A few years ago I was lucky enough to travel to Finland for an internship studying marine seagrass ecology through the San Diego State University Research Foundation with Åbo Akademi University! While there, I was able to explore the beauty of the wonderful country and one of the incredible places I was able to see was the Fortress of Suomenlinna in Helsinki. It was an incredible experience to see the ruins of something that old, way older than anything I have seen before! On the day that we boarded the ship across the water, it was cold and raining and simply added more to the experience of the place.
“Suomi” means Finland and “Linna” means castle. It was constructed in 1748 and has defended the Kingdom of Sweden, the Russian Empire and most recently, the Republic of Finland. Also known as Sveaborg, it sits on the Susiluodot islands near the Helsinki harbor, originally built by the Swedish and later falling to the Russians in 1808 who expanded the base, added barracks and an Orthodox church and renamed it Viapori. Finland achieved independence in 1918, taking the fortress and renovating it, naming it Suomenlinna, “The Castle of Finland.” It was used to defend the country during WWII.
Stepping off of the ferry was like stepping into a whole new world, another time and place. Most of the fortress was renovated back to its original form and you could just sense the history coming out of that island. We, my adviser and I, decided to wander on our own and try to take in all that we could. Luckily, almost everything was written in Finnish, Swedish, French, English and Russian, so we could navigate ourselves pretty well without a guide.
We started by circling around the outer perimeter of the grounds, as most of the middle had been transformed to tourist attractions and museums, and the outer walls were still very original. We went up first, following the reinforced edges surrounded by turrets, battlements and some of the coolest underground storage facilities I have ever seen, disguised from the air as mounds of dirt. We weren’t able to go inside as the doors were very unsteady, but what a cool design!
We then moved downward into the tunnels below the walls. Most of them were open to the outside, as you can see from the image above, and were only used for shelter and to remain hidden. However some of them veered off into the ground, some down into the ground, until it either caved in or was blocked off and deemed “condemned.” We still went into most of them. And I have to say that throughout the entire experience, the feeling I felt in the tunnels was the eeriest out of the entire grounds. You could almost sense how many feet had traveled those corridors. How many battle were fought in those tunnels and how many people lost their lives over the centuries that it has been standing The fortress has seen so many souls pass through it, and I definitely got a sense of that down there.
After leaving the tunnels, we started inward to the inner grounds of the fortress. This is where you could tell a lot of renovations occurred, but this is also where we were able to get a better sense of the history of the place. Travelling under decrepit archways and around stone walled buildings, we were able to see just how much these old structures have really stood the test of time. What continued to get me was the fact that everything had a thick layer of dirt and vegetation on it. It gave it all such an old, antique look about it, and really showed it’s age.
We spent the good part of the day just roaming. Looking at every stone, every mound building, walking through every tunnel and reading every sign that we could understand. Even though it was raining, it didn’t seem to faze us. As I said before, it actually added to the atmosphere of the whole place. The clouds and mist looming overhead just gave everything the authentic look that I only would have expected coming from an island like this. The history of the place still has me in awe and I can’t believe I was lucky enough to be able to travel all the way to Helsinki, Finland and witness the greatness that was the Fortress of Suomenlinna!