About the museum and botanical garden

The University of Tartu Natural Museum is a museum that dates back to 1802. It is Estonia's oldest museum. The University of Tartu Botanical Garden was founded in 1803, on the edge of the city, on the site of the current Tiigi Street Park. We collect and preserve specimens of plants, fungi and animals, as well as rocks and fossils. In 2014, the University of Tartu Natural History Museum and the Botanical Garden were merged into a single institution.

Tartu Ülikooli loodusmuuseum ja botaanikaaed


History of the University of Tartu Natural History Museum

For more than 220 years, the University of Tartu Natural History Museum has been exploring and presenting living and non-living nature from all over the world. The University's research has amassed 1.3 million specimens, of which the permanent exhibition "Earth. Life. Story", nearly 8,000 are on display.

Founded on April 6, 1802 (March 26 according to the old calendar), the museum, then called the Nature Cabinet, is the oldest in Estonia. On that day, the first natural history collection arrived - a gift from Russian Grand Duke Konstantin Pavlovich. The founder of the museum's geological, zoological and botanical collections was the first professor of natural history, Gottfried Albrecht Germann (1773-1809), who, in addition to his teaching and research work, also ran the Natural History Cabinet and the Botanical Garden. The collections, initially intended for teaching purposes only, were opened to the general public in 1804. The Cabinet was open to the public two days a week, for two hours on Wednesday and Saturday. In 1809, the museum, which had been housed in a number of rented premises, was given a permanent home in the main building of the university and the collections were moved to the second floor, next to the assembly hall. However, the herbariums were moved to the auditorium of the botanic garden's greenhouse. The rapid development of the natural sciences soon required exhibits with a narrower focus, and in 1813 the geological collections of the Natural History Cabinet were used to form the Geology and Mineralogy Museum, headed by Professor of Mineralogy O. M. L. von Engelhardt. In 1822, the zoological collections of the Cabinet were used to establish the Museum of Zoology, under the direction of J. F. Eschscholtz, Professor of Comparative Anatomy. The Museum of Botany operated from 1872 to 1947 and was housed in the teaching buildings built in the Botanical Garden.

The Museum of Geology and the Museum of Zoology were separate museums until 2005, when they were merged to form the University of Tartu Natural History Museum. In 2014, the Botanical Garden was merged with the museum to form the new University of Tartu Natural History Museum and Botanical Garden. The museum and botanical garden are closely linked to the university's institutes of natural sciences and we contribute to the university's research activities. As a result, new scientific collections such as microbiological collections and collections of DNA and environmental samples have been added to the museum collection. 

By the 19th century, the University of Tartu had become one of the most important centers of natural sciences in the Russian Empire, but its growing collections suffered from a lack of space for almost a century. It was not until the 20th century that the opportunity arose to build a new and large building for natural sciences and a museum on Vanemuise Street, where the museum is still located today. Completed in 1915, it was the first purpose-built museum building in Estonia, and its spacious halls were the first to house an exhibition on the systematics of wildlife. The current permanent exhibition "Earth. Life. Story" features exhibits from all the the University of Tartu Natural History Museum's collections: geology, zoology, botany and mycology. It opened in 2016 in the renovated halls of the former the Museum of Zoology, where a balcony was also built. The University of Tartu Natural History Museum is unique in Estonia thanks to the global reach of the museum's scientific collections. The repository that the museum has preserved over the centuries is open to scientists from all over the world.

History of the Botanical Garden

The University of Tartu Botanical Garden has a rich history and is an exceptionally species-rich area - nearly 10,000 plant species and varieties from different climates around the world grow on 3.2 hectares. It was decided to establish the botanical garden when the university was re-opened in 1802. On 26 June 1803, a suitable site was found and the botanical garden celebrates the day as the beginning of its continuous activities. The Botanical Garden was initially located on the site of the Natural History Museum building and the park opposite, but in 1806 it moved to its current site on the banks of the river Emajõgi.  

For more than two centuries, human hands have turned the Botanic Garden in the heart of Tartu into a wonderful refuge worth visiting at any time of year. Throughout the year, the botanic garden's large greenhouse is a green oasis, with four different sections: a palm house, a section for neotropical and tropical plants, and a hot and dry microclimate for succulents. The largest area of the botanic garden is the dendro park, which is divided into an area of East Asian, North American, European woody plants and conifers. In addition, there are 11 open-air sections in the Botanical Garden: plant systematics, Estonian wild plants, alpine garden, rose garden, perennial garden, poinsettia garden, heath garden, elecampane garden, iris garden, moss garden and herb garden. One of the oldest is the plant systematics department, established in 1870, and the alpine garden and the garden of Estonian wild plants from the early 20th century. The youngest is the moss garden, located on the slope of the former bastion and in the moat, which is quite rare in the world's botanical gardens.

The botanical garden was founded by the university's first professor of natural history, Gottfried Albrecht Germann (1773-1809), who, in addition to his professorship, also managed the botanical garden and the natural history cabinet. Germann organised the work of the botanical garden on its original site and on the grounds by the Emajõgi River. Germann's assistants were the chief gardener Johann Anton Weinmann, who sketched the plan of the garden and procured the plants, and the university architect Johann Wilhelm Krause, who designed the buildings. A network of winding footpaths dating from the early 19th century and the Krause garden house with pillars, which has been awarded the European Heritage Label, still survive today. In 1943, the botanic garden was badly damaged in a bomb attack by a Russian plane, in which the director, T. Lippmaa, was killed. The restoration of the large greenhouse was completed in 1951. Since 1984, the left wing of the former greenhouse has been replaced by a 22-metre-high palm house, which was renovated in 2014. The right wing of the old greenhouse - the tropical house - was given a new look in 2006, with an additional storey added to the centre of the building.

Over the past two centuries, several internationally renowned scientists have contributed to the botanical garden's reputation, including C. F. von Ledebour, A. von Bunge, E. von Bunge and many others. A. F. Russow, T. T. From 1802 to 1964, the botanical garden was part of the university's teaching structure and was run by a professor of botany. In 1964, the Botanical Garden became an independent institution, and the cultivation of plants for profit became important. In 2014, the Botanical Garden was merged with the Natural History Museum to form a new institution - The University of Tartu Natural History Museum and Botanical Garden. Today, an important focus of the Botanical Garden is the preservation and introduction of ornamental plant varieties bred in Estonia.