Tartu, as the oldest Estonian town noted in historical chronicles, has been the most important South Estonian centre since the 13th century. Its role increased further with the establishment of Academia Gustaviana University in 1632. The classical university has concentrated a large proportion of the people, activity and money in the field of science. Thanks to its rapidly growing and youthful intellectual potential, Tartu has always challenged Tallinn’s leading role. In addition to the university, and partly on its basis, several other important educational establishments have been founded in Tartu: the Estonian Agricultural University, Tartu Art College, the Military College of the Estonian Defence Forces, and the Baltic Defence College.

Although Tartu can be primarily considered an all-Estonian university town, and the centre of science, culture and education, it has also always been the most significant centre of commerce in South Estonia. Various industrial enterprises were built during the Soviet period, which still operate today, although they have been mostly re-profiled. Tartu has attracted denser settlement as well: in the city and county of Tartu live 11 per cent of the entire Estonian population, with 73 per cent living in towns. Tartu with its population of 100 000 is the second largest city in Estonia.

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