Ships tell the Turku tale
Ships have been sailing into and out of the mouth of the River Aura for at least 850 years; in other words, since before the city of Turku came into being. The earliest mention of Finland's oldest port is found in the chronicles of Al Idris, an Arab geographer who lived in Palermo, in 1154. He called it Abuwa (which resembles both the Latin, Aboa, and Swedish, Åbo, names for the city). The town that grew up beside it became the gateway to Finland. Lively shipping traffic and monuments reflecting the colourful history of seafaring - of which the most handsome is the nearly century-old three-masted frigate Suomen Joutsen - are essential elements of the city's image.
The Forum Marinum maritime centre in the harbour on the banks of the river is due for completion in 2001. It is a charming place that offers visitors a trip to a world whose history has been shaped by every kind of craft from wooden boats to huge ocean-going ships. Touring the exhibition, one almost begins believing what Plutarch exclaimed over 2000 years ago: Navigare necesse est, vivere non necesse - To navigate is necessary, to live is not.
Forum Marinum presents the full spectrum of seafaring
Forum Marinum is much more than a museum; it is also a rich treasure chest for researchers and boat-repairers. Its operations revolve around the collections of Åbo Akademi University's Maritime History Museum and the Turku Seafaring Museum, in addition to several museumised ships. Åbo Akademi has contributed 500 shelf-metres of material including the Nordic countries' biggest collection of logbooks, 50,000 photographs and thousands of sea charts and ship drawings. There are also many sets of drawings for old pleasure yachts. The latter material is of great interest to boatbuilders.
The Ministry of Defence has given the go-ahead for the Naval Museum to open in the new maritime centre. Turku and Turku Castle were the main base of Finland's naval forces from the mid-14th to the beginning of the 17th century. Warships have been built in the city since the Middle Ages. Two pocket battleships and three submarines were built at the Crichton- Vulcan shipyard before the Second World War. A great deal of historical material, including what is believed to be the world's largest collection of sea mines, has been put on display at an old naval base in the Pansio district of the city. The main concentration at Forum Marinum is on real artefacts, drawings and pictures, but visitors can also try their hand at defusing a dangerous horned mine in a computer simulation. Sea mines were an important part of Finland's coastal defences during the Second World War.
Museum ships add to a handsome cityscape
Built in France in 1902, the Suomen Joutsen ("Swan of Finland") is the maritime centre's flagship. The Government acquired the 96-metre, steel-hulled frigate in 1930 for use by the Navy as a sail trainer. During its active career with the Navy, the vessel made six long ocean voyages. Four decades ago it was moored at one of the quays along the River Aura and began a new lease of life as a vocational institute for seamen. In 1988 it was acquired by the City of Turku and museumised. It has now been transferred to the ownership of the Forum Marinum Foundation.
The three-masted barque Sigyn was built in Gothenburg in 1887 and is the oldest sailing ship in Finland. Now, after a complete overhaul, she has returned to her mooring place beside the Aura. The museumised warships there are the minelayer Keihässalmi, built in 1957, and two diesel gunboats, which are on display in a their own pavilion. Alongside the warships, the last steam tug to have been in service in Finland, the S/S Vetäjä V, looks almost cute. She was launched in 1891 and put in an impressive stint of work until 1983. Nor is she completely retired even now, because in summer she is still available for charter trips.
"This is the only maritime centre in the Nordic countries with its own jetty areas in the middle of a working commercial port," says project manager Pekka Paasio. "Forum Marinum is also a maritime information centre and a meeting place for institutions, researchers and amateur enthusiasts with an interest in seafaring. When an old vessel or object is being restored or repaired, the work is done here on these premises in full view of members of the public. Old working methods, about which plenty of information exists, have aroused great interest."
Turku shipyards: cradle of luxury cruise vessels
Turku's "New Shipyard" - first opened in 1737 - is anything but slumbering as a museum. Its present owner Kværner Masa-Yards Oy has 2,300 people busy at work building luxury cruise liners, giant car ferries and many other kinds of vessels requiring special know-how.
As the second millennium was drawing to a close, the yard completed the world's biggest cruise vessel, the 3,840-passenger Voyager of the Seas, in October 1999. Other major projects in the past decade included the cruise ferries Silja Serenade and Silja Symphony, the first ships to have a promenade running right down the middle for their full length. These ferries, now in service between Finland and Sweden, are a familiar sight in the archipelago of Turku.
The Masa-Yards facility in Piikkiö near Turku represents new thinking and design. It produces cabins and bathrooms ready for installation in ships, oil-production and accommodation vessels, and even hotels. Using prefabricated modules of this kind speeds up shipbuilding and reduces costs. The modules can even be installed as fully-furnished units. A modular cabin and a bathroom identical with those in a luxury liner now cruising the Caribbean are on display at Forum Marinum.
Webs spread east and west from the port
The volume of traffic through the Port of Turku is growing clearly in nearly all categories. Only the passenger volume - 4.2 million in 1999 - remained more or less unchanged from the previous year. The total cargo volume grew by 4.5% and passed the four million tonne mark. Exports grew faster than imports. Container traffic was up ten per cent, as was the ro-ro volume, within which train traffic recorded a dizzying 27 per cent rise. A total of 3,272 vessels called at the port, substantially more than the previous year.
Its excellent location makes Turku Finland's leading TEN (Trans European Network) port. The city is an important node in the E 18 highway project, which is intended to provide a traffic link between Scandinavia and the St. Petersburg region and onwards to the east. There are six ferries in each direction between Turku and Stockholm every day. In addition to that, there is at least one daily service between Turku and Continental Europe. Regular services to Scandinavia, Belgium, Germany and Britain are an important part of the port's work. Excellent telematics and development projects dealing with the whole of Europe have helped make Turku one of the most competitive ports in international competition. For centuries Turku has been the main link binding Finland with the rest of Europe. Passenger services to Stockholm and Continental Europe all year round have over a century of tradition behind them and are still among the port's core functions.