History of Turku…What Happened Here?

Turku is Finland’s oldest town and former capital of Finland. Here are some things you might want to know about the history of Turku.

Turku is Finland’s oldest town and former capital of Finland. It is not known the first people settled in the area of Turku, but it is known to have been a trading place a lot longer before it became a town. Did you know that the name Turku comes from an ancient word tǔrgǔ, which means a trading place. Here are some more facts about the history of Turku.

10 Things to Know about the History of Turku

1229 – Turku is Founded

Turku (known by it Swedish name Åbo) is mentioned for the first time by the Pope Gregory IX in 1229. And this is when the history of Turku began.

1276 – Finland’s First School

Finland’s first school, the Cathedral school (Turun katedraalikoulu in Finnish) is believed to be founded in 1276. It was opened to educate the priests who worked for the church.

1280 – Turku Castle

The construction of the Turku Castle began around 1280, and continued for hundreds of years.

1300 – Turku Cathedral

Turku Cathedral, another famous building in Turku, was consecrated as a cathedral in 1300. The church building that you can visit today isn’t the same however. The first church building was quite small and made of wood, which unfortunately burned down later. The construction of a stone church was started about in the middle of the 14th century.

1543 – The First Book in Finnish

The first book in Finnish language, the Abckiria (alphabet book) by Mikael Agricola was published in Turku in 1543.

1640 – Finland’s First University

Finland’s first university, the Royal Academy of Turku (Turun Akatemia in Finnish) was founded in 1640.

1775 – First Finnish Newspaper

The first newspaper in Finnish language, the Suomenkieliset Tieto-Sanomat is published in Turku in 1775. Here is a link to the first edition.

1809 – The Capital of Finland

When Finland was part of Sweden, Turku was Finland’s unofficial capital. But when Finland became the autonomous Grand Duchy, Turku’s status as capital became offical. Unfortunately, Turku got to keep its status only for three years. In 1812 Helsinki became the capital of Finland.

1827 – The Great Fire of Turku

The Great Fire of Turku (Turun Palo in Finnish) in 1827 almost destroyed the whole town. It was (and still is) the most destructive city fire in the history of the Nordic countries.

2029 – Turku Turns 800

Turku will celebrate its 800th birthday in 2029.

History of Turku
Image by Carl von Kugelgen, 1823, Finnish Heritage Agency

Finland’s Long Road to Independence

Finland isn’t a very old country. The decleration of independence was signed on December 6th, 1917. That’s when Finland became independent. But how Finland became independent, is a bit longer story.

Finland isn’t a very old country. Independence Day has been celebrated in Finland just over a hundred times since 1919. Before Finland became independent, it was first part of Sweden for hundreds of years and then part of the Russian Empire in 1809-1917. So it took a long time for Finland to become independent. But what things paved Finland’s long road to independence? Here are some of the things which strengthened the feeling of nationalism and made independence possible.

1543 – First Book in Finnish

Mikael Agricola published the first book in Finnish language. It was basically an ABC book called the the Abckiria. Mikael Agricola also translated the New Testament into Finnish and thus laid the foundation for the Finnish written language.

1809 – Autonomy

When Finland was joined to Russia in 1809, Russian Emperor Alexander I granted Finland an extensive autonomy creating the Finnish state.

1809 – Finnish Senate

Finland’s new governing body, the Senate was established in 1809. The members of the Senate were Finns. The Grand Duke of Finland was the Russian Emperor, whose representative in Finland was the Governor General.

1809 – Diet of Four Estates

Finland’s Diet of the Four Estates (nobles, clergy, burghers and peasants) met for the first time in the city of Porvoo in 1809. Then there was a long break, until they began to meet regularly since 1863. The Finland’s Diet of the Four Estates passed over 400 pieces of legislation.

1835 – Finnish National Epic

Elias Lönnrot created the Finnish national epic Kalevala. The book consists of short ballads and lyrical poems collected from oral tradition. Kalevala was first published in 1835.

1848 – Finnish National Anthem

The Finnish national anthem was performed for the first time in 1848.

1860 – Finnish Currency

Finland adopted its own currency, the markka, in 1860.

1863 – Finnish becomes Official Language

In 1863, Finnish became Finland’s second official language. Until this point, Swedish had been the only official language in Finland, although only a small minority of the Finland’s population spoke Swedish as their first language.

1878 – Finnish Army

In 1878, it was made possible for Finland to form its own army.

The First Era of Oppression (1899-1905)

Finland’s long road to independence took a step back in 1899-1905. In the first era of oppression, Russia tried to gain stronger control over Finland. In 1900 it was decreed that Russian would be Finland’s third official language, and in 1901 it was decreed that Finns would serve in the Russian army, while Finland’s own army should be disbanded. But Finns struggled hard against these Russification attempts.

1905 – National Strike

The 1905 Revolution in Russia eased the situation in Finland. And after the national strike, the Emperor was forced to restore the situation that had prevailed before 1899.

1906 – Finnish Parliament

One result of the strike was the complete reform of the Finland’s parliamentary system. It was proposed that a new legislative body would replace the old Estates. The Emperor approved the proposal and the Finnish Parliament was established. With one big step Finland’s Diet of the Four Estates was replaced with a unicameral parliament.

1907 – First Parliamentary Elections

The first parliamentary elections in Finland were arranged in 1907. No longer was the right to vote dependent on social status or gender. Everyone over the age of 24 were allowed to vote. This meant that Finnish women were among the first in the world to have the right to vote and to stand for election.

The Second Era of Oppression (1909-1917)

Unfortunately, the new Parliament soon lost its legislative power. During its first years, the Parliament was dissolved by the Emperor several times. And in 1910, all important legislative work was transferred to Russia.

1917 – Finland becomes Independent

The turmoil caused by the First World War and the Russian Revolution made it possible for Finland to separate from the Russian Empire. In March 1917, Finland obtained its autonomy again. And in November, the Finnish Parliament declared itself the supreme organ of the state.

Few weeks later, on December 6, Finland declared its independence. The Bolshevik government, which had seized power in Russia after the October Revolution, recognised Finnish independence on December 31, 1917.

This is Finland
Parliament of Finland
Prime Minister’s Office
Finnish National Agency of Education
Image by Johanna Moorhouse / Parliament of Finland

Why President Relander was Called “Traveling Lauri”…and other nicknames of Presidents of Finland

Most of the former Finnish presidents have earned beloved nicknames from the people. Do you know who was “Manu”, or why Relander was called “Traveling Lauri”?

Most of the former presidents of Finland have earned beloved nicknames from the people.
Do you know who was “Manu”, or why Relander was called “Traveling Lauri”?

Pehr Evind Svinhufvud was “Old Man Pehr”

P.E. Svinhufvud was the president of Finland from 1931 until 1937. He was very popular president and was known simply as “Ukko-Pekka” (Old Man Pehr).

Lauri Kristian Relander was “Traveling Lauri”

L.K. Relander was the president of Finland from 1925 until 1931. He made several state visits to neighboring countries and hosted many visits to Finland. As in those days tourism wasn’t as common as it is today, Finns were very interested to know about his trips. This earned him his nickname “Reissu-Lasse” (Traveling Lauri).

Urho Kaleva Kekkonen was “Urkki”

Urho Kaleva Kekkonen was the longest serving president of Finland from 1956 until 1982. He is often referred to by his initials UKK or remembered simply as “Urkki”.

Carl Gustav Emil Mannerheim was “Marski”

C.G.E Mannerheim was most famous Finnish military leader and the president of Finland from 1944 until 1946. Everyone in Finland knows who is “Marski”.

Mauno Koivisto was “Manu”

Mauno Koivisto was the president of Finland from 1982 until 1994. He was known as “Manu”.

Image features president L.K. Relander in 1930s.
Photographer Aarne Pietinen. Image by Finnish Aviation Museum.

Once Upon Time in the North

Find out what happened in Finland…before it became Finland. This short story gives you an introduction to Finland’s history.

Would you like to hear an exciting story about what happened in Finland before it became an independent country? We’ll take a seat and let me tell you about it!

Disclaimer! Although the story in based on true events and includes lots of interesting facts, some details might have been added for artistic reason. And now, let the story begin…

The Land of Ice

Once upon a time, in a country far far away, everything was covered in ice. This might sound like a typical February weather in Finland. But no, situation was much more worse 15,000 years ago. Back then everything, and I really mean everything was covered by a thick layer of snow and ice. The layer was so thick, that we could call it a glacier. This was during the Last Glacial Period (about 115,000 – 12,000 years ago).

Because of the unpleasant living conditions, Finland wasn’t very popular living place. The Finns of the future were still looking for their own place were to settle. They just had to wait for the better days.

Slowly but surely ice started to melt off and finally, about 10,000 years ago, the land was free of ice. And what a land it was! Green forests, blue lakes, clean water and fresh air. Finns thought that this was just perfect for them, so the first people started to settle about 9,000 years ago.

The prehistoric Finns were living in small groups. They were hunting, fishing, gathering resources…just minding their own business. Perhaps sometimes dealing with traveling merchants or hiding from angry Vikings. But they weren’t dreaming of kingdoms, they just wanted to live in peace.

However, the western neighbors (Swedes) thought that Finns were uncivilized and kindly decided to educate them. Swedes started to make regular trips (=crusades) to Finland as early as from the 12th century. This process integrated Finland as part of Sweden for the next 600 years.

Under The Swedish Rule

When Swedes were in control, they usually took the best and highest paid jobs in Finland. This naturally annoyed the Finns a bit. But living under Swedish ruling wasn’t all that bad. Swedes brought their legal and social systems to Finland, new cities were established, and Turku became the capital of Finland.

Thanks to Swedes, there are nowadays some cool buildings in Finland, like stone castles in cities Turku, Hämeenlinna and Savonlinna, and sea fortress Suomenlinna on the coast of Helsinki.

Unfortunately, the castles weren’t built originally just as tourist attractions. They were needed to protect the borders. Conflicts between Sweden and Russia were common. Finns were expected to take part in fighting, and quite often Finland was also the battleground.

The fighting over Finland ended in 1809 after Russia won the Finnish War (1808-1809) and Finland became a Grand Duchy of Finland.

The Grand Duchy of Finland

Going under Russian rule was almost a perfect deal for the Finns. At the time Russia was ruled by the Emperor Alexander I, who decided that carrot works better than a whip, and wanted to make Finns his allies. Alexander I gave Finland autonomy and thereby created the Finnish state.

Finland wasn’t just a part of Russia, it was now an autonomous Grand Duchy. Under Russian rule, Finland established its own parliament and adopted its own currency (Markka). Business and industry started to develop. Finland was no longer just as a land of village idiots, but a highly developed part of Russia.

However, things took a turn for worse at the turn of the century. Demand for social reform and risk of war in Europe put pressure on Russian emperor. In this time of turmoil, Russia tried to have a tighter control over Finland. Naturally, Finns protested this as much as they could.

The 1905 revolution in Russia helped situation in Finland also. Finland got its own parliament in 1906 and first elections were held 1907.

Towards Independence

The Russian Empire collapsed after the October Revolution in 1917. This was the perfect moment for the Finns to have freedom as well. Finland finally declared independence on December 6th in 1917. What happened after that? Well, that is another story to tell…