Suomenlinna, until 1918 Viapori (Finnish), or Sveaborg (Swedish), is an inhabited sea fortress built on six islands (Kustaanmiekka, Susisaari, Iso-Mustasaari, Pikku-Mustasaari, Länsi-Mustasaari and Långören), and which now forms part of the city of
Helsinki, the capital of . Finland
Suomenlinna is a UNESCO World Heritage site and popular with both tourists and locals, who enjoy it as a picturesque picnic site. Originally named Sveaborg (Fortress of Svea), or Viapori as called by Finns, it was renamed Suomenlinna (
) in 1918 for patriotic and nationalistic reasons, though it is still also sometimes known by its original name. In Swedish-speaking contexts, the name Sveaborg is always used. Castle of Finland
The Swedish crown commenced the construction of the fortress in 1748 as protection against Russian expansionism. The general responsibility for the fortification work was given to Augustin Ehrensvärd. The original plan of the bastion fortress was strongly influenced by the ideas of Vauban, the foremost military engineer of the time, and the principles of Star Fort style of fortification, albeit adapted to a group of rocky islands.
In addition to the island fortress itself, seafacing fortifications on the mainland would ensure that an enemy would not acquire a beach-head from which to stage attacks. The plan was also to stock munitions for the whole Finnish contingent of the Swedish Army and Royal Swedish Navy there. In the Finnish War the fortress surrendered to
Russia on May 3, 1808, paving the way for the occupation of by Russian forces in 1809. Finland
The Swedish era
In 1703 Peter the Great had founded his new capital,
Saint Petersburg, in the furthest-flung corner of the Gulf of Finland. In the approach to it he built the fortified naval base of Kronstadt. Russia soon became a maritime power and a force to be reckoned with in the Baltic Sea.
The situation posed a threat to
, which until that time had been the dominant power in the Baltic. Russian naval units made skirmishes right up to the Swedish coast. Other European states were also concerned about developments, especially Sweden France, with which had concluded a military alliance. After lengthy debate the Swedish parliament decided in 1747 to fortify the Russian frontier and to establish a naval base at Sweden as a counter to Kronstadt. The frontier fortifications were established at Loviisa (Lovisa). Helsinki
The fortification of
and its islands began in January 1748, when Augustin Ehrensvärd, as a young lieutenant colonel, came to direct the operations. A number of fortifications were also built on the Russian side of the new border during the 18th century and some of the existing Swedish ones were added to. Helsinki
There were two main aspects to Ehrensvärd's design for the fortress: a series of independent fortifications on each of the linked islands and, at the very heart of the complex, a dockyard for the navy fleet. Initially the soldiers were housed in the vaults of the fortifications, while the officers had specially built quarters integrated into the baroque cityscape composition of the overall plan. The most ambitious plan was left only half complete, a baroque square on Iso Mustasaari partly based on the model of Place Vendôme in
. As the construction work progressed, more residential buildings were built, many following the shape of the fortification lines. Ehrensvärd and some of the other officers were keen artists and painted oil paintings presenting a view of life in the fortress during its construction, and giving the impression of a lively "fortress town" community. Paris
Following a pact between Alexander I and
Napoleon, Russia launched a campaign against Sweden and occupied in 1808. By the Treaty of Fredrikshamn in 1809 Finland Finland was ceded from and became an autonomous grand duchy within the Russian Empire. The Swedish period in Finnish history, which had lasted some seven centuries, came to an end. Sweden
Sveaborg did not take part in the 1808 war until the very end. The Russians easily took
in early 1808 and began bombarding the fortress. Its commander, Carl Olof Cronstedt, negotiated a cease-fire, and when no Swedish reinforcements had arrived by May, Sveaborg, with almost 7,000 men, surrendered. The reasons for Cronstedt's actions remain somewhat unclear; but the hopeless situation, psychological warfare by the Russians, some (possibly) bribed advisors, fear for the lives of a large civilian population, lack of gun-powder, combined with their physical isolation, are some likely causes for the surrender. Helsinki
Under Russian rule
After taking over the fortress the Russians set about on an extensive building program, mostly extra barracks, but also extending the dockyard and reinforcing to the fortification lines. The long period of peace following the transfer of power was shattered by the Crimean War of 1853–56. The allies decided to engage
After the Crimean War extensive restoration work was begun at Suomenlinna. A new ring of earthworks with artillery emplacements was built at the western and southern edges of the islands.
The next stage in the arming of Suomenlinna and the
Gulf of Finland came in the build-up to World War I. The fortress and its surrounding islands became part of "Peter the Great's naval fortification" designed to safeguard the capital, . Saint Petersburg
The fortress became part of an independent
in 1917, following the Russian Revolution. After the Finnish Civil War, a prison camp existed on the island. Finland
No longer very practical as a military base, Suomenlinna was turned over to civilian administration in 1973. An independent government department (The Governing Body of Suomenlinna) was formed to administer the unique complex. At the time there was some debate over its Finnish name, with some suggesting that the old name Viapori be restored, but the newer name was retained. The presence of the military on the islands has been drastically scaled down in recent decades. The Suomenlinna garrison houses the
(Finnish: Merisotakoulu) of the Finnish Navy. Suomenlinna also still flies the war flag, or the swallow-tailed state flag of Naval Academy . Finland
Suomenlinna is now one of the most popular tourist attractions in
as well as a popular picnicking spot for the city's inhabitants, and on a sunny summer day the islands, and in particular the ferries, can get quite crowded. In 2009, a record 713 000 people visited Suomenlinna, most between May and September. A number of museums exist on the island, as well as the last surviving Finnish submarine, Vesikko. Helsinki
Suomenlinna has always been much more than just a part of
— it is a town within the town. Nowadays there are about 900 permanent inhabitants on the islands, and 350 people work there all year round. This is one of the features that makes Suomenlinna unique: the fortress is not simply a museum, but a living community. Helsinki
There is a minimum-security penal labor colony (Finnish: työsiirtola) in Suomenlinna, whose inmates work on the maintenance and reconstruction of the fortifications. Only volunteer inmates who pledge non-use of controlled substances are accepted to the labour colony.
tunnel supplying heating, water and electricity was built in 1982. From the beginning of 1990s, the tunnel was modified so that it can also be used for emergency transport.
Suomenlinna has been known as an avant-garde location for culture. In the mid-1980s the Nordic Arts Centre was established on the island. Several buildings have been converted into artists' studios, which are let by the administration at reasonable rates. During the summer there is an art school for children. The performances of the Suomenlinna summer theatre regularly draw full houses.