SveaborgOctober 18, 2015
Every now and then both me and Paulina are off work on the same weekend. We usually try to come up with things to do together. One weekend, a few months back, we had planned to go to Sveaborg, but got met by hordes of tourists. Now, since summer is over, we decided to give it another try.
We got up relatively early, and left for down town. The ferry leaves from the Kauppatori near the Senate square. There’s a couple of different boats that leave from this harbor, and some of them cost more than other (since they are specifically made for sightseeing in the Helsinki archipelago). The boat we went with is the one operated by HSL, Helsinki’s public transportation, because we already have the monthly cards, the ride over doesn’t cost anything.
The trip over from the mainland to the island of Sveaborg lasts for around 10 minutes, it’s actually pretty close by, and you can see the cathedral from the beach on Sveaborg.
We had picked a great day for this excursion, the skies were clear, it wasn’t too hot (nor cold) and it was quite calm on the island i.e. not a lot of people around.
Anyway, some brief history. Sveaborg (Viapori in Finnish) was built during the time Finland was a part of Sweden, specifically in 1748 The construction was overseen by Augustin Ehrensvärd, who was a lieutenant at the time. The primary purpose of the fortress was to protect the country from the invading Russians, during the Russo-Swedish War (in 1741–43), Russia had become a large naval power, and Sweden needed to be able to protect itself.
Contrary to popular belief, there are no hobbits living on Sveaborg.
Later after the Finnish War, Finland, with Sveaborg, was ceded from Sweden and became a part of the Russian Empire.
Under the rule of Russia, the fortification of the island continued, and during the Crimean war (in 1853–56), it stood strong throughout a 47 hour bombardment, even though the fortress was badly damaged, it wasn’t captured.
A year after Finland declared independence from Russia during the Russian revolution in 1917, the fortress was renamed to Suomenlinna (Castle of Finland), but kept its Swedish name, Sveaborg. The fortress was used as a prison camp during the Civil War (in 1918).
From 1921 until 1936, the island was used by the state aircraft factory. Later, in 1973, the fortress fell under civilian administration, and even later, in 1991, the island became a UNESCO World Heritage site.
During modern times, there’s been discussions about restoring the original Finnish name, Viapori, but so far nothing has happened. The name Sveaborg, which the fortress has used since it was first constructed, is roughly translated to Castle of Sweden (Svea, an old name for Sweden, and borg, basically a castle).
We walked around the island for an hour or two, and it’s really spectacular. Even though I haven’t visited the island during any other season than fall, I can’t imagine a better season to see the island.
It’s also interesting that the island houses around 900 permanent residents. How awesome wouldn’t it be to live there? I guess the only downside would be transportation to and from the island. But you wouldn’t need to leave that often, for example, I noticed that there was a small store just by the ferry harbor.
According to Paulina, there’s a service tunnel for emergency vehicles beneath the water, when she told me this, I instantly started to question it, just because I don’t get why you’d use a ferry instead of just driving through the tunnel.
But as I got home, I checked it, and indeed, between the years 1976–1980 a tunnel between Kaivopuisto and Suomenlinna was constructed, the tunnel was only to be used by either state vehicles or emergency vehicles, and it can only fit roughly one truck on the width. It was original built for heating, plumbing and electricity, but later modified to also take vehicles.
All in all, I can’t believe I haven’t taken time earlier to visit Sveaborg. It’s easily one of my favorite historic places so far, largely because it’s in a really good shape, which I guess is because it’s only been open to the public for the last 50 or so years, and because it’s being up kept constantly.
Also according to Wikipedia, it’s one of the most visited tourist attractions in Helsinki, attracting a record 713,000 visitors in 2009.
If you find yourself in Helsinki without anything to do, and fancy seeing some history (and nature), go to Sveaborg, I really recommend it.