August 29 Helsinki and Porvoo, Finland

We started our day in Finland by taking a bus tour of Helsinki. Helsinki is the capital and largest city of Finland, and it is the most northern city in the world. Helsinki was established as a trading town by King Gustav I of Sweden in 1550 as the town of Helsingfors, which he intended to be a rival to the Hanseatic city of Reval (today known as Tallinn). Little came of his plans as Helsinki remained a tiny town plagued by poverty, wars, and diseases. The plague of 1710 killed most of the inhabitants of Helsinki. It was not until Russia defeated Sweden in the Finnish War and annexed Finland in 1809 that the town began to develop into a substantial city. Basically, Sweden at one time controlled all of the land surrounding the Baltic Sea, and as their empire declined, other countries took over sections that they had previously ruled.

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Finnish National Theatre in Helsinki

Helsinki’s buildings were often used as a backdrop for scenes set to take place in the Soviet Union in many Cold War era Hollywood movies, when filming in the USSR was not possible. Some of the movies filmed here are The Kremlin Letter (1970), Reds (1981) and Gorky Park (1983).

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Post modern style railroad station in Helsinki

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St. John’s Church in Helsinki

Temppeliaukio Church is a famous Lutheran church in Helsinki. The church was designed by architects and brothers Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen and opened in 1969. It is also known as the Church of the Rock. The interior was excavated and built directly out of solid rock. The church is used frequently as a concert venue due to its excellent acoustics, which are created by the unfinished rock surfaces.

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Temppeliaukio Church from the outside. You cannot tell that it is a church from the outside.

There is no cross on the top of the church, but there is this modern looking metal cross on the rocks outside of the church.

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Metal cross outside of the rock church in Helsinki

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The entrance to the rock church in Helsinki. This is also not very impressive.

But the inside is very, very impressive!

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Inside the rock church in Helsinki

This church was an interesting contrast to all of the old stone churches that we saw out in the Finnish countryside! It also reminded Jeff and me of the design of the MIT chapel.

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Alter inside the rock church in Helsinki

They were playing recorded organ music while we were inside the church, and it sounded beautiful. The acoustics are indeed amazing!

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Organ inside the rock church in Helsinki

Senate Square and its surroundings make up the oldest part of central Helsinki. Landmarks and famous buildings surrounding the square are the Helsinki Cathedral, the Government Palace, the main building of the University of Helsinki, and Sederholm house (Sederholmin talo), oldest building of central Helsinki dating from 1757.

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The white house is the oldest building in central Helsinki.

The Government Palace was completed on the eastern side of the Senate Square in 1822. It served as the seat of the Senate of Finland until it was replaced by the Council of State in 1918, and now houses the offices of the Prime Minister f Finland and the cabinet. The main University of Helsinki building, on the opposite side of the Senate Square, was constructed in 1832.

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University of Helsinki building in Senate Square

The Helsinki Cathedral on the northern edge of the Senate Square was originally built from 1830-1852 as a tribute to the Grand Duke of Finland, Tsar Nicholas I of Russia It was also known as St Nicholas’ Church until 1917. The cathedral was built on the site of the smaller Ulrika Eleonora Church which was dedicated to its patroness, Ulrika Eleonora, Queen of Sweden. The building was later altered by adding four small domes emphasise the architectural connection to the cathedral’s model, St. Isaac’s Cathedral in St. Petersburg.

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Helsinki Cathedral

It has larger-than-life sized statues of the Twelve Apostles at the apexes and corners of the roofline.

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Statue on the roof of the Helsinki Cathedral

St. Nickolas was very popular in most of these Baltic countries. Many churches were dedicated to him. He is the patron saint of children (Santa Claus), thieves (that is why he goes down chimneys), and travelers (that explains the reindeer pulling a sleigh.)

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Inside the Helsinki Cathedral

The helsinki Cathedral was very grand inside. It also felt very modern, compared to some of the older cathedrals that we visited.

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The organ inside the Helsinki Cathedral

A statue of Russian Emperor Alexander II is located in the center of the square. The statue, erected in 1894, was built to commemorate his re-establishment the Diet of Finland in 1863, as well as his initiation of several reforms that increased Finland’s autonomy from Russia. The statue shows Alexander on a pedestal surrounded by figures representing the law, culture and the peasants. (And yes, that is a bird, a seagull, perched on the top of his head!)

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Jeff standing in front of the statue of Alexander II is the Senate Square in Helsinki

Then we left Helsinki and drove out into the Finnish countryside. Along the road were many trees, and a few farm fields. According to our guide, Finland’s main exports have always come form their forests, so they call the trees their”green gold.” These exports would include; wood, paper, and tar.

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Trees alongside the road in Finland

On our way to Porvoo, we stopped at an old stone church in the small town of Sipoo. The Old Church in Sipoo was built in 1450-1454 by the same unknown architect who designed the church in Porvoo. Historians think that it true because they are so similar in style.

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Old stone church in Sipoo

The church inside was very plain, but still amazing with its old stone arch styling.

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Inside of the Sipoo old stone church

I loved the cobblestone floor!

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Lectern and cobblestone floor inside the Sipoo old stone church

Porvoo was a very historically significant town in Finland, so that is why our tour took us there. It was also very quaint and pretty.

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Looking across the river at Porvoo, Finland You can see the spire of the stone church on the top of the hill.

Porvoo was established in Finland during the Middle Ages. It grew to be a town without any official order having been issued to start a town there. It began at the junction of the sea and the river, a place where people from surrounding villages used to come to trade. Goods from Europe travelled via Porvoo to the north, and people from the north brought furs and other things to Porvoo to be transported via Tallinn to Central Europe.

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Old wooden houses along the river in Porvoo

The riverside storehouses surrounded a medieval harbour into which salt and other products were imported. The red-coloured wooden storage buildings on the riverside are a proposed UNESCO world heritage site.

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Old red wooden warehouse buildings by the river in Porvoo

With the rise of mercantilism in the 17th century, butter, timber, dried fish, linen and tar were exported from Porvoo. In 1740 Porvoo had over 1,600 inhabitants, so for a few years it was the second biggest town in Finland. The oldest public library in Finland was opened in the Porvoo Grammar School in 1728.

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Wooden houses along an old cobblestoned street in Porvoo. These houses are all kept up with the traditional wood and stone in their original style.

The 700-year union between Sweden and Finland ended after the Finnish War when Finland was annexed to Russia. Alexander I, the Czar of Russia, convened the Diet in Porvoo in 1809. This was an important milestone in the history of Finland, as it started their progress towards independence. As a result of the Porvoo Diet, Finland was allowed to keep its religion, its constitution dating from the Swedish era, and the rights of its estates.

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Looking down a street in Porvoo

Nicholas I, the Czar of Russia between 1825-55, wanted to get rid of the dense and flammable old town built under the Swedish rulers. He wanted to replace it with a regular and spacious Russian rectangular plan, with brick houses. Luckily, Old Porvoo was not touched, instead the town expanded to the south.

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I loved this “modern” modification of the historic cobblestone streets! The flat, brick like stones are a bile path, so you can ride a bike safely down the street. It was also easier to walk on than the round cobblestones!

High on the hill which overlooks the town is the medieval, stone and brick Porvoo Church. The Porvoo parish and church originated in the 13th century. The church was first built of wood, and then later stone.

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Porvoo church outside, as seen from the side

When you look at the front of the Porvoo church, you can understand why they think it was designed by the same architect as the Sipoo church!

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Front view of the outside of the Porvoo church

The inside of the Porvoo church was much grander than the inside of the Sipoo church. It certainly looks like Porvoo was a wealthier town than Sipoo!

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Inside of the Porvoo church.

Jeff and I were the only two members of our tour group that climbed the hill in Porvoo to see the church. Everyone else was down in the old town, shopping for souvenirs in the many old houses that had been converted into shops.

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Inside of the Porvoo church

After we left Porvoo, our tour went to nearby Kiala Manor for lunch. Kiala Manor has a long and interesting history as one of Finland’s biggest farms. Kiala used to cultivate different kinds of cereals and hay for horses. Kiala Manor is located just a few kilometers north of the Porvoo Old town. 

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Kiala Manor house. That is Jeff standing there in front of the house. It is a very large house!

Kiala Manor began in the early 15th century. Over the centuries Kiala has been owned by many families, each leaving their own mark on the manor. There is an old spirit distillery built around 1880 by Carl Axel Lewin. That is where we actually ate lunch, inside of the old distillery building.

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Jeff is standing near a spiral staircase inside of the old distillery building at Kiala Manor.

It was a great lunch, and we both very much enjoyed our tour out to the historic Finnish countryside!

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Some old equipment inside of the old distillery building


1 thought on “August 29 Helsinki and Porvoo, Finland

  1. It’s great to have all the historic and background noted along side of the pictures. I am learning more about these places reading them. I like the bit on St. Nick.

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