The University of Tartu Main Building is a gem of classical architecture in Estonia. The building was constructed in 1804–1809 according to the designs of the University architect Professor Johann Wilhelm Krause.
The University of Tartu Art Museum has operated in the same rooms of the left wing since 1868. Currently, the Museum also organises visits to the Main Building’s other historical rooms – the Assembly Hall and the historical lock-up.
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The Assembly Hall
The Assembly Hall, with its classical beauty and simplicity, is the most elegant room in the University.
The official opening of the Main Building was held on July 31, 1809. Since then, the Assembly Hall has been the venue for all the great events of the University: from graduations and celebrations to numerous concerts.
In 1965, there was a great fire in the Main Building, which also severely damaged the Assembly Hall. The Assembly Hall is the heart of the University and an important symbol so it was restored very soon after the fire. This was done following J. W. Krause’s initial plans.
The original colours were restored in 2002 and the ceiling is painted pink, which, based on Krause’s vision, represents the morning sky.
In the attic of the Main Building there is a historical lock-up room, originally used for detaining students who had offended public morality and the code of student conduct. Punishments involving detainment in the lock-up were meted out by the University Tribunal and detainment could last from a few days to three weeks. Many students registered their time in the lock-up by using available tools to carve drawings, verses or monograms into the walls, ceiling and doors of the lock-up. Painting, scraping and scribbling were equally popular. Many of these original 19th century students’ drawings have been preserved on the walls of the lock-up.
The other lock-ups, which were destroyed in the fire of 1965, remain only on photographs. One wall of the remaining lock-up has been used as a canvas for reconstructing some of the images and writings on the photos. This 19th century graffiti gives a fascinating insight into the minds and lives of the students of that time.
In 2018 the University of Tartu Art Museum supplemented its lock-up cell with a new exhibition that tells stories of the misdeeds of the 19th Century students.