Humans have lived in what is now modern-day Finland for some 10,000 years, which makes the history of Finland a long one. The earliest settlers, who were hunters and gatherers, slowly gave way to more agriculturally-minded societies, though hunting and fishing remained key components of the overall economy. Between the years 1,500 B.C. and 1,200 A.D., the people living in Finland mixed heavily with other cultures from both the Baltic region and the Scandinavian area, which undoubtedly helped to shape Finnish culture as we now know it. During those times, Finland was far from becoming a country, and it lingered on for centuries, its people most likely aware of the simmering tensions between Sweden to the west and Russia to the east.
By the thirteenth century, Sweden began to take interest in the lands that now pertain to Finland, so much so that they claimed them for themselves. During this period in Finland history, Swedish was the official language, and it was mostly priests, the local courts, and peasants who maintained the Finnish tongue. The city of Turku, which is found in southwestern Finland on the Baltic coast, became the administrative hub of the newfound Swedish territory, and the Bishop of Turku was more or less its leader. By 1280, the Turku Castle was built, and it became the main administrative center in the Finnish lands. The castle still stands to this day, thanks to renovations, and it continues to be the most important castle in the country, especially when it comes to the history of Finland. In the year 1300, the Turku Cathedral was dedicated, and though it was damaged by the city’s 1827 fire, it too has been restored and can still be visited to this day. Catholicism was the main religion in the early days of Swedish rule in Finland, though Finnish culture would eventually change.
The history of Finland in the sixteenth century
was influenced by the fact that monarchs in Scandinavia
began to adopt Lutheranism in place of Catholicism. This
period was known as the Reformation, and it affected much
of northwestern Europe. Finnish culture evolved in many
ways in the sixteenth century, and a push towards higher
learning eventually resulted in the founding of Finland’s
first university. The Royal Academy of Turku was founded
in 1640, and it appeared that Sweden was making quite
a lot of progress in its new lands. The possibility of
invasions from Russia certainly weighed on the minds of
the Swedish crown and those living in Finland at the time,
however, and other castles were built across the land
to help protect Sweden’s main Finnish settlements.
Between the years 1696 and 1697, however, a significant
event occurred in Finnish history, halting much of the
progress that Finland was making. Famine struck, and it
struck hard. One-third of the people in Finland perished,
and the 1700s would not bring much better times. You can
learn more about these early times in Finland history
at the Turku Castle’s historical museum. It is one
of the most highly-visited museums
in Finland, and for good reason.
Twice in the 1700s, Russia invaded and occupied Finland. It wasn’t until 1809, however, that Russia assumed a more lengthy period of control. It did so after winning the Finnish War, which lasted almost two years. Sweden handed over its eastern third to Russia, which included Finland, and again, the culture of Finland changed significantly. The Finnish lands became the Grand Duchy of Finland, and in 1812, Helsinki, which had been nothing more than a small coastal town under Swedish rule, became the new capital. It replaced the old, unofficial capital of Turku. Helsinki rapidly grew after becoming the capital of the Grand Duchy of Finland, and among the major city landmarks that were built during that time are the Helsinki Cathedral and the Uspenski Cathedral. It is interesting to note the predominantly Russian look of the Uspenski Cathedral, which gives testament to the era in Finland history when Russia ruled the land.
Finnish autonomy was constantly restricted by Russia in the 1800s, which only helped to fuel the fire of rebellion. Aiding in the Finnish plight for freedom was the fall of the Czar of Russia, which occurred in tandem with the 1917 Communist Revolution. With a weakened Russia reeling from its blows, the Finnish senate took the opportunity to declare independence. They did so on December 6, 1917, and an ugly civil war came soon after. A period of relative peace followed, though Finland history again saw Russia attempt a rematch, so to speak. A war in northern Finland broke out in 1939, resulting in the loss of some Finnish lands to Russia, and German troops were called upon by the Finns to help keep the Russians at bay. After growing tired of the Germans, Finland again had to fight, this time to rid the northern Lapland region of German forces. Upon retreating, the Germans laid waste to much of Finnish Lapland. As such, there are barely any surviving edifices in Lapland of any real historic value.
The recent history of Finland is a much more peaceful one. Nowadays, Finns enjoy a quality of life that is hard to match and the Finnish culture is alive and well. Tourism continues to increase in Finland, as more and more people become aware of all that Finnish culture and travel have to offer. So, the next time you think of visiting Europe, consider Finland. You won’t be disappointed if you come here. This European Union member country welcomes visitors with open arms, and there are so many fun things to do in Finland, including learning more about its history at its various regional museums.