Helsinki, Finland

Finland's once Swedish Fortress

shadow refuge
Living silhouettes in a tunnel on the island of Iso Mustasaari, the one where the ferry from the Helsinki front docks.
back Helsinki
View of the historic front of Helsinki, seen from the ferry that connects the city to Suomenlinna.
Group of friends approach Augustin Ehrenvärd's grave.
In frame
The frozen channel that separates Iso Mustasaari from Susisaari.
Pastel Suomenlinna
Residents walk uphill from the inhabited core of Iso Mustasaari.
old threat
Visitors walk along the southern shores of Susisaari, alongside one of several artillery pieces scattered along the coast of Suomenlinna.
Winter Rests
Garden benches almost buried in snow that the gentle winter sun does not melt.
Tribute to the creator
The grave of Augustin Ehrenvärd, the young Swedish lieutenant who led the persistent and complex building of Suomenlinna.
Mother and son
Ninja (read, Nina) and Severi Lampela, both surnamed Pasanen, Finnish visitors to Suomenlinna.
Camouflage in A
Old bunkers camouflaged under earth and vegetation and on the edge of the Gulf of Finland.
Ride in Frozen Time
Passerby passes along the channel that separates the island Iso Mustasaari from Susisaari.
the ultimate submarine
The Vesikko submarine, an exceptional vestige of the fleet that Finland owned at the end of World War II and that the Treaty of Paris of 2 forced to destroy.
Detached in a small archipelago at the entrance to Helsinki, Suomenlinna was built by the Swedish kingdom's political-military designs. For more than a century, the Russia stopped her. Since 1917, the Suomi people have venerated it as the historic bastion of their thorny independence.

It would prove to be the last of the days with merciful weather, although somewhat windy.

It is under a sky that is half blue, half blue-white, that the ferry leaves from Kauppatori market to Suomenlinna, the great fortress of Finland.

As we move away from the front of historic buildings, the distance reveals the domes of the Helsinki Cathedral, increasingly highlighted over the line of pastel facades that we admire in a gentle diagonal.

The vessel heads towards the exit of that tight, geometric section of the estuary that bathes the capital.

Helsinki Historic Front, Finland

View of the historic front of Helsinki, seen from the ferry that connects the city to Suomenlinna.

On its route, a shallow stepping stone of islets that, from Valkosaari to Pormestarinluodot, hinder navigation.

After some time, with the dock we had left already transformed into a glimpse, the whims of the destination island begin to be defined and, soon, the salmon-colored walls of its palatial wing, today transformed into the brewery local.

To the Conquest of the Resistant Suomenlinna

We disembark at one of the two harbors that serve it and cross that same old building through the tunnel below its light tower. On the other side, a resplendent luminosity reveals to us the domain of Suomenlinna, still frigid and parched by the arctic winter that resisted.

As in other parts of Finland, the proliferation of sign nomenclatures quickly catches our attention, starting with that of the place itself.

The fortress began to be built in 1748, at a time when Finnish territory was part of the Kingdom of Sweden.

This same historical context, the subsequent split, resulted in part of the current Finnish population – mainly on the west coast – having Swedish origins and using Swedish as their first language, from an origin completely different from Finnish.

Suomenlinna, Sveaborg, Viapori. The Trio of War Names

The Swedes have always called the fort that welcomed us Sveaborg (Swedish Castle).

The Finns, until 1918, called it Viapori. From then on, as a rectification, they adopted Suomenlinna (Castelo da Finland).

Out of respect for the Swedish community Finland, the two terms continue to coexist.

Suomenlinna Fortress Tunnel, Helsinki, Finland

Living silhouettes in a tunnel on the island of Iso Mustasaari, the one where the ferry from the Helsinki front docks.

Suomenlinna is based on six islands, which also have competing names from both dialects.

We had disembarked at Iso Mustasaari, the second largest and where the most imposing buildings in the archipelago were concentrated:

an originally Orthodox church built in 1854, the library, a War Museum and a Toy Museum, among others, and even the local prison. Suomenlinna hosted a minimum-security penal colony where convicts put their efforts into maintaining and rebuilding infrastructure.

But the islands have much more than just these mildly doomed inhabitants. Beyond the fortress-museum, he lives his own life. There are around nine hundred permanent and free residents.

Of these, three hundred and fifty work all year round in the most diverse functions.

A Stronghold of Finnish Culture

Suomenlinna has become a complementary cultural hub of Helsinki. Received the Nordic Arts Center. He has converted several buildings into art studios that are rented at low prices to interested artists.

In their pragmatic and expeditious fashion, the Finnish authorities pay so much attention to it that they maintain regular ferry connections, thermal, water and electrical supplies.

In 2015, the Finnish post office there even tested the distribution of mail using drones.

Grave of Augustin Ehrenvärd, mentor of the fortress of Suomenlinna.

The grave of Augustin Ehrenvärd, the young Swedish lieutenant who led the persistent and complex building of Suomenlinna.

What we find a little everywhere are, however, relics some more ancient than others from its long history.

We come across the grave of Augustin Ehrenvärd, the young Swedish lieutenant who led the persistent and complex construction of the fortress.

His tombstone is crowned with a Gothic helmet with a facial protection that extends in a peak to below the chin, in such a mystical way that it intimidates us. We enter and exit more small tunnels that the almost oblique sun rays invade without mercy.

We cross the channel that separates Iso Mustasaari to Susisaari via the bridge that joins them. We walk along the shadowy shore of this last island and come face to face with the opposite coast line bathed by an almost frozen sea inlet and a soft afternoon light.

We crossed Susisaari to the front of the Gulf of Finland. There, the boreal gusts, until then spaced out, turn into a permanent gale.

We found old warehouses disguised as rural houses from another era, with A-shaped roofs from top to bottom, covered in earth and vegetation, surrounded by snowy sections still far from melting.

The furious wind punishes large cannons distributed and hidden on the upper coast, all of them aimed at the Gulf of Finland and the threats that always result from there.

Suomenlinna, in front of History: the Finnish, the Swedish, the Russian.

In this zone of vast spaces, great influences and ambitions to match, the Finns have become accustomed to fearing the Kingdom of Sweden on the one hand, and the much larger Russian Empire on the other. The World War II Teutonic invasion arrived as an extra.

An unexpected extra that cost the Finland three important sections of the country – part of Karelia and the city of Kuusamo, Salla and Petsamo, the former “right-hand man of the nation” – seized by the USSR as a trophy for having aligned itself with the Axis between 1941 and 1944.

Suomenlinna appeared two centuries earlier as Sveaborg (Swedish Castle).

At that time, Sweden held the territory of its Suómi neighbors and Russian expansionist desires worried its rulers.

Artillery pieces, Suomenlinna fortress, Helsinki, Finland

Visitors walk along the southern shores of Susisaari, alongside one of several artillery pieces scattered along the coast of Suomenlinna.

The star-shaped fortification adapted to the appearance of the six islands and the batteries that we passed in investigative mode were also installed according to the convenience of the Archipelago Fleet, anchored there to protect the southeastern threshold of the Swedish Kingdom,

In obvious counterpoint to the Russian naval base in Kronstadt, located next to Saint Petersburg, in the eastern depths of the Gulf of Finland.

Strategically, Sveaborg served to prevent the tsars' armed forces from acquiring a base position on the beaches from where persistent artillery bombardment would make it possible to take Helsinki.

In 1755, more than seven thousand Swedish soldiers stationed in Finland participated in the work. Two years later, Swedish involvement in the intricate Seven Years' War against Great Britain, Prussia and Portugal (for a change on the Russian side) he suspended it. The alliance quickly proved as cynical as it was short.

Despite the defeat in the Seven Years' War, just a quarter of a century later, the Russians took advantage of an autocratic and incautious provocation from the King of Sweden to go on the attack.

Against popular and opposition will, Gustav III planned the destruction of the Russian Baltic fleet and the seizure of Saint Petersburg.

Suomenlinna Corner, Helsinki, Finland

The frozen channel that separates Iso Mustasaari from Susisaari.

But the monarch's plans foundered.

The Russians prevented the Swedes from disembarking and forced their retreat to Sveaborg where they were frustrated that the military authorities had forgotten to ensure the rearmament and repair of a nautical force much larger than the Archipelago Fleet.

Warned of this mishap, one Admiral Grieg hastened to retrieve the Russian fleet. Just nineteen days later, he aimed at Sveaborg. It disbanded a Swedish “spy” squadron and established a naval blockade that cut the Finnish south's connection with Sweden.

It would not yet be from this that the Russians would take over the rival nation, but, in 1808, Tsar Alexander I allied himself with Napoleon and Russia gave the final blow. In the aftermath of the Finnish War, the eastern third of Sweden was transformed into the Duchy of Finland, finally, under the jurisdiction of the Russian Empire.

Back to Iso Mustasaari passing by the submarine Veliko

Against the raging gale, but in holy peace, we continued to progress to the southern reaches of Susisaari and Suomenlinna. Most of the time we walked alone, given over to the cold and enigmatic scenarios.

We went on like this until, on a dirt slope, we came across two souls only slightly less stray than ours. Ninja (read, Nina) and Severi Lampela, mother and son, both surnamed Pasanen, descend. We go up.

The sight of other humans in that fortified solitude encourages us to communicate. We welcome you. We got into conversation. The two souls quickly prove themselves Finnish in the strict sense. Without foundation or pragmatic objective, the approach makes no sense to them and their embarrassed looks let you know.

We still forced some photos as it was, despite everything, the mission with which we were going there. We abbreviated the interaction and returned to the original paired comfort.

Vesikko submarine, Suomenlinna, Helsinki, Finland

The Vesikko submarine, an exceptional vestige of the fleet that Finland owned at the end of World War II and that the Treaty of Paris of 2 forced to destroy.

On the way back to the north, we came across the complex's shipyard and docks, full of boats, some functional, others not so. We return to the canal and the dark, frigid shore of Susisaari.

And there we continued until we found another work of nautical-military art worthy of attention, Vesikko, the ultimate Finnish submarine.

During the 2nd World War (Winter War and Continuation War), the Finns used it on successive patrols in the Gulf of Finland from Suomenlinna, but, as the outcome of the conflict confiscated the three territories already mentioned, the 1947 Treaty of Paris, prohibited Finland from ever again owning submarines.

Vesikko was the only one to escape the forced and widespread destruction of the fleet. It can only be visited during the summer. The reason why we just enjoy it from the outside, strangely perched with its stern brushing the muddy bank. With the bow suspended above both ground and sea level.

The short winter afternoon, on the other hand, was rushing behind the horizon with the dry, freezing wind already hurting our faces. We aim back at Iso Mustasaari.

We took refuge in the War Museum. There we learned about the episodes that led to full Finnish self-determination which, from 1917 onwards, taking advantage of the political chaos of the Russian Revolution, the Suómi people managed to assert against the former sovereigns.

In Swedish times, inevitably, but briefly, Russian, the walled history of Sveborg, Viapori and Suomenlinna converged on the nationality that was destined for the fortress.

The ferry docks again on time, we didn't expect anything else. We reembarked as the night began to subside. Twenty contemplative minutes later, we were back in the capital of little more than secular independent Finland.

TAP flies to Helsinki 6 times a week, with return prices, with all taxes included, from 353€. The route is operated with aircraft from the A320 family.

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