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Suomenlinna Sveaborg

Excursions with Suomenlinna Sveaborg

Suomenlinna is known as an avant-garde of culture, the influence of which has affected the cultural life throughout Finland. The arts, music and theater have especially flourished. The first artist was the planner of the fortress himself, Augustin Ehrensvard. The bastion of Hyva Omatunto (Good Conscience) has housed summer theaters now for years. The performances regularly draw full houses. But the easiest way to get acquainted with local culture is through the architecture of Suomenlinna. On the islands, styles from different periods form a harmonious whole. But as a monument to military architecture, the fortress is unique in the world. Suomenlinna has always been much more than just a part of Helsinki — it is a city within a city. Nowadays there are about 900 people living on the islands, and 350 people work here all year round. This is one of the features that make Suomenlinna unique: the fortress is not merely a museum. For a long time, the islands had more inhabitants than the city of Helsinki itself. Towards the end of the Swedish period, in 1806, about 4,600 people were living on the islands and 4,200 in Helsinki. At that time, Suomenlinna was Finland's second biggest city after Turku. Before the Crimean War, in 1854, there were over 12,000 soldiers in the fortress. At present, the islands have a library, a health center, a shop, a fire brigade, and an elementary school. A reminder of the military past is the Naval Academy on Pikku Mustasaari island. Its main building was designed by C. L. Engel, who also created the old neoclassical center of Helsinki. Fortification of Helsinki and its islands began in January 1748, when a young Swedish lieutenant colonel by the name of Augustin Ehrensvard came to Finland to direct the operations. A number of fortifications were also built on the Russian side of the new border during the 18th century and some of the existing Swedish ones were added to. In 1809 Finland became an autonomous duchy within the Russian Empire. The Swedish period in Finnish history, which had lasted over 600 years, had come to an end. The border was now formed by the Gulf of Bothnia and the Aland islands and the fortifications in Finland had lost their military significance. They became naval bases and garrisons and their defensive capabilities declined. During the Crimean War of 1854-56 the bombardment of Suomenlinna (then known as Sveaborg — «Sweden's fortress» or Viapori) lasted three days and the fortress was badly damaged. After the Crimean War extensive restoration work was begun at Suomenlinna. Suomenlinna and its surrounding islands became part of «Peter the Great's naval fortification» designed to safeguard the capital, St. Petersburg. The Russians ruled in Sveaborg for 110 years. Barracks, hospitals and a church were built for the needs of a big garrison. It was because of the fortress that Helsinki was chosen the new capital of Finland. Finland became independent in December 1917. The following year Viapori became a Finnish garrison and was given a new Finnish-language name, Suomenlinna, meaning Finland's fortress. In 1973 it finally received a civilian administration.

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Sights of Helsinki