Helsinki is a bustling modern city without the medieval heritage that we have been steeped in for the last few weeks. Their history and development parallels our own in the US. Streets have the feel of energetic faviorite US cities like Chicago–nineteenth and early twentieth century buildings interspersed with contemporary and very recent new structures.
Construction of the sea fortress Suomenlinna beginning in 1748 turns a scruffy cluster of fishing shacks into a WPA project that literally laid the foundation for Helsinki.
In 1748 Finland was part of the Kingdom of Sweden. The Swedes and the French cooperated to fund and build a “Gibraltor of the Baltic” to protect against the growing threat from Russia. They brought in craftsmen and builders and their families and also hired locally. Because the project heads (French and Swedish) needed to improve the health and stamina of their workers, they also developed housing, food sources like gardens and stock. In fact the same mill the split timber for the houses and ground grain for bread. So once up, the fortress serves a base in King Gustav III against Russia in 1788. All is well until Russia has another go at ’em and 1809 Finland becomes part of Russia and the fortress houses a Russian garrison for the next 108 years. In 1918 the fortress is returned to Finland and serves as a prison while they throw out the occupying forces. The fortress has also served as a Finnish Military Academy and now is a UNESCO World Heritage site paying tribute to a particularly tricky kind of military architecture prevalent in France and unique to this site.