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For an ethnologist who is interested in contemporary cultural changes, Supilinn is an extremely intriguing field of research: it is a district of cultural and environmental values, which, to a great extent, has preserved is historical structure, and where, construction and renovation work has rapidly developed in recent decades, while the residents’ home-related identity has strengthened, and citizens’ initiatives have increased. Supilinn residents have strong and emotional ties to their home, while the district’s image has become increasingly powerful and acquired new colours. We can talk about a Supilinn mythology, which is sometimes more powerful than the slightly hackneyed “Tartu spirit” legend.
Despite its location alongside the University of Tartu and the Estonian National Museum, ethnologists have done relatively little research on the milieu and residents of Supilinn, and what has been done is unsystematic. Although the local lifestyle continued to be semi-agrarian for a long time – vegetables were grown and farm animals kept – this area, which served as a point of contact between the country and the city, did not qualify as an authentic “traditional” milieu from the point of view of classical ethnology.
The article introduces the materials collected about Supilinn in the course of “The Home as a Cultural Factor in 20th-Century Estonia” project organised by the University of Tartu and the Estonian National Museum, between 1996−1999. The collected archival materials and cursory analysis only reflects the great changes in Supilinn at the beginning of the era – the development of the association movement as well as the new real estate projects was still ahead.
In an open society, the structure of the district’s population and upkeep of the residences and streets has started to resemble the rest of Tartu. On the other hand, Supilinn is becoming more clearly differentiated from the rest of the city due to its active citizens’ initiatives and inspiring creative environment. The mythology of Supilinn amplifies some aspects of local everyday life, but reflects, quite accurately, the nature of this area, which is increasingly changing from a periphery to a centre.