Suomenlinna C 74, 00190 Helsinki, Finland
GPS: 60.145759195668, 24.983009977241
Suomenlinna is an ancient maritime and military structure built off the coast of Helsinki, the capital of Finland. It means “fortress of Finland” in Finnish and is located on an archipelago of eight rocky islands. The fortress has been demilitarised since 1973 and is one of the most visited sites in the country.
The history of Suomenlinna began in 1748, when Finland was part of the Swedish Empire. As the Swedes wanted to protect themselves from a new Russian attack, they built a first defensive island base to protect the port of Helsinki. They named it Sveaborg (“Svea Fortress”) or Viapori in Finnish. The fortress enabled the small town of Helsinki to develop and grow rich through trade in the Baltic Sea. In 1808, the Russian Tsar Alexander I declared war on the Swedish King Gustav IV Adolf. Russian troops invaded Finland and seized the Fortress of Suomenlinna. Following the rapid surrender of Helsinki and Turku (the former regional capital of the Swedish Kingdom), the Treaty of Fredrikshamn was signed in 1809. This agreement obliged Sweden to cede the territory of Finland and the Åland Islands to Russia. The new capital of the Grand Duchy of Finland was transferred to Helsinki in 1812 by Emperor Alexander I. This Russian-Swedish war marked the beginning of Finland’s occupation for more than a hundred years until its independence in 1918, one year after the Russian revolution.
Under Russian administration, Suomenlinna entered a new era. Its perimeter was extended to other islands off Helsinki and military buildings were constructed to accommodate more soldiers. In 1855, the fortress was bombarded by a Franco-British fleet during the Crimean War. Heavily damaged, its fortifications were restored from the end of the 19th century. During the First World War, the site was used as a naval base to protect the city of Saint Petersburg, the former capital of Russia. After Finnish independence, Suomenlinna took on its present name and gradually turned to a residential, tourist and cultural function. The fortress was adorned with living quarters, museums, a school, a sauna, and an avant-garde prison. Known as the Gibraltar of the North, Suomenlinna is today inhabited by about 850 people and recognised by UNESCO as a unique example of military architecture. Its natural setting and rich history make it a popular picnic or strolling area for Finns due to its proximity to downtown Helsinki.