walls are covered with valuable wood, the echo sounds with the soul.“
Indeed, over the years, the Jõhvi Concert Hall has become a place where audiences from Narva, Rakvere and further afield in Estonia come to enjoy the best of the culture. The most famous brand name of the Concert House is the annual Jõhvi Ballet Festival, which takes place in the spring. It also hosted presidential receptions in honor of the anniversary of the Republic of Estonia and other less significant events.
In the year of the opening of the Concert House, Jõhvi was among the first municipalities to voluntarily implement administrative reform, resulting in the city merging with Jõhvi parish.
Music square and city Park
In recent years, the surrounding area of the concert house developed and was landscaped. The city promenade, which begins from the northern edge of the city with a sculpture of a deer (it is taken from the city’s coat of arms), greets passers-by who may get along the promenade to the center. Ivar Simson’s work successfully fits into the urban interior, where the tone is set by benches in the shape and color of cranberries in the company of lanterns that resemble snowballs.
In 2020, a square appeared next to the concert house, and not just a simple one, but a musical one. In the design of the square, an imitation of piano keys is used. Then you can walk to the city Park, which has also been transformed in recent years.
Since the early 2000s, new modern buildings have been built in the city: the courthouse, gymnasium, Viru prison, Pillerkaar kindergarten, sports hall. Over the years, stadiums have been updated, new schools are being renovated and built, and the school building dating back to the first Republic of Estonia now houses the parish house. Instead of the old and decaying viaduct, a new one was built. New shopping centers have grown. In the newest one, Pargi shopping center, the developer plans to build an ice hall, SPA and hotel.
A pearl of the city
The oldest surviving building in Jõhvi is St. Michael’s Church, which dates from the 14th century. Other architecture that tells the story of distant times has not been preserved in the city. The irony of history is that most of the heart of the city was destroyed during the German occupation in August 1943, and the fire started in the church. It has also been called one of the biggest fires of the 20th century in Estonia, where the oldest and most important street in Jõhvi had burned down for almost a kilometer.
One version says it was an arson in which a church employee wanted to destroy documents that would have revealed abuses. But Jõhvi had been burned repeatedly even before that big fire.
In fact, in the case of St. Michael’s Church in Jõhvi, the term fortress church is also used. It was to be a place to serve both God and to escape from enemy. However, the best-known legend about getting this church tells us the story of two brothers who started building the Jõhvi fortress, but then started a fight. During the quarrel, one of the brothers killed the other and later built a church instead of a fortress as a sign of regret.
Explore and discover post-war architecture
The modern appearance of the city has an abundance of post-war architecture. Starting from Stalinist houses like the building of the County Council on the edge of the Central square, the former main building of ’Eesti Põlevkivi’ on Jaama street, the railway station, and ending with the ’khrushchevki-type“ residential buildings with small apartments in the center. Panel residential buildings from the period of the 1980s are located in a residential district in the southern part of the city.
The construction of the Soviet era is characterized, first of all, by the desire to highlight public buildings amidst the urban space. If you exclude individual shopping centers, then all these new buildings reveal the caring hand of the architect. Somehow it happened so that most of the objects (we mean the concert house, the courthouse, the promenade, the Pargi shopping center and the kindergarten) were designed by the architects Ra Luhse and Tanel Tuhal.
Ra Luhse has said that these works have come to them quite by accident and although Jõhvi does not have a historic center and the city is divided by a railway, it is an extremely exciting place.
„All in all, Jõhvi has become a very interesting city and it seems that it is progressing a lot, because its location is so good,“ the architect said in an interview.
Author: ERIK KALDA,, journalist, the ’Põhjarannik’ newspaper
Photos: Sven Zacek
Find more information about Ida-Viru attractions here.
The story is written with the support of the EU Regional Development Fund“