Turku (3 – 5 July 2013)
I managed to get a ticket to Turku at a special price of just over €11. It was so incredibly cheap that I thought I must have overlooked some fine print somewhere. But this was not Ryanair and I got myself to Turku at that unbelievable price.
Turku was Finland’s largest city for many years and was briefly Finland’s capital. In fact the name “Finland” originally applied only to the area around the city. It was the Russians who shifted the capital to Helsinki because Turku was felt to be too close to the Swedish. Turku is also the oldest city in Finland, it is where the first Finnish University was established and the seat of the most important bishop in Finland.
I hate to have to say this because the people I had encountered in the city were wonderful, but Turku’s glory exists nowadays only in history books.
Or at the museum. The story of Turku can be read and heard at the Aboa Vetus. This is a history museum located in the oldest district of Turku and tells the story of that area. It is also an archaeological site housing the remains of that old district.
I remember two things I had learnt at the museum. The first one was that the streets back in the days were really quite filthy and people, especially the ladies, had to wear special boots to protect their shoes when they went out. I was also a little surprised to learn that the Swedish language enjoyed a much higher status than the Finnish language at least in the mediaeval period. I suppose that is to be expected since Finland was under Swedish rule then and so the language of administration was Swedish. In fact, Finnish did not really have a written form until the 16th century.
In the same building as the Aboa Vetus is the Ars Nova. This is a museum of contemporary art. I think I am a little too old-fashioned for that sort of museum although I did visit it.
The art museum that was more palatable to me was the Turku Art Museum. I think I am just more accustomed to paintings.
There was a very nice guide at the museum who took me around the building to show me the art works and tell me a little about them. It was brilliant. I really enjoyed my visit because of him. He even showed me the new part of the museum which was at the final stage of its construction. About the art works, I learnt from him that there was an interest in Japanese woodblock print art, or ukiyo-e, in Finland during the late 19th century and this art form influenced the Finnish painters from that period. The style of “The Defence of the Sampo” does seem to bear some resemblance to the ukiyo-e style.
The guide also reminded me that Finland is of course much more than the cities and since it was summer I should explore the parts of Finland outside the cities. I really wish I had more time for that, but I was on quite a tight schedule since I had to meet F in Calgary on the night of 6 July. That simply meant that I had to go back to Finland in the future.
Perhaps the most important landmark of Turku is its cathedral. This is the mother church of the Finnish Lutheran Church.
I think the interior looked more promising than the exterior.
It seemed sort of strange at first, but the political centre in the city was actually built quite far away from the religious centre. The Turku Castle was built a few kilometres near the mouth of the river Aura. I had been too used to old cities that placed both the secular and religious authorities very close together. It is now a history museum.
Despite its age, Turku unfortunately no longer looked all that historic anymore. The people I had encountered there though were really nice to me. I also really liked how the sky still looked relatively bright at midnight. It was something very new to me. The long days of summer in Turku induced me to taking late dinners but reminded me that the sun would always be shining somewhere. That was a lovely and hopeful thought.