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Suomenlinna, Gibraltar of the North

August 31 , 2008

Written September 14

Dear Friends and Families,


We have recently become interested in the UNESCO "World Heritage" program. Some new friends talked about how they use it to guide where they travel and the side excursions they make while even on business trips. While I'm sure we've seen a few, maybe we'll start "a collection".

If so, today was a good start. Suomenlinna is a short ferry ride from downtown Helsinki. We had a nice, sunny day and the fortress was almost welcoming as we passed the bright yellow "Naval Academy".

After the rush from the boat, we wandered around for several hours, saw the remains of the old town, the old stone buildings, the old guns, etc. The history of this place is integral to the history of Finland* and anyone interested in 18th and 19th Century European history needs to make a visit.


In our few hours on the five islands, we touched each piece of the history. Most of what remains of the 18th and 19th centuries are the stone walls and military buildings. We strolled past the old guns and even an old submarine. We also walked above the huge dry dock and saw a few boats being worked on there and elsewhere on the islands. The church is still in service, both for religious services and as a lighthouse.

Our pictures:

So, one World Heritage site down, about a thousand to go. This could get hard!


John and Marianne




Package Tours:http://www.suomenlinnatours.com/frontpage


UNESCO World Heritage: http://whc.unesco.org/

Suomenlinna page: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/583

Suomenlinna History - The short version (I actually started a longer version, but discovered several websites that do it better. This is just enough to explain where we were.)

What we know as Finland, started out as part of Sweden. In 1748 the Swedes decided to build a fortress, called Sveaborg ("Sweden's Fortress in Swedish) or Viapori (Finnish), on the eastern side of the empire to guard against encroachment by Russia. It worked until 1808 when the Russians actually attacked. The Commandant surrendered in days, for reasons that are apparently still debated.

For most of the next century, Finland was a Russian Duchy and Viapori was a large naval base and army garrison for the Russians. In 1854, France and Great Britain allied themselves against Russia, primarily to prevent Tsarist expansion in the Crimea. They succeeded in destroying much of the fortress, but never landed.

Viapori, and all of Finland, remained Russian until the Communist Revolution in 1918, when, after a bloody civil war, Finland became independent and the Helsinki harbor fortress became "Suomenlinna", Finland's Fortress. Suomenlinna remained a military post until 1973, when only the Naval College was kept by the Ministry of Defense, the rest being turned over to the Ministry of Education.

Today, Suomenlinna is a major tourist attraction, including restaurants, live theater, and a half-dozen museums.



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