A few days ago, I traveled to Finland for the first time. I took the ferry from Stockholm (a journey of about 12 hours) and, rather than heading directly to Helsinki, I decided to take some time to visit the city of Turku. Turku, located on the west coast of Finland, is the sixth largest city in the country. Although small, it still has charm and, above all, a lot of history.
Turku was until 1812 the capital of Finland, which was then a province of Sweden. This is why Turku has some of the oldest buildings in the country, including the cathedral (inaugurated in 1300) and the castle (built in 1280), one of my favorite discoveries of my trip in Finland.
First built as a military fortress, the castle was eventually expanded to include housing, a keep and new defenses. During the Renaissance, a new part was added to the castle, while the son of the king of Sweden lived there and ruled on Finland as duke.
During the 17th and 18th century, the castle served as administrative center, but also as a prison. The Russians occupied it during the war against Sweden at the beginning of the 18th century, and eventually handed it over to the Finnish government when it became an autonomous territory in the Russian empire. In 1881, the castle became a museum and major renovations began (works that ended in 1987, more than a century later!).
As Finland has been under Swedish tutelage for most of Turku Castle’s existence, there were no kings as such who have resided at the castle, rather squires, dukes, military commanders or governors (although some Swedish kings visited it). But the strategic importance of the castle is undeniable for the region.
It is now possible to visit the medieval part as well as the Renaissance part of the castle. Given the extensive renovations, the castle is in pretty good condition and gives a good overview of what it looked like at different times.
The castle also serves as a museum. There are several exhibitions on the history of Finland and on how used to be the daily life at Turku Castle. Most of explanations are in Finnish, Swedish and English. As I said above, Turku Castle was one of my favorite visited places in Finland. My friend and I spent several hours there. There were oddly few tourists even though we were there on a weekend (but Turku Castle is, it seems, the most visited museum in the country).
Turku Castle is located near the ferry terminal. The Turku Cathedral, located a few kilometers further in the center of the city, is also worth a visit.