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

10 Fun Facts about Turku

What do you know about the city of Turku? Don’t worry if you don’t know much, you can start with these fun facts about Turku!

What do you know about the city of Turku?
Don’t worry if you don’t know much, you can start with these fun facts about Turku!

Fun Facts about Turku

1. Turku is Located by the River Aura

Turku is located by the Aura River, on the shore of the Baltic Sea, and is surrounded by a beautiful archipelago. So water is an important part of Turku.

2. Turku is Finland’s Oldest Town

Turku is the oldest town in Finland. It’s not known exactly when Turku was founded, but in 1229 the Pope Gregory IX moved the episcopal seat to the area of the present-day Turku. This is the year when the history of Turku “officially” begins.

3. Name Turku means a Trading Place

Turku’s name derives from the ancient word tǔrgǔ, which means a trading place.

4. Turku is also known as Åbo

Turku is a bilangual city. About 5 percent of the population of Turku speaks Swedish as their first language. Is Swedish Turku is called Åbo. The Swedish name is quite accurate, because in Swedish å means “river” and bo is a verb “to live”.

5. Turku is Finland’s 6th Biggest City

With the population of 195 000, Turku is Finland’s sixth biggest city.

6. Turku is Finland’s Former Capital

Before Helsinki became the capital in 1812, Turku was Finland’s first capital.

7. Turku Cathedral is Finland’s National Shrine

Turku Cathedral is Finland’s national shrine. It was consecrated as a cathedral in 1300.

8. Turku Castle is the Best-Known Landmark of the City

Turku castle is probably the best-known building in the city of Turku. It is almost as old as the city itself. The construction of the castle began in the late 13th century. During its history, the castle has been a defense building, a residential building, an administrative building, a prison, an army barracks and a storage building. Nowdays Turku Castle is a popular museum.

9. City Almost Disappeared in the Great Fire

Throughout its history, there have been many fires in Turku. One of the worst happened in September 1827, when most of the city burned down. This disaster is known as the Turun Palo (the Great Fire of Turku).

10. The Christmas Peace is declared in Turku Every Year

The declaration of the Christmas Peace is one of Finnish Christmas traditions. It is declared in Turku every Christmas Eve at noon. This Christmas tradition has continued almost uninterrupted since the 1300s.

City of Turku
Turku Cathedral
Image by Suomen Ilmakuva / City of Turku

Only in Finland – National Sleepy Head Day

National Sleepy Head Day is a yearly celebration of sleeping late…Well, not really, unfortunately. It is actually quite the opposite

National Sleepy Head Day, or “Unikeonpäivä” as it is called in Finland, is a yearly celebration of sleeping late…Well, not really, unfortunately. I wish there would be such a day, but this one isn’t it.

The idea of the is actually quite the opposite. It punishes those who sleep late. Cruel, isn’t it. Traditionally, the last person still in bed is being awaken by loud sounds or by throwing water on him/her. Luckily no one really does this (anymore). People are let to sleep, or at least those who are on vacation.

So if no one follows the old traditions, what is the meaning of this day?
Well, it isn’t completely forgotten. The day is still celebrated in one place in Finland. In the city of Naantali.

Origins of the Celebration

The origin of the Sleepy Head is the story of Seven Sleepers of Ephesus. According to legend, the seven men went hiding in the caves and slept for hundreds of years. In Finnish almanac this Christian holiday has been mentioned since 1652. But the religious roots of the celebration have since been forgotten and the celebration is nowadays quite informal.

How the Sleepy Head Day is Being Celebrated

The city of Naantali is where all the celebrations takes place. The first written mention about the celebrations are from a news article from 1880s, where it said that celebrations went as usual. So we can assume that the tradition goes way back much further. It is known to have been celebrated in 1920s, but then it was forgotten for decades. Until being revived in 1950s.

Nowadays, big part of the celebration is the unveiling of the Sleepy Head of the year, who is usually a Finnish celebrity. The Sleepy Head is unveiled in the morning of July 27th, at 7 am. The sleepy head is often “woken up” by dropping him/her in the water. The “sleeper” also receives a traditional red and white pajama which he/she gets to wear the whole day while celebrating with others.

The Sleepy Head Day has become quite big festival in Naantali. Celebrations start couple of days before, and they typically include shows, concerts and a fair. If you are visiting Naantali, or you a nearby at the time, it is definitely worth a visit. Check Naantali’s website for more information.

Sleepy Head being dropped in the water

Visit Naantali
Images by Visit Naantali