It’s time for #throwbackthursday and a story about the oldest city in Finland, Turku. Turku is famous for many things: its ice-hockey team (I am a fan, I admit), the local dialect and the Declaration of Christmas Peace of Finland that is held at the Old Great Square. Currently the city is the sixth largest in Finland and it always welcomes its visitors with open arms.
Turku: A Short History
Turku (in Swedish Åbo) is the oldest town in Finland and it was also the capital of the country until the capital was moved to Helsinki in 1812. The cathedral, one of the central sights of the city, was consecrated in 1300. The town was the religious centre of the eastern half of the Swedish kingdom until the 17th century. It was here that the first university of Finland was founded. The castle has interesting tales to tell, such as the events leading to Åbo Bloodbath in 1599. The city is also famous for the Great Fire of Turku in September 1827. The conflagration is the largest urban fire in the history of the Nordic countries – nearly 75% of the city was destroyed.
The city is known for its rich cultural life, and it boasts with many festivals and events in summertime. It was the European capital of culture in 2011 together with Tallinn, Estonia.
Spending a Day in Turku
We visited the old capital in July 2015. Our plan was to catch up with a friend but also to enjoy the summer in the city. As the ferry from Stockholm arrives really early in the morning (we talk about before 7 am), we had plenty of time for exploring the place on before meeting our friend. We walked from the harbour, along the Aura River to the city centre and the cathedral. During the walk we had the chance to admire some of the most famous sights in Finland, such as the museum ship Suomen Joutsen and the maritime museum Forum Marinum.
Another of the more well-known places in Turku is the Market Square. During our first visit it was a quiet place, the first coffee stands were just about to open and the birds were gathering there, excited at the prospect of getting fresh fish. The square hosts a busy market and it’s a focal meeting point. From there the cathedral is not very far away. If you have the chance, pop by the library.
The cathedral is awe-inspiring. Imagine that the building has been standing there for so many centuries, it has seen kings and tsars and presidents. It has survived many wars and conflicts. Imagine that in a country so small and unimportant they decided to build such a building! It was here that Mikael Agricola wrote and translates, thus creating the first rules of the written Finnish language.
At 10 am we were done with the sightseeing and ready to see our friend. Turku is actually a fairly small town and half a day is more than enough to see the main parts of the old city. We spent the rest of the day walking, talking and eating. On the same day people were celebrating Pride so we looked at the festivities for a while as well, while enjoying the sunshine in this Finnish summer city. One of the cosiest places in the city is the Old Great Square near the Cathedral. The buildings in the area are relatively new, having been built in mainly neo-classical style after the Great Fire.
How to Get There?
From Sweden one can cross the Baltic sea by ferry. The journey to Turku takes approximately 12 hours and the times are not very convenient: one arrives either very early or in the evening. The city is easily accessible from all major Finnish cities, either by train or by bus. There is an airport that has some international flights, mainly to and from Sweden and the Baltic countries. There are some holiday flights as well.