The island fortress of Suomenlinna, a Unesco World Heritage Site, is hugely popular among tourists and locals alike. Fifteen minutes by ferry from Helsinki’s Market Square, its 80 hectares form an ideal destination for an excursion lasting several hours or a whole day.
You can walk the cobblestone paths, admire the coastal landscape of the Finnish capital, have a picnic by the water, go for a swim, check out the museums, watch crisscrossing ferries and sailboats, or visit the various cafés and restaurants.
We’ve gathered a quick list of Suomenlinna trivia to whet your appetite.
Did you know?
- The island receives 700,000 visitors every year. It is home to six museums and the seat of the Finnish Naval Academy. Its strategic geographical position means that it sometimes used to be known as Gibraltar of the North.
- Suomenlinna has about 850 registered inhabitants, and several hundred other people work there throughout the year. Eight kilometres of walls surround its buildings and barracks. The embankments contain more than 100 cannons, recalling the times when the place was a defense outpost.
- The fortress of Suomenlinna forms one of Finland’s seven Unesco World Heritage Sites. (The others are Old Rauma, Petäjävesi Old Church, the Verla Groundwood and Board Mill, the Sammallahdenmäki Bronze Age Burial Site, part of the Struve Geodetic Arc and the Kvarken Archipelago.)
- The fortress was used as a prison after the Civil War that afflicted Finland in 1918, in which the right-wing Finns (Whites) eventually defeated the pro-Communists (Reds). More than 8,000 prisoners were held within its walls in lamentable conditions. Around 1,500 of them died, either executed or unable to survive the harsh circumstances. At the end of that year, a general pardon freed the remaining prisoners.
- Fantasy author George R.R. Martin of the Song of Ice and Fire saga, the basis for internationally successful television series Game of Thrones, wrote a short story about the surrender of the fortress, published in 2007 in the collection Dreamsongs.
- Internationally known artists such as Finnish rock legends Hanoi Rocks and Franz Ferdinand have recorded at Suomenlinna’s Seawolf Studios.
- The last surviving Finnish submarine, Vesikko, which operated during the Second World War and sunk the Russian merchant shop Vyborg, is moored at Suomenlinna and is open to the public.
By Antonio Díaz, July 2012