Suomenlinna, or as it was originally called Sveaborg in Swedish, is a fortress built on six islands just outside the harbour of Helsinki, in Finland. Its location, together with the fortification on the mainland, was meant to make it a great outpost for the defence of the city against the Russian army.
The official name of the UNESCO site is Fortress of Soumenlinna (Castle of Finland) and it was inscribed in the list in 1991. The fortress was built starting from the middle of the 18th century and its history has been troubled, having served three different realms in its history, until the 1970s when it lost its military status, becoming a civil area which is now enjoyed by local families and tourists, especially in the summer.
And that’s enough history already.
Now Suomenlinna is an incredibly pleasant place to spend a few hours walking outside surrounded by beautiful scenery, visiting one of the six museums, having a good meal in one of the few restaurants on the islands, drinking a good local beer at the island’s brewery or visiting one of the few artists’ studios. It can be easily reached by local ferries from Helsinki and it is a great place for a day getaway from the city.
Walking around the fortress is really pleasant. The place radiates history, although most of it is war history, but the natural location, the incredible landscapes and the view of the sea make up for an enjoyable and informative stroll. Routes are set up to visit the fortress through all the main sights, but it’s possible to roam around on your own as well.
The administration of the fortress offers guided walking tours and there are six museums for those interested in the history of the place, there’s even a submarine that can be visited in the summer months.
What makes the fortress a popular picnic spot for locals is the beauty of the place. A mix of nature and history that forms a beautiful landscape and offers amazing views of the sea.
The fortress has always been inhabited throughout its history. Now it houses less than 1000 people but the choice of restaurants and cafés is extensive. I haven’t tried any so I don’t know prices and quality. Something I tried is the local beer from the brewery, Suomenlinnan Panimo. With over ten different types of beer to taste, the brewery is a must for all beer lovers. It is also possible to spend the night in the hostel inside the fortress.
Reason for being inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List
What makes Suomenlinna so special to deserve to be in the UNESCO World Heritage List? After all there are many other fortresses that aren’t considered World Heritage Sites. Why Suomenlinna?
Suomenlinna is a unique example of a fortress that is built on several islands, its shape is therefore irregular, creating a strong contrast with the typical European military architecture of that time.
Another important aspect is that the fortress has been used by three different realms. Initially Sweden, before surrendering to Russia and, finally Finland. The fortress has also always been inhabited during its history.
Lastly, it’s still authentic. It still consists of the original structures and materials. Although there were developments during the history of the fortress, these developments can be still seen on Suomenlinna. Most of the fortifications and military buildings are still from the Swedish or Russian era.
In Finland there are 7 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Unfortunately, even though I lived in Finland for a few months, I had the chance of visiting only two of them: Soumenlinna and Old Rauma. Even worse is that I wasn’t yet into my UNESCO Challenge at the time (2007) and I don’t have any good picture of Rauma, therefore a post about it would be worthless. However, Old Rauma is a small site that can be completely covered on foot in a short, but enjoyable, time. It is an outstanding example of medieval Nordic city with a number of wood buildings constructed around a Church. It is well-preserved both in the architecture and in the urban structure of the time. Rauma is easily reached from any major Finnish city by train and doesn’t required more than a day to be appreciated. In my opinion, when in Finland, a visit to Rauma is definitely worth it and it’s also close to the Bronze Age Burial Site of Sammalladdenmäki, making it possible to combine the two.
I’m not planning to go back to Finland soon but, if I ever do, I’ll make sure to go to Rauma again and try to visit the other UNESCO sites I haven’t been.