It's already April. Down in the south of Europe, a few days provide long-awaited bathing recreations.
At latitude 60º of Porvoo, an hour's drive northeast of the capital Helsinki, the sun remains trapped above clouds laden with snow.
The river Porvoo that bathes and baptized the city flows under a compact blanket of ice.
It is broken by two mere zones in which some phenomenon generates surface ponds and a faithful mirror of the houses above.
Porvoo, the village, stretches along the hillside in an assortment of garish tones from which diminished and filtered sunlight only removes some of the brightness.
We wandered through the alleys, frozen like the weather, in search of a high and prominent point that would reveal a worthy panorama.
On this mission, we diverged into the coniferous forest that fills much of Finland and which, accordingly, surrounds the village.
From time to time, the overburdened leaves of pine, fir and birch trees trap them with snow showers. They help us wake up to the day that, at that time, promises to resist winter.
Porvoo: the Multicolored House blessed by a Bilingual Cathedral
Finally, the trail reveals an opening in the trees. From there, unlike the riverside Porvoo where red predominates, the buildings are displayed in yellowish and greenish pastel tones.
Porvoo is religious. In true Christian fashion, its A-shaped church stands out, well above the urban plan and the less steep roofs of the faithful.
Deprived of the former mercantile role, Porvoo retains its religious merit. That same abrupt and ancient cathedral (XNUMXth century) that we admired preserves a double function.
The diocese of Borga is part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, which brings together thousands of Finnish faithful who speak Swedish.
As an example, Borga (castle over the river) is the Swedish term that, as a result of historical contingencies, the nearly 30% of Swedish-speaking residents use instead of Porvoo.
The parish of Finnish-speaking believers, part of the Diocese of Helsinki, uses the same cathedral for masses and other religious services.
As we pass in front of its façade, a courageous group of believers rehearse for something different.
A Freezing Rehearsal for Holy Week
Holy Week is approaching. Despite the crushing cold, actors and extras recreate the Crucifixion and previous scenes of the Way of the cross.
Out of respect for the narrative, the actor playing Jesus Christ wears little more than a tunic. He slips into a winter jacket and warms up each time the rehearsal is paused for repairs and corrections.
A few errant snowflakes that fall on his hair and face betray historical reality and aggravate the punishment that, it seems to us, is far from over.
A few days later, dozens of re-enactments of the Way of the cross were to unfold in the four Christian corners of Finland. Starting with held in front of the Helsinki Cathedral.
Porvoo too would have its own.
Even without the architectural grandeur of the capital's great temple, it is sought after by thousands of outsiders who consider it more picturesque and prefer it for the beauty of the surrounding scenery, made up of houses and warehouses from the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries and a resplendent nature.
Laivos de Sol and a Porvoo that Shines Double
A flock of crows rises from nearby bare trees. It flutters around the cathedral and the village. It splashes the purplish sky with black and reaffirms itself in a domain that has long been its own. Remind us to resume the tour.
With the morning halfway through, the almost scorching sun is finally starting to make its way through the clouds. It melts the ice that resists on the sidewalks and reduces the risk of falling latent in every street, alley and slope.
When feeling the traces of sunlight on the facades and through the windows, the residents of Porvoo are encouraged to go out. Some sweep snow still white in front of their homes.
Others make up the facades, shop windows and signs of the numerous establishments geared towards tourism that dot the village.
A Glorious Mercantile Past
Located on the homonymous river and, at the same time, in the vicinity of Stensbole Bay and the Gulf of Finland, Porvoo soon became a key trading post.
Its people preserve the same historical aptitude for business, now adapted to the demand and offer renewed by visitors.
Porvoo began to emerge, registered as a city, during the XNUMXth century. Before that, still dominated by the Tavastian tribe, German merchants flocked there, probably members of the Hanseatic League that would expand to other parts of northern Europe, including the distant Norwegian city of Bergen.
Germans were landing at Porvoo in increasing numbers.
In such a way that the original center of the village became known as Germany, “the place of the Germans”.
The Swedish Era of Porvoo. followed by Russian
At the time, the Swedes were expanding their territory greatly at the expense of native and pagan peoples in and around present-day Scandinavia.
After a second crusade instigated by the Catholic Church, in the middle of the XNUMXth century, they finally took Porvoo from the Tavastians.
They promoted the colonization of the region by farmers from the heart of Sweden and who they attracted with the offer of land, cattle, seeds and exemption from taxes due to the Crown.
Porvoo has developed to proportions comparable only to Turku and Ulvila. Fast forward to the XNUMXth century.
Russia took Viborg from Sweden. Viborg's episcopal see moved to Porvoo. The number of religious and believers who accompanied the bishops made Porvoo the second largest city in Finland today.
As often happened in those days, the city was growing and evolving at a good pace when an uncontrollable fire destroyed almost two thirds of the buildings.
Had it not been for this catastrophe, the houses of Porvoo that so enchant those who admire it could be much older.
We crossed it again along Jokikatu, one of the local pedestrian streets, two or three parallel, full of cafes, handicraft stores, antique shops, restaurants and the like.
The intermittent solar caress encourages a couple to settle down, over-wrapped, on a newly opened terrace.
Those same unexpected streaks of light convince us to go down to the riverside, cross the bridge and appreciate Porvoo with the blessing of the great star.
Along the way, clouds faster than our past, kidnap and release the solar flare again.
From the middle of the Uusi bridge, we are faced with the front of centuries-old warehouses where merchants kept the products traded there, a uniform red that clashes both with the surrounding whiteness and with the increasingly uncovered, azure blue.
Over the centuries, butter, wood, dried fish, fabrics and also the providential tar were stored and sold there.
Today, almost all cafes and ravinolas (restaurants) renowned, rewrite, with refinement, the past of loading and unloading, boarding and disembarking, for ships coming from other parts of the Gulf of Finland.
At the time, in the east-south of the Gulf, Saint Petersburg continued to emulate Paris, in line with the expansionist desires of the increasingly menacing russian empire.
As feared, in 1808, the Russians conquered the territory of Finland from the Swedish Empire.
In this historic and political shuffle, Porvoo hosted a Diet (legislative assembly) that dragged on for four months and whose main result was the declaration by Tsar Alexander I that Finland would assume the status of an autonomous Grand Duchy.
The Contribution to Finland's Passage from Autonomy to Independence
Even devoid of such intention, this decision became the predecessor of Finland's independence, which, however, would only arrive more than a century later, shortly before the end of the 1st World War.
One of the maxims of Finnish national consciousness, with significant growth in Porvoo, was the so-called Fenomman motto:
“We are no longer Swedes,
Russians we cannot become
As such, we will have to be Finnish.”
In Porvoo, at a time of imminent NATO membership, with its back turned to the East, little or nothing remains of submission to Russia.
Swedish is spoken as much or more than in other western Suomi regions.
Old Porvoo remains as Finnish as Finland can dazzle.