After visiting some of Helsinki churches, my friend and I wanted to get out of the city. Fortunately, it’s a pretty easy thing to do in Helsinki. From the Market Square on the edge of the water, it is relatively easy to jump on a boat to visit one of the islands off the Finnish capital. That’s what we did, we headed for Suomenlinna, a twenty-minute ferry ride from Helsinki.
Suomenlinna is actually six islands interconnected together by bridges and footbridges. It is a fortress that for a long time played an important strategic role in the Baltic Sea and has been controlled by the Swedes, the Russians and the Finns.
As I wrote previously in my article on Turku Castle, Finland has long been a province of Sweden. It was the Swedes who started building the fortress in 1748 to protect themselves from Russian expansionism. A series of fortifications were built on the islands, as well as a shipyard and houses to house the soldiers.
The Swedish architect Augustin Ehrensvärd was in charge of the works. He built bastions that marry the landscape and remain discreet to enemy eyes. Ehrensvärd had an ambitious plan for the fortress and will continue to expand it until his death in 1772.
The fortress, however, will not prevent Russia from taking away Finland of Sweden in 1808. The Russians thus took possession of Suomenlinna and made modifications to suit their tastes. The guns, once pointed towards Russia to the east, were moved across the fortress to point towards Sweden and Western Europe.
The island was bombed for two days during the Crimean War, but the Russians and their stronghold held out. New works were started to strengthen it on the eve of the First World War.
It was only when Finland gained independence in 1917 that Suomenlinna finally became Finnish.
Over the years, however, Suomenlinna has lost its strategic importance and has been used less and less as a military base. It passed into the hands of a civil administration in 1973. Today, nearly 900 people still live there.
Suomenlinna has been part of UNESCO World Heritage since 1991. It is therefore a place highly appreciated by tourists. But the site is vast, there are cafes, museums and a church in addition to the many historic buildings, so there is a way to get lost for several hours and have the impression to escape the city for a while.
And getting there costs almost nothing … The ferry that connects Helsinki and Suomenlinna several times a day is part of the city’s public transport system. Getting to Suomenlinna costs the price of a metro ticket (nothing, if you already have a pass for public transport).