Little bears are listening to Uuno Klami’s Suomenlinna Overture, composed in 1940, a loose musical description of the 18th century sea fortress guarding the Helsinki archipelago. Klami was a modernist, but this overture reveals him at his most traditional and conventionally patriotic. It makes for easy listening, a refreshing change in Finnish music! Goes very well with chocolate 🙂
The founding of the city of St Petersburg in 1703 changed the strategic significance of the Baltic Sea in one fell swoop. The era of Sweden as a superpower ended with the Great Northern War fought between 1700 and 1721. After the Russo-Swedish war of 1741-1743, with the treaty of Turku, signed in 1743, Sweden lost of all its important Finnish border fortresses to Russia. To safeguard the eastern border of the kingdom, the Swedish Riksdag (parliament) decided to establish a new depot fortress on a group of small islands, called the Susiluoto islands, off the coast of Helsinki. The construction of Sveaborg, called at the time Viapori in Finnish, began in 1748.
Viapori was intended as the main fortress of Finland – a depot fortress acting as a naval base and a place where troops were assembled. Initially, a double fortress was planned for Helsinki, in which the city of Helsinki and the Susiluodot islands would be fortified. The building began on the mainland in the Ullanlinna district, but the project was soon limited to the construction of the Viapori fortress. The work was supervised by the Swedish Admiral Augustin Eherensvärd (1710-1772), who adapted Vauban’s theories to the very special geographical features of the region.
The fortress was built by Finnish and Swedish soldiers. Most of the funding came from France, the then ally of Sweden. Construction of the fortress continued for about 40 years but was never fully completed. However, Suomenlinna was capable of defence and in the early 19th century still considered a very strong fortress.
Viapori was among the world’s largest fortresses of its time and one of the Swedish state’s most significant construction projects. It was estimated to take about 7000 men to defend the fortress. Suomenlinna saw military action during the Russo-Swedish War of 1788-1790, the Russian siege of 1808, the Crimean War of 1855, the Viapori Rebellion in 1906 and the bombings of the Continuation War in 1944.
An irregular bastion fortress built on six islands, Suomenlinna has been compared to the fortress of Gibraltar, which was considered unassailable. Four of the islands had enclosed fortifications, and two had open defences.
The original fortress was built using local rock and fortified with a system of bastions over varied terrain. The purpose of the fortress was originally to defend the Kingdom of Sweden against the Russian Empire and to serve as a fortified army base, complete with a dry dock. The Viapori dockyard built, repaired and stored the Swedish archipelago fleet’s frigates, barges, gunboats, sloops and other vessels. These vessels were designed specifically for the difficult conditions of the Finnish archipelago. The low-draught vessels could be both rowed and sailed. The large dry dock was the world’s first and probably the largest. Its construction began in 1749.
Sandbanks, barracks and various other buildings were added during the 19th century Russian period. The defensive system was adapted to match the requirements of a modern fortress and developed in the 19th century using contemporary fortification equipment.
Under Russian rule (1809-1918), the dockyard was used significantly less. An aircraft factory operated in the area in the early years of Finnish independence. After the Second World War, the dockyard built ships for the Soviet Union for Finland’s war reparations. The dock basin is still in use, but the last new vessel built was completed in 1974.
Today, Suomenlinna’s dry dock is run by a foundation whose mission is to preserve and pass on traditional boat-building skills.
The fortress has experienced two changes of ruling regime. From the year 1809, Viapori became a Russian fortress. When Finland was merged with the Russian Empire in 1808, the Russian military maintained a permanent presence in Helsinki. The bulk of the troops were accommodated in the Viapori fortress, but some units were housed in the city area.
The Viapori fortress and the excellent port it protected were significant factors in making Helsinki the capital of Finland in 1812.
Finland declared independence on 6 December 1917. The fortress of Viapori, nevertheless remained under the control of the Russian military for some time; during the Russian era, the fortress had not been administratively part of the Grand Duchy of Finland. A Civil War was fought in Finland in spring 1918. The Russian troops on Viapori did not engage in the hostilities; instead in April 1918 they gave over Viapori to the Finnish Army and began their withdrawal from Finland. The Finnish flag was raised on Kustaanmiekka for the first time on 12 May 1918. The islands were formally annexed by the Republic of Finland and the fortress was renamed with the Finnish language Suomenlinna.
When the fortress was being built in the 18th century, it was a sort of national masterclass in building technology. Men from all over Finland were recruited for the construction project. These men only knew about building in wood. On Suomenlinna, they worked under the supervision of Swedish engineering officers and other experts and learned about new techniques and materials, such as building in stone.
Today, Suomenlinna is something of a field laboratory in the area of restoration and conservation and traditional construction methods. Experts in a variety of fields take part in the work: architects, engineers, professional builders, stone masons, gardeners, painters, researchers and restorers. Repair work on the walls and ramparts is also done as prison work by inmates at Suomenlinna prison. Because of the harsh and humid climate on Suomenlinna, repair work on the stone walls and elevations is a never-ending job.
Until the mid-1980s, the renovation policy on Suomenlinna was to restore the exterior elevations of buildings but to outfit the interiors as if they were new buildings. Today, the basic principle is to use the techniques and methods with which the buildings were originally built. Repairs are undertaken so that as much of the original structure and materials are retained as possible. Any new structures are built so that they can be dismantled without interfering with the original structures.
Suomenlinna is also home to more than 800 permanent residents, as a district of Helsinki. Most of the flats on Suomenlinna are rented and are owned by the state. The houses are maintained and restored and blend unobtrusively with their surroundings. Most of the current residential buildings were originally used by the garrison, but by the 19th century they had begun to be transformed into homes.
One of the residents is Petra Tandefelt, the owner, collector and manager of the Suomenlinna Toy Museum. She represents the fourth generation of a Suomenlinna family.
Although Suomenlinna is often considered to be a summer attraction only, it is open to visitors all year round.
Puffles and Honey made a beeline for the Toy Museum, of course 🙂 Elevenses first!
Before catching up with some friends.
The toys in the museum are collected from Finland, played with by Finnish children, mostly made in other countries, but bought from Finnish toy shops originally. The Finnish toy industry has never been very big.
Moomin dolls from the 1950s were made by Atelier Fauni that specialised in troll characters. The Moomin family of Atelier Fauni had 14 members: Moomintroll, Moominmamma, Moominpappa, Snorkmaiden, Too-Ticky, Hemul, Fillyjonk, Snufkin, Mymble, Little My, Stinky, Sniff, Miisa and Hattifattener.
Atelier Fauni was established in 1952 when Helena Kuuskoski (1919-2013) sew her first plush characters. The Atelier closed down in 1971. The first Moomin figures created in the mid 1950s were made of leather and fur and approved by Tove Jansson, the creator of the Moomins. Moomins were dressed up in Marimekko designs. Stockman was the first store to have Moomin dolls for sale and they sold out in record time. More than 80,000 Moomins were exported to Sweden in the late 1960s.
In April 2017, Finland entered the Space Age by launching into space its first satellite, Aalto-2. To celebrate the occasion, the Suomenlinna Toy Museum launched its own little satellite, a selection of space toys ranging from the 1950’s to the 1990’s. The ‘satellite’ also showcases futuristic toys relating to science fiction television shows, with the emphasis on British producer Gerry Anderson’s Space: 1999 (1975-77) and Thunderbirds (1965-66).