Turku's face born of history
There has been a permanent settlement and marketplace at the mouth of the River Aura since prehistoric times, as revealed by the fire sites and dwelling foundations found by archaeologists. Much of the early history of the city remains shrouded in the twilight of time, but 1229 is accepted as the year in which it was established. According to some sources, it was then that the bishop's seat was transferred to its present place. Later in the 13th century the Latin name of the city, Aboa, appears in a Papal bull. The cathedral was already being built. Construction of Turku Castle, which was to serve as a centre of temporal power, began in 1280. Both of these mighty buildings are still central features of the Turku cityscape.
Turku Castle has managed to defy the savage teeth of time without crumbling. Its environment has been changed by both land uplift and infilling to create the surrounding harbour area in the early years of the 20th century. The main castle was originally built on an island, at a time when the sea level was 3.5 metres higher than today.
Turku Castle is Finland's oldest Medieval castle. It was built mainly in five stages between 1280 and 1560. It enjoyed its heyday in 1562-63. Duke Johan and his consort presided over a glorious court life without parallel in the history of Finland, but the merrymaking lasted only eight months. A power struggle ended in victory for Johan's brother Erik XIV and his fleet. Johan and his lady were taken away to prison in Sweden, along with most of the treasures that had adorned the castle. Little besides quiet was left in the castle, which never regained its former splendour.
As a strategically and administratively important place, the castle became the centre of events on several occasions in later centuries as well. However, it gradually grew dilapidated. The main castle, which had been left unheated, suffered severe fire damage when it was heated up in honour of a visit to Turku by King Gustavus II Adolphus of Sweden in 1614.
Now skilfully restored, the castle and its halls are still an impressive sight.
Fires make room for the new
Turku Cathedral was consecrated in June 1300. It stands in the oldest - 13th-century - part of the city. The building suffered major fire damage in 1318, during a Novgorodian plundering expedition. A repair and extension project began around the middle of the 14th century and continued into the 15th. The height of the steeple was increased after fires in 1681 and 1827. Finland's most important Medieval place of worship now serves as the cathedral of the Evangelical-Lutheran Archdiocese of Turku.
Huge conflagrations have laid waste to large tracts of Turku from time to time, but they have also presented an opportunity to develop the city. The fire in 1827 was the biggest in Finnish history. It destroyed three-quarters of the buildings in the city and five-sixths of the dwellings. It left a virtual tabula rasa on which to implement a completely new general plan, with wider streets intersecting each other in a gridiron pattern. On Luostarinmäki („Monastery Hill”) 17 wooden houses survived the flames. The area now contains a charming artisans' museum, where time seems to have stopped two centuries ago.
Where the cathedral and the castle tell their tales of history with their towering structures, the Aboa Vetus Museum takes the visitor below the ground. It is housed in a palatial home built right in the centre of the city by the business mogul Hans von Rettig and eventually passed into the ownership of the Matti Koivurinta Foundation. The work of converting it into an art museum began in the early 1990s. This was done by lowering the basement floors and adding on new spaces. That was when - quite by chance - an archaeological treasure was uncovered.
First a stone-paved street from the 17th or 18th century along with cellar vaults were found, then town buildings and structures nearly 500 years old. The discoveries led to the establishment of a unique archaeological-historical museum, which is built around original discoveries that have been left in situ. Aboa Vetus also uses advanced information technology to cast light on the colourful life that people led in bygone centuries.