The course I was running in Helsinki finished at midday on the Friday after the delegates had sat their exam. My flight home wasn’t until Saturday afternoon so I had another day to spend looking around the city. I decided to take the ferry over to Suomenlinna the island fortress a short distance from the mainland. I’d visited before, during my first trip to Helsinki, but that was some time ago.
Suomenlinna was fortified when the Swedish were in control of Finland, beginning in 1748. It’s a natural location for a defensive fortress being in a dominant position in the sea lanes approaching the city. At that time it was known as Sveaborg or Viapori in Finnish.
The fortress was actually never quite completed as planned, even though the original aim was to complete the construction in only four years. The Pomeranian war (1756–1763) put the construction on hold, although the battles did not extend to Viapori in the 1700s. The sea fortress had merits as a naval base in the Russo-Swedish War of 1788–1790 (‘Gustav III’s War’), but it was not involved in actual battles. (Suomenlinna website)
After the defeat of the Swedes in the war, Finland became an “autonomous Grand Duchy” of the Russian Emprire and the fortress was taken over by the Russians. It went into decline but after the Crimean War, when it was attacked in August 1855 by a Franco-British fleet, the fortifications were repaired. Finland gained independence in 1917, although the fortress remained in Russian hands until the Spring of 1918. Once in Finnish hands, the fortress was renamed Suomenlinna (‘Castle of Finland’)
Today it’s a major tourist attraction and the ferry over to the island was full of tourists of various nationalities even though it was out of the main tourist season. Most of the attractions on the island were closed, but I spent a good few hours exploring the extensive fortifications that were accessible.
Suomenlinna is actually built on a small cluster of five islands joined together by bridges, with the main sights on the main two islands. The ferry quay is by the Jetty Barracks, built during the Russian era, at the north end of the fortress. Arriving at the jetty the view is dominated by the church, which was originally built as a Russian Orthodox garrison church with onion domes in 1854. It was converted to a Lutheran church when the Finns took over the fortress. It’s also a lighthouse with the light located in the central dome.
Reminding us of the island’s military function, the church is surrounded by a large chain supported by cannons.
There are substantial remnants of the fortifications from the different eras, much of which can be accessed, and I spent most of the time walking around them. Here’s a few of the many photos I took
The Great Courtyard, built in the 1760s, served as the main square and administrative centre of the fortress. The houses surrounding the courtyard included the fortress commandant’s house and the main guard house. In the centre of the courtyard there’s the tomb of Augustin Ehrensvärd, the architect of the square.
Back towards the main jetty there’s a number of old wooden buildings which were originally the houses and shops used by traders during the Russian era.
Time was getting on, so it was time to catch the ferry back to the mainland. I reckon it would be possible to spend most of the day on the island when the attractions which were closed during my visit – various museums and a submarine! – are open. But I’d I had seen most of what I’d wanted to see and although I lucky that the sun was shining, I was starting to feel a little cold.