Kings of sea signals
Viewed from western Europe, Finland is like an island. Its eastern edge is the land border, well over a thousand kilometres long, that is shared with Russia, but away to the west and south stretches a sea in which lies a uniquely beautiful archipelago between Finland. For all its scenic attraction, however, the Finnish coastline with its perilous shallows and skerries has always been a tough challenge for seafarers. Some parts of it have a well-deserved reputation as ship graveyards.
Finland's first illuminated sea beacons were temporary bonfires. History records that as early as the 16th century piles of logs were burned along the coast to help ships find their way. The first proper lighthouse in Finland was erected on the small island of Utö on the southern edge of the archipelago off the south-west coast in 1753 and another on the Porkkala Peninsula west of Helsinki in 1800. The lightkeepers and their families lived on bleak, windswept little islands until the development of automatic systems made a permanent human presence no longer necessary. Finland's last lightkeeper left his lonely post for ever in 1987.
Now, in our age of satellites and advanced electronics, passenger and cargo ships no longer need lighthouses to enable them to navigate.
The dozens of lighthouses along the Finnish coast and the many smaller and unilluminated tower-like beacons are the most visible monuments to the history of navigation in Finnish waters - and still important reference points for tens of thousands of boaters. They have also become important tourist attractions for many a small community to exploit. Their noble architecture and the inventive technology of their illuminant systems are fascinating.