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History of Suomenlinna

Suomenlinna is one of the largest sea fortresses in the world

Suomenlinna fortress is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, located approximately one kilometer off the coast from Helsinki. Originally Suomenlinna was a bastion fortress built on an group of islands and consisting of four closed fortresses, each on an island of its own, supplemented with open fortifications on two more islands. Within the walls was a garrison town with barracks and residential buildings, and a naval base with its dry docks and storage buildings. Until 1808, Suomenlinna was a Swedish fortress, but at the same time also an important naval base. Today, Suomenlinna is one of Finland’s most significant tourist attractions and a popular recreation and residential area with some 900 inhabitants.

The Swedish Era in Suomenlinna

As a result of two wars in the beginning of the 18th century, the Swedish Empire lost all its provinces and towns on the eastern border. In order not to lose all of Finland, the Parliament decided to build a central fortress for the protection of the eastern parts of the empire. The construction work began under the command of Augustin Ehrensvärd in 1748, and a few years later the fortress was named Sveaborg “Castle of Sweden” – which the Finnish soldiers working in the fortress transformed into a name “Viapori”. Built by the army soldiers in the course of forty years, this fortress off Helsinki had a total of 8 km of fortified walls. Sveaborg was the largest fortress of the Swedish Empire.

The Russian Era

Russia attacked Finland in 1808 and after a few weeks’ siege Viapori surrendered. Finland became a part of Russia and for the next 110 years the fortress served as a Russian fortress. The Russians built large barracks and hospitals for the garrison, but thought it unnecessary to strengthen the fortress itself. Thus, an Anglo-French fleet was able to bombard the fortress without interruption during the Crimean War in 1855 causing severe damage. After the war, new sea defence line with earth ramparts and 9- and 10-inch cannons was built.

The Era of Finnish Independance

On May 12th in 1918, the year after Finland gained independence, the Finnish flag was solemnly raised at the Kustaanmiekka fortification in the presence of Regent Svinhufvud and the Senate. The fortress was renamed Suomenlinna (‘Fortress of Finland’) and served as a Finnish garrison for more than fifty years. In 1973 the area came under civil administration, carried out by the Governing Body of Suomenlinna. However, it is still home to the Naval Academy. The Ehrensvärd Society was founded in 1921 with the purpose of making Suomenlinna and its history known and cherishing its valuable cultural heritage. Suomenlinna is on the UNESCO List of World Heritage Sites. Some 800 000 visitors come to Suomenlinna every year.