Friday, April 26, 2013

The Suomenlinna Fortress in Helsinki

If you are visiting Helsinki during summer and you could pick only one historical site to visit, you should most definitely choose Suomenlinna, Fortress in front of Helsinki, situated on four different islands. 

Suomenlinna has a colorful history that can be divided into three eras. First was the Swedish era, then Russian and last, but not least the Finnish era. Suomenlinna is also listed by UNESCO as a world heritage site.

Building of Suomenlinna began in 1748, when Finnish territories were under the rule of Sweden. It was built as a base for Swedish navy and a key stronghold against Russians. Because of the original purpose of the fortress, it has a history filled with war. During the Swedish regime the western parts of the complex were built and it is perhaps the most interesting part from architectural point of view. 

Although because of funding issues the original construction plan was never reached. After the Finnish War in 1808-1809 rule of Finland switched from Sweden to Russia. Russians continued the constructions in Suomenlinna by their own plans and then the main focus was on the eastern parts of the fortress. The church in Suomenlinna was built during that time. After Finland gained its independence in 1917 the Finnish era of Suomenlinna began. First 40 years under Finnish control 

Suomenlinna was used as a military complex and acted for example during the Second World War was used as an operating base for submarines. In 1948 complex was partially opened for civilians. 1973 the complex was almost entirely switched under civilian rule and now the only active military related activity in Suomenlinna is the Finnish Naval Academy.

Among other things Suomenlinna is a village like district of Helsinki and 800 people live there. There is also an active minimum-security prison whose inmates work on the maintenance and reconstruction of the fortification.

During the winter Suomenlinna is a quiet site, but in the summer the place really turns alive and summer is the time to visit. There are several artist studios and a lot of cultural happenings. 

Suomenlinna also has summer art school for children.  Suomenlinna is one of the most visited locations in Finland, for example in 2009 over 700.000 thousand people visited there. Suomenlinna is accessible by ferries around the year and tickets for the ferries are cheap. You can visit Suomenlinna on your own, but it is also possible to take part on guided tours, also in English during the weekends.

The must see locations in Suomenlinna are Kuninkaanportti, which is the original entrance to Suomenlinna, the Great Yard, which is the old center of the whole fortress, the church in Suomenlinna and old submarine Vesikko, which has been renovated to a museum and the Bastioni Zanager which has had a flag flying on top of it through the fortress history.

It is possible to stay overnight in Suomenlinna for example at the guest harbor, but if you want so see other parts of Helsinki as well, I would suggest staying in a hotel that is situated in mainland Helsinki. You should check hotels in Kaisaniemi district because of its key location. The ferry that takes you to Suomenlinna is about half a kilometer away, as is pretty much everything else as well in Helsinki if you stay in Kaisaniemi.


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