as the ‘Daughter of the Baltic’, Helsinki
is sited at the arrowhead of a peninsula, surrounded by an archipelago
of 315 islands, perfectly placed between its 2 great trading cousins,
Stockholm and Moscow.
If the shape of Finland resembles a long-skirted woman with her
right arm punching the air, then Helsinki is her
The city’s population teeters just over half a million and
with its tallest building only twelve storeys high, Helsinki seems
almost provincial. However, statistics reveal that the city is one
of the fastest growing regions in the European Union.
Within the last decade, 100,000 inhabitants have moved into Helsinki
and by the year 2030 government statistics predict over 1.3 million
people will be living within the area.
In a European perspective, Helsinki is quite young (450 years),
yet it is Finland’s sixth oldest town. The Swedes, who extended
their empire into Finland in 1155, founded the city of ‘Helsingfors’
in 1550, when King Gustav Vasa needed a site for a strategic and
competitively placed trading port. It languished as a coastal backwater
until Imperialist Russia invaded during 1809. The
Grand Duchy required a new power base and Helsinki
was chosen because of its major trump card, the massive sea fortress,
now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, of Suomenlinna.
Modern Helsinki was born when Finland gained independence from Russia
during 1917. The new republic boomed throughout the 1920s and 30s,
when the architectural movements of the era, being Modernism
and Functionalism, were fathered by one of Finland’s
most famous sons, internationally acclaimed architect Alvar
Helsinki stepped on to the world stage when the Olympic
Stadium was completed in 1938, although the games were
postponed due to the war and were finally held there in 1952 and
it still holds the record as the smallest city in the world to host
the Olympic Games.
Finland became a member of the European Union in 1995,
securing Helsinki’s ties with Europe. The city’s distinctive
‘East meets West’ culture is symbolised
in the contrast between the cool, clean lines of Finlandia
Hall that rubs shoulders with the rich golden onion dome
of Uspenski Cathedral. The centre of the city,
the Neo-Classical mini St Petersburg built by German-born architect
Carl Engel, is easily explored on foot and most
of the main sights are within walking distance of the city centre.
The pace of Helsinki life varies with it's seasons. During the summer,
when temperatures rise to 18°C (64°F), the whole city comes
alive. The bars overflow onto the streets and throughout July and
August, the Finns revel in 20-hour long summer days. The Temperatures
can sometimes rise to as high as 28°C (82°F), a climatic
oddity that has been attributed to global warming.
In the winter, temperatures plummet to an average of - 5°C (23°F)
and Helsinki goes underground, becoming a creative hive of productivity.
These long, dark nights have led Helsinkiläiset (Helsinkians)
to be one of the world’s most ‘connected’ races
on the planet and 1 in 10 use the Internet daily, compared to about
1 in 50 in Britain. Perhaps it is the balance between these 2 climatic
extremes that conspires to make Helsinki one of Europe’s
most creative and technologically progressive