Wednesday, April 14, 2010
Helsinki and Suomenlinna
On Tuesday I went to Helsinki to meet a friend visiting from NH. Helsinki is a wonderful city to explore. There is so much to see and it is easy to navigate. And any city with street cars is bound to be fun. You are above ground, but not on a strange bus that could go anywhere. You are following tracks.
Felice and I barely scratched the surface of things to do in Helsinki. Our first big tourist site, after our lunch of small, whole fish, was Suomenlinna.
Suomenlinna is one of the 5 UNESCO World Heritage sites in Finland. It is an island just off the kauppatori (market square) in Helsinki. (Tourist tip: If you buy a day pass for public transportation at any R-Kioski, little convenience stores that are everywhere, it includes the ferry to Suomenlinna).
Suomenlinna was the military marvel of its time, the 18 Century. It was known as the Gibraltar of the North. Construction began in 1748 with the energy and enthusiasm of an industrious Swede named Augustin Ehrensvärd. The original Swedish name was Sveaborg and the fortress was designed principally to defend against the Russian threat. When Ehrensvärd died (you can see his tomb with the fanciful sculpture above) much of the steam went out of the project. Sweden lost Sveaborg to Russia in 1808 and it became a Russian post for a century.
In 1855 British and French troops bombarded it during the Crimean War and it sustained heavy damage. With Finnish independence in 1917, the islands and battlements became known as Suomenlinna, Finland's fortress. It has a sad history too, as a prison camp after the Finnish Civil War where 200 people were executed.
It is interesting to learn about the Swedish and Russian history. We don't think of Sweden as a military power, but the 18th Century was full of land grabs and wars between nations as kings and tsars and emperors sought to expand. The founding of St. Petersburg in 1703 by Tsar Peter the 1st was certainly a cause for the importance of Sveaborg. As Felice pointed out, it was the economic hardship for the American colonists caused by the expense of these European wars that lead, in part, to our Revolution. I bet Count Rumford could have explained the various European alliances.
Felice and I had a late start over to Suomenlinna, but we were able to view the explanatory movie in the museum. We then walked around the islands avoiding the patches of snow. On our way back to the ferry we stopped for dinner at the restaurant and brewery Panimo. We give in 4 thumbs up!