Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Fortress of Suomenlinna (Finland)

The Fortress of Suomenlinna (Fortress of Finland) is located on a group of islands off Helsinki. The islands are interconnected by bridges and are only accessible from Helsinki by boat. Suomenlinna is one of the largest maritime fortifications in the world and the fortress is a historical monument of Helsinki that played a crucial role for its growth and wealth.

The Fortress was built in 1748 by Sweden under the supervision of Augustin Ehrensvärd (1710-72), a royal artillery officer. The fortress was built strategically at the entrance of Helsinki harbour and was and still is a fine example of European military architecture of that era. Named originally as Sveaborg (Swedish Fortress), the plan was to build fortifications on the group of islands near Helsinki as protection for unwanted approaches on Helsinki particularly the Russians.

Sveaborg fell in 1808 under the Russians and Swedish rule was edged out. The fort was renamed Viapori and served the Russian navy. In 1918, Finland became independent from Russian domination. Viapori was finally renamed Suomenlinna which now consists of well-preserved 190 buildings within a collective 6 km of walls.

Approach to Suomenlinna is through a ferry ride from Helsinki. There is no lack of ferries going in and out of the city as it is primarily a port city. If you are travelling through Helsinki in a campervan, park at any of the seven motorhome parks in the city and hop on a ferry to get to Suomenlinna.

The Fort gets an average of 700,000 visitors a year. An aerial tour of the Fort and its connecting islands shows the Finnish Naval Academy, the main and service piers, the open prison, the Vesikko submarine, King’s gate, the Kustaanmiekka walls and its sandbanks and the church.

Augustin Ehrensvärd's grave at Suomenlinna
Photo by MoRsE, Wikimedia Commons

The Finnish customs have an office on the islands. An open prison is also on the islands and most of the repairs to the buildings, ramparts and walls are carried out by the convicts. No worries though when visiting Suomenlinna as the open-prison is not included in the tour. The old buildings are still used for work spaces, housing and guests’ facilities. Maintenance facilities are on the islands too as repairs in Suomenlinna is an ongoing process.

Suomenlinna was built on rocky land that was totally treeless and plant-less. The lime that leached from the old structures made the rocky land fertile. Today the islands are teeming with plants, flowers; trees that help beautify and secure the biodiversity of the islands.

Suomenlinna is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are museums, cafés, restaurants, conference and banquet halls, hostel, library, grocery store, arts and crafts shop located at the Fortress. There is even a brewery and toy museum on the islands. The visitors’ centre includes the Bubbling Under, the Underwater Cultural Heritage at Suomenlinna, the Tourist Information, the Suomenlinna Museum, the Suomenlinna Experience widescreen show and a Guided Tour of the complex. Most of the facilities open at 10:30 am at close at 4:00 pm. Entry fees vary from €3 to €8.

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