Infobox World Heritage Site
WHS = Fortress of Suomenlinna

State Party = FIN
Type = Cultural
Criteria = iv
ID = 583
Region = Europe and North America
Year = 1991
Session = 15th
Link =

Suomenlinna, until 1918 Viapori, (Finnish), or Sveaborg (Swedish), is an inhabited sea fortress built on six islands, today within Helsinki, the capital of Finland. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site and popular with both tourists and locals, who enjoy it as a picturesque picnic site. Originally named "Sveaborg" (Fortress of Svea), or "Viapori" as called by Finns, it was renamed "Suomenlinna" (Castle of Finland) in 1918 for patriotic and nationalist reasons, though it is still also known by its original name. It is an example of the Star Fort style of fortification.

Sweden started building the fortress in 1748 as a protection against Russian expansionism. The general responsibility for the fortification work was given to Augustin Ehrensvärd. The original plan of the bastion fortress was strongly influenced by the precepts of Vauban, the foremost military engineer of the time.

In addition to the island fortress itself, seafacing fortifications on the mainland would ensure that an enemy would not acquire a beach-head from which to stage attacks. The plan was also to stock munitions for the whole Finnish contingent of the Swedish Army and Royal Swedish Navy there. In the Finnish War the fortress surrendered to Russia on May 3 1808, paving the way for the occupation of Finland by Russian forces in 1809.

The Swedish era

Sweden started building the fortress in 1748, when Finland was still a part of the Swedish kingdom. Augustin Ehrensvärd (1710–1772) and his gigantic fortification work on the islands off the town of Helsinki brought the district a new and unexpected importance.

In 1703 Peter the Great had founded his new capital, Saint Petersburg, in the furthest-flung corner of the Gulf of Finland. In the approach to it he built the fortified naval base of Kronstadt. Russia became a maritime power and a force to be reckoned with in the Baltic Sea.

The situation posed a threat to Sweden; Russian naval units made skirmishes right up to the Swedish coast. Other European states were also concerned about developments, especially France, with which Sweden had concluded a military alliance. After lengthy debate the Swedish parliament decided in 1747 to fortify the Russian frontier and to establish a naval base at Helsinki as a counter to Kronstadt. The frontier fortifications were established at Loviisa (Lovisa).Fortification of Helsinki and its islands began in January 1748, when Augustin Ehrensvärd, as a young lieutenant colonel, came to direct the operations. A number of fortifications were also built on the Russian side of the new border during the 18th century and some of the existing Swedish ones were added to.

Following a pact between Alexander I and Napoleon, Russia launched a campaign against Sweden and occupied Finland in 1808. By the Treaty of Fredrikshamn in 1809 Finland was ceded from Sweden and became an autonomous grand duchy within the Russian Empire. The Swedish period in Finnish history, which had lasted some seven centuries, came to an end.

Sveaborg did not fight until the very last end in the hopeless war. The Russians easily took Helsinki in early 1808 and began bombarding the fortress. Its commander, Carl Olof Cronstedt, negotiated a cease-fire, and when no Swedish reinforcements had arrived by May, Sveaborg, with almost 7,000 men, surrendered. The reasons for Cronstedt's actions remain somewhat unclear; but the hopeless situation, psychological warfare by the Russians, some (possibly) bribed advisors, fear for the lives of a large civilian population, lack of gun-powder combined with their physical isolation are some likely causes for the surrender.

Under Russian rule

The long period of peace following the transfer of power was shattered by the Crimean War of 1854–56. The allies decided to engage Russia on two fronts and sent an Anglo-French fleet to the Baltic Sea. For two summers the fleet shelled the towns and fortifications along the Finnish coast. Bombardment of Suomenlinna (then known as "Sveaborg" or "Viapori") lasted 47 hours and the fortress was badly damaged.

After the Crimean War extensive restoration work was begun at Suomenlinna. A new ring of earthworks with artillery emplacements was built at the western and southern edges of the islands.

The next stage in the arming of Suomenlinna and the Gulf of Finland came in the build-up to World War I. The fortress and its surrounding islands became part of "Peter the Great's naval fortification" designed to safeguard the capital, Saint Petersburg.

It became part of an independent Finland in 1917, following the Russian Revolution.


No longer very practical as a military base, Suomenlinna was turned over to civilian administration in 1973. An independent government department was formed to administer the unique complex. At the time there was some debate over its Finnish name, with some suggesting that the old name "Viapori" be restored, but the newer name was retained. The military is still present on the islands, as part of the local community. The Suomenlinna garrison houses the Naval Academy ( _fi. Merisotakoulu) of the Finnish Navy. Suomenlinna also still flies the war flag, or the swallow-tailed state flag of Finland. The island of Pikku Mustasaari where the Academy is located is still a mostly closed military area.Suomenlinna is now one of the greatest tourist attractions in Helsinki as well as a popular picnicking spot for the city's inhabitants, and on a sunny summer day the islands, and in particular the ferries, can get quite crowded. A number of museums exist on the island, as well as the last surviving Finnish submarine "Vesikko".

Suomenlinna has always been much more than just a part of Helsinki — it is a town within the town. Nowadays there are about 900 permanent inhabitants on the islands, and 350 people work there all year round. The Naval Academy of Finland is located on one of the islands. This is one of the features that make Suomenlinna unique: the fortress is not merely a museum.

There is a minimum-security penal labor colony ( _fi. työsiirtola) in Suomenlinna, whose inmates work on the maintenance and reconstruction of the fortifications. Only volunteer inmates who pledge non-use of controlled substances are accepted to the labour colony.

For the general public Suomenlinna is served by ferries all year around, but a service tunnel supplying heating, water and electricity was built in 1982. From the beginning of 1990s it was modified so that it can also be used for emergency transports.

Suomenlinna has been known as an avant-garde of culture, the influence of which has affected the cultural life throughout Finland. Many buildings have been converted into artists' studios, which are let by the administration at reasonable rates, and there is an art school for children. The performances of the Suomenlinna summer theatre regularly draw full houses. But the easiest way to get acquainted with local culture is through the architecture of Suomenlinna. On the islands, styles from different periods form a harmonious whole. But as a monument to military architecture, the fortress is unique in the world.


* 1748: Building of Sveaborg (Fortress of Svea/Sweden - Swedish), later to be named Suomenlinna in 1918 (Fortress of Finland - Finnish), begins under command of Augustin Ehrensvärd.

* 1808: Suomenlinna surrenders to Russia without any opposition during the Finnish War.

* 1809: Treaty of Fredrikshamn: Finland becomes part of Russia.

* 1855: Crimean War: Anglo-French navy bombs Suomenlinna and causes substantial damage.

* 1906: Viapori Rebellion: Russian soldiers plan to depose the tsar.

* 1914 - 1917: A ring of ground and sea fortifications, called "Krepost Sveaborg", is built around Helsinki.

* 1917: Finland becomes independent after the Russian Revolution.

* 1918: Name "Suomenlinna" becomes official name of the fortress. Prison camp of Red rebels is located in Suomenlinna after the Finnish Civil War.

* 1921 Valtion lentokonetehdas (State Aircraft Factory) starts building aeroplanes and powered ice sleighs in Suomenlinna for the Finnish Air Force. In 1936 the factory moves to Tampere.

* 1973: Suomenlinna becomes civil administration area.

* 1991: Suomenlinna becomes UNESCO World Heritage site.

* 1998: Suomenlinna's 250th birthday.


The Suomenlinna district of Helsinki consists of eight islands. Five of the islands; Kustaanmiekka (which has most of the fortifications), Pikku Mustasaari, Iso Mustasaari, Länsi-Mustasaari and Susisaari are connected by either bridges or sandbars. The unconnected islands are Särkkä, Lonna and Pormestarinluodot.

The total land area is 80 hectares (0.8 km^2).

Instead of the normal Finnish postal addressing scheme (consisting of a street name and house number), the addresses consist of letter code for island and then a house number. For example, "C 83" is house #83 in Iso-Mustasaari (code C). The postal code for the Suomenlinna district is 00190.

In Fiction

George R. R. Martin wrote a short story about the surrender of Viapori, "The Fortress", when he was a college student. It was published in his 2007 volume of short stories, Dreamsongs.


The Suomenlinna "Kuninkaanportti" ("King's gate") entrance gateway, bearing a plaque with Augustin Ehrensvärd's famous quote "Eftervärld, stå här på egen botn och lita icke på främmande hielp" ("Progeny, stand here on your own foundation and do not rely on foreign help"), was Erik Bruun's illustration motive for the 1000 Finn mark banknote. However, it is not actually possible to see the gate exactly as it appears on the banknote. Bruun stylised the illustration a little to better show off the famous gate.

ee also

* List of fortifications
* List of castles in Finland
* "Vesikko" - a submarine anchored at Suomenlinna
* Walhalla-orden
* [,24.990549&spn=0.009829,0.031586&t=h&z=15| Link to satellite imagery of fortifications at Suomenlinna, via Google]

External links

* [ Suomenlinna official site]
* [ Photographs from Suomenlinna]
* [ Fortifications of Suomenlinna]
* [ More information on Suomenlinna]
* [ Panoramic view of the King's Gate in Suomenlinna]

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