Turku – the (b)oldest town in Finland
As the original capital and oldest town of Finland, Turku knows its role. It's to bring new trends and ideas to Finland, and to cherish the cultural history that has accumulated in the city for almost 800 years.
Technically, Turku was never founded, but some kind of starting point can be tracked to the year 1229. That was when the Pope of Rome sent us a bulla: the bishop's seat was to be moved down the River Aura, to the place that is nowadays marked with the big white Cross of Koroinen.
To give you a picture of the whole story of Turku, we put together a timeline presenting the most important years and events.
Turku on a timeline
The bishop's seat was transferred from Nousiainen to Turku. The city's story began.
Building of the Turku Castle started. For centuries, the castle served as a plain and humble military fortress. In the 1500's, fancy court life arrived with Duke John's newly wedded Polish aristocrat wife Catherine Jagiellon and her entourage. The renaissance floor was built and decorated, and castle life was vibrant for the short time of John's and Catherine's reign.
Btw, at this time, Finland was part of part of Sweden, and thus ruled by the Swedish king.
Turku Cathedral was consecrated. Today, the shape and details of the building have greatly changed – but some parts still remain from the 1300's.
A talented young priest named Mikael Agricola initiated the Finnish Reformation in Turku, following in the footsteps of Martin Luther. The New Testament was translated into Finnish by Agricola in 1548, which started a new era in our history as Finnish as a written language began to evolve. Mikael Agricola also wrote the first ABC book in Finnish, generating numerous new words and concepts to build up our culture. That's why Agricola is called the Father of the Finnish written language.
The Academy of Turku was founded by the governor, Pietari Brahe. This started the tradition of academic education in Finland.
Due to the European power games between Napoleon and Alexander I, Finland was detached from Sweden and handed over to Russia. At this point, Turku was officially named as the capital of Finland.
After just three years, the capital of Finland was moved from Turku to Helsinki. How come? The czar of Russia thought Turku was too close to Sweden, both mentally and geographically. This was a bitter time for Turku – so bitter that some say we never really got over it.
More bad news. The Great Fire of Turku destroyed the city like never before. After the fire, though, we got a new city plan by the famous architect C.L. Engel. The Turku city map is still based on the plan of 1827.
Finland got its independence. Woop woop!
The sports legend Paavo Nurmi ran Finland onto the world map, as they say. The Flying Finn was from Turku, so we honour him in several ways: a statue, of course, but also Paavo Nurmi Stadium and the Paavo Nurmi Festival, consisting of several events from world-class athletic field games to the magnificent Paavo Nurmi Marathon.
Turku served as the European Capital of Culture. The year was a success, bringing dozens of events to the city – and leaving Turku culturally refreshed afterwards.
Take a walk or cruise on the River Aura
When you want to experience Turku as a whole, take a walk from Turku Cathedral to Turku Castle. Along the four-kilometre walking route along the beautiful River Aura, you'll see most of the things that make Turku what it is: A small town with the soul of a metropolis.
Another wholesome Turku idea for a nice summer day: hop on a Låna picnic boat and cruise on the river with your friends or family.
PS. Do buy a Museum Card from Visit Turku. It costs 38€ and allows you to enter 12 museums in Turku.
Check out our top Turku tips!
Current exhibitions: A Few Words About Women until 8th March 2020
Standing tall over the mouth of the River Aura is the 700-year-old Turku Castle, one of, if not the most famous landmark in Turku. The building is an impressive sight, but equally impressive and absolutely worth getting to know are the stories hidden within, such as those from the renaissance life of Duke John, for example. Inside the ancient, confined stone corridors, the imagination easily begins to grow. Are the dips in the windowsill really from the elbows of the duke’s imprisoned brother, Eerik XIV? Is it true that wild bears guard his room? Was it Turku Castle where the disappearing elves were seen?
Take a guided tour or explore the castle through the Timeline exhibition, which illustratively presents the history of Turku Castle.
In Turku, there are two buildings with a history that dates back to the 1200’s. One of these is Turku Castle, and the other is Turku Cathedral.
Turku Cathedral was consecrated in 1300 and is still today both the national shrine of Finland as well as the location of a thriving home to Our Lord. In addition, it is also a compact representation of Turku’s history and the oldest building in Finland, where under the floor and in the chapel rests the prominent figures of Knut Posse and Karin Månsdotter. In the southern gallery is a dedicated cathedral museum, which details its history back to the Middle Ages.
In Turku on 4th September 1827, a fire roared out from the residence of burgher Hellmann, and by the end of the day three quarters of the city had burned to the ground. One of the few areas that avoided disaster was the area of wooden homes known as Luostarinmäki. The collection of houses is now a museum and a place to admire a near 200-year-old milieu in the eastern part of central Turku.
The houses of Luostarinmäki that still stand in their original places, once belonged to deprived families. Tour round the creaky homes and the artisans craft demonstrations from yesteryear, and for a moment you’ll forget that we live in the 2010’s.
Föri is Turku’s own little city ferry, which travels across the River Aura between Wechterinkuja (on the west side) and Tervahovinkatu (on the east side). Föri’s name comes from the Swedish word “färja”, or in English “ferry”. The treasured ferry has be transporting Turku residents since 1904, and, truth be told, you cannot say you’re truly from Turku before riding for free aboard Föri.
Föri is a fun way to move between this side and the other (ask a local which is more important!). The ‘cruise’ lasts about two minutes, enough time to admire the beautiful views of the River Aura. The ride is completely free from the moment you jump on board.
Funicu…what? This newest of Turku's public transport vehicles has sparked a good deal of hilarity and attention on social media. This cable-operated semi-vertical passenger car, which will take people up the Kakolanmäki hill, is something of a modern cousin of the Föri river ferry. Some genius came up with the name “hill Föri” for this newcomer. You can be among the first to test the Funicular - service is scheduled to begin before the end of March. The ride is free, and the vehicle is accessible. On top you can admire the view and check out the Kakola area, which has undergone some improvements.
This spring, Turku is spoiling lovers of contemporary art with a host of excellent exhibitions. For example, there’s good reason to make a small cultural trip this Easter to the ‘Hogwarts’ of Puolalanpuisto park, a.k.a the Turku Art Museum. There on display you’ll find one of this spring’s most interesting art tips, the exhibition of Hannaleena Heiska.
The walls of the Turku Art Museum are adorned with Heiska’s magnificent paintings and drawings, depicting fantasy-like characters, reflecting the darkness of metal music along with romantic kitsch imagery, brought together in fascinating synergy. The mystical world the art creates both fascinates and becalms so comprehensively, that only eating a traditional Easter staple like Mämmi can help bring you back to down to Earth.
The Aboa Vetus & Ars Nova museum complex is always enjoyable. The M Kitchen & Café on the ground floor will entice your hunger for culture with its luscious slices of cake, after which you can go and check the ruins of subterranean Turku and the art collection upstairs. Tip: it's also a good idea to pop into the museum shop next to the lobby to check out the brand-new selection of goods. Warning: the cute post cards and local design products are really hard to resist.
A museum event worth keeping in mind is the Kipaten kiltaan ja kontaten kotio round on Friday, 22 March, which examines the wet history of Turku’s drinking culture. The enjoyable tour culminates in a beer tasting at the Mathildedal village brewery, which is most suitable for a Friday evening.
When you start to get tired of shopping centre chain stores, Turku has something more unique to offer: PUF is a shop selling Finnish designer brands.
Shopping here is like a being in candy store, with all the beautiful clothes and interior design products, it’s hard to choose. If you want your clothes to be durable and ecological, as well as different from the high street trends, then PUF is definitely the place for you. While you’re here, pick up a stylish poster of the impressive Turku Cathedral.
KUI Design's super quaint boutique is truly worth a visit, and where else could you find the exclusive, Turku-themed Tälpual ja Toispual boxers? When, years ago, the then recently graduated designers, started to wonder about their chosen their field and finding employment, they asked themselves the question: KUI (how).
Most of KUI Design’s textile products, from backpacks to jumbo cushions, are still stitched together by hand on the opposite side of the river. Here, the enthusiasm for new creations and happy atmosphere is transferred to the customers.
And now, stop! Café Art is a place where it's definitely worth grabbing a hot take-away coffee. The wonderful art café is like a piece of Paris in the middle of Turku. The freshly roasted blends of Turun kahvipaahtimo are on everyone's lips and the baristas conjure up special coffee drinks with great skill. No wonder the Barista of the Year title has been bestowed on Café Art seven times already.
The walls are covered with art and the display case is bulging with delicacies. Perhaps a plump cinnamon roll might be something to take along! The ones available at Café Art are just right - full-bodied on the inside, just like a Finnish cinnamon roll at its best. But let's have some coffee at least to start with; our trip is just beginning!
The Kylämäki Village in Kurala presents more than one historical era in same attraction. The north slope of Kylämäki is the location for an Iron-Age cemetery dating from the 7th Century, whilst in the Iso-Kohmo house you can see what a 1950’s farm used to look like. Unlike many other museums, here you’re actually encouraged to touch and explore the artefacts!
Roaming the courtyard you’ll find farm animals, which have lived in Kylämäki since the 1950’s, including horses, sheep and chickens. The atmosphere is fantastic and so is picnicking outside, but you’ll also find a café in the village.
Occasionally, passers-by look up to see the statue of Paavo Nurmi greet them as they pass from the Auransilta Bridge to the riverside along Itäinen Rantakatu. The landmark is a reminder of its designer, the most famous sculptor of his day, Wäinö Aaltonen. Continue his story on the same street to the Wäinö Aaltonen Museum, where Aaltonen’s four-metre tall Finnish mermaid in the lobby welcomes you.
The artist himself participated in the design of the museum building, complete in 1967, making the building a literal work of art. The spaces have different looks and feels. Inside, you will see works from the main collection donated by Aaltonen, as well as temporary exhibitions of contemporary art – explore out the current programme online.
The Suomen Joutsen is a Turku icon, whose rightful place on the shores of the River Aura has taken some twists and turns. But no longer, as the historic frigate is now in the eyes of most, pictured in the foreground of Maritime Centre Forum Marinum.
Other ships moored to the River Aura alongside the Suomen Joutsen, include the mining ship Keihässalmi as well as the gunboat Karjala. Among the museum ships are smaller and more specialised vessels, such as a 19th Century steam-powered tugboat as well as police and ambulance boats from the 1900’s. And that’s not all – for an appetiser of Forum Marinum’s diverse fleet of museum ships, as well as their whereabouts, visit:
In 1925, Turku businessman Alfred Jacobsson and his wife Hélène Jacobsson prepared a will, in which they specified that their home be preserved as a museum after their deaths. And so it came to be, and now the home of the Jacobsson’s is a detailed museum to the spirit a bygone world operating in the lovely time warp on Piispankatu Street.
The Ett Hem museum’s splendidly wealthy artefacts and details of a bourgeoisie milieu is open to visitors in summer and at Christmas time as well as for groups upon reservation. Also, have a look through the museum’s different guided themed tours.
Located on the River Aura riverside, an old red-ochre building is easily missed if walking past unaware of the treasures hiding within. If well informed, then step inside and into another world. Qwensel House is a presentation of gentry life, with a story that begins in the 17th Century. In another part of the building, the Pharmacy Museum introduces the history of the pharmacy business. The artefacts on display fascinate the imagination, from herbs hanging from the roof to frogs preserved in glass jars.
The quaint Cafe Qwensel operates in the small courtyard, where a coffee break will feel like a leap back in time. Wonderfully idyllic and highly recommended.
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