Finland: Suomenlinna – An Island Fortress with Rich History
We talk about a unique historic fortress of Suomenlinna built on a rocky island. Its story dates to 1748, the time of Swedish rule over Finland. From there derives the original name of the fortress - Sveaborg which translates as Swedish castle. Its current name, Suomenlinna, comes from Finnish war of independence in 1918. It means Finnish Castle. In Swedish, however, the fortress has its original name of Sveaborg, so Swedish not Finnish castle . The fortress was utilized as a military facility as soon as during the second world war. In 1991, thanks to its unique military architecture it was included to theUNESCO’s World Heritage Sites list . Today, the fortress is a tourist attraction and there live about 800 people.
Should you long to visit the fortress you have to travel to Helsinki. It takes you about 15 to 20 minutes to get to the island from the south harbor. During summer holidays you can get there by water bus. Suomenlinna is to be reached only by water transportation. Both means of transportation are part of public transportation system. You can buy tickets right from a ticketmachine at the place from where the ships set sail. Right on board there are brochures to introduce you the most important places.
What should you see first while seeing the large compound? Noteworthy is an old church near the harbor. Its tower is also a lighthouse. Should you go further, just couple of meters behind the bridge there is another important place. It is a courtyard which is also the most important center of life at the fortress. It was built in 1748 and rebuilt after a damaging attack during the Crimean War. Continue along the tourist trail until you reach the place called Kustaanmiekka. Lovers of history would be enchanted. It was built during Russian rule and it is scattered with many historical cannons. Romantic souls then would be interested in a view over the sea and its waves reflecting sunlight. When you have enough go on until you reach monumental King’s Gate. It is the symbol of Suomenlinna. Built from 1753 to 1754 it served as a ceremonial entrance gate for rulers.
You can visit six museums at the fortress. The most important of them is the Museum of Suomenlinna. As the only one it is open year round and it offers an interesting exhibition including a movie on the history and life at the fortress. Also, very interesting is a museum in a Finnish submarine called Vesikko active during the second world war. Another museum on the island, a one you wouldn’t expect there, is the Museum of Toys . You can see there toys dating to 19th century. If you get hungry during the walk, you can visit one of local restaurants or coffee bars. There is about ten of them. Half of them offers pleasant atmosphere and delicacies during the whole year
To conclude, take good mood with you. It is important to plan your trip to Suomenlinna ahead and watch weather forecast. We were not lucky about weather. Foggy cliffs had some magic in them, yet overcast and thick fog embraced the whole island almost entire day. This didn’t let us to enjoy breathtaking view on the sea and enjoy unique atmosphere of the island
Text/photo: PhDr. Josef Levý
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