History of Helsinki
Founded in 1550 as a rival to the Hanseatic city of Reval (today: Tallinn) by King Gustav I of Sweden, the town of Helsingfors struggled in its infancy.
The fledging settlement was plagued by poverty, wars, and diseases. For a long time it remained as a small low-key coastal town, overshadowed by the more thriving trade centers in the Baltic region. Construction of the Sveaborg (today also: Suomenlinna) sea fortress helped to improve its status, but it was not until Russia defeated Sweden in the Finnish War and annexed Finland as the autonomous Grand Duchy of Finland in 1809, that Helsinki began to truly change.
To help reduce the Swedish influence, Tsar Alexander I of Russia had the capital moved from Turku (also Åbo) to Helsingfors. The Academy of Åbo, the only university in the country, was also relocated to Helsinki in 1827, eventually becoming the University of Helsinki. This move consolidated the city's new role and the following decades saw unprecedented growth and development for the city, creating the prerequisites for the birth of a modern world class capital in the 20th century. This transformation is highly apparent in the downtown core, which was rebuilt in neoclassical style to resemble St. Petersburg. As elsewhere, technological advancements such as railroads and industrialization were a key factor behind the growth.
In the 1918 Finnish Civil War, most of Helsinki fell to the Red Guards along with rest of southern Finland after brief fighting in January. The Senate was relocated to Vaasa, although some senators and officials remained hiding in the capital. After the tide of war turned against the Red forces, German troops fighting on the same side with the Finnish White Guard recaptured Helsinki in April. Unlike Tampere, Helsinki suffered relatively little damage in the war. After the White victory many former Red soldiers and collaborators were confined in prison camps across the country. The largest, having approximately 13,300 prisoners, was located on the former naval fortress island of Suomenlinna in Helsinki. Although the civil war left a considerable mark on the society, the standard of living in the country and the city began to improve in the following decade. Renowned architects such as Eliel Saarinen created utopistic plans for Helsinki, but they were never realized in their full extent.
In the aerial bombings of the Winter War (1939-40) and the Continuation War (1941-44) Helsinki was attacked by Soviet bombers. Most intense air raids took place in the spring of 1944, when over two thousand Soviet planes dropped over 16,000 bombs in and around the city. However, due to successful air defense the city was spared from the large-scale destruction that many other cities in Europe under similar scale bombings had suffered. Only a few bombs hit populated areas.
Although much of the first half of the 20th century was a violent period for Helsinki it continued to steadily develop. Modern postwar urbanization of the 1970s, which occurred relatively late in the European context, tripled the population in the metropolitan area, making the Helsinki metropolitan area one of the fastest growing urban centers in the European Union in the 1990s. The late growth has often been attributed for the sparse distribution of population in Helsinki - being the second sparsest populated capital in Europe behind Brussels - making the structure of Helsinki quite different from other capital cities in Europe.
Modified: 2007-03-04 11:40:34+01