Finnish Roadtrip: Turku Castle (day 1)

The Turku Castle or Turku linna is the top attraction to see in Turku. It is a well preserved medieval fortress and one of the oldest buildings in Finland. It was founded in 1280 on the banks of the Aura River, after the south of Finland became part of Sweden. Its has been attacked, extended and renovated over the centuries. It has served as a defensive fortress, luxurious residenital palace, prison, administrative centre, granary, garrison, and lastly as a museum since 1881.

To get there we travelled by car, but you can also take the bus from the Market Square in Turku, which delivers you straight to the castle. The current prices are: Adults 12 €, Children (7–15 yrs) 5 €, free for younger children and discounted rates for students, pensioners, families, groups etc. They offer guided tours, which are currently an additional 3 €. We took the guided tour and it gave us a great overview of the castle history. They only take you through the medieval part of the Main Castle, which I have detailed below. Just note that the tour won’t take you through every single room. Each room does have text panels and there are also a couple of museum exhibitions, which you can visit. When we enquired about the tour, they weren’t too keen on us doing it with our small daughter. However, she found it interesting to wonder through the rooms and wasn’t too much of a nusiance. Other than that there is a restaurant and shop on the grounds, which we didn’t get a chance to see. We arrived quite late and did the last guided tour of the day at 4:10pm, before visited the exhibitions. We also didn’t see the Bailey, which has more exhibitions.

If you would like to see more this castle without leaving your home, you can actualy do a virtual tour. It gives you great panarama views inside the varies rooms in the main castle, bailey, courtyard, etc.

Turku Fortress

The photos below include the exterior of the fortress, the castle courtyard (bailey) and the main castle. During the Middle Ages, the castle looked more like an island, as it surrounded by a moat, which joined to the River Aura. However, the keep (fortified tower, within castle) was built in the early 15th century and the bailey was built towards the end of the 15th century.  The bailey’s hey day was during the 1600’s, when it served as the Governor-Generals office and was the centre of regional adminstration. It later served as a prison until 1891. Today, it exhibits the history of the Turku Castle, Children’s Castle and model rooms which are decorated in different eras. We didn’t get a chance to see this part of the Turku Castle, but you can see it on the virtual tour, that I mentioned above

The main castle is seven levels and is built from grey stone. The bottom level were built through the Middle Ages and the spaces are dimly light with low ceilings. The upper level were built later in the Renaissance period, so they are more spacious, bright and lite with natural light. There have been not extra modifications since the Renaissance era, so much of its character stems from this period. It’s gold age was during 16th century under the reign of Duke John of Finland and Catherine Jagiellon.

We began our tour of the main castle, from the reception area. The guide took us upstairs to show us a diarama of the castle in its current form, since the 16th century. The green roof building is the main castle, which is where we would be exporing on our tour. Within that building is an L shape courtyard, which is where were standing (in the photos above), between the grey stone walls.

The Porter’s Lodge

The next room we entered is the Porter’s Lodge on the fourth level of the main castle. During the Middle Ages, this room had a direct view of the castle and there was a window where the door to the Jordon’s Chambers its today. There was a control mechanism in this room for the lattice gate (to gateway) and the drawbridge. This was the only room that could be access from the gateway, via a staircase. The beautiful wall murals were painted in 1530, to celebrate King Gustav Vasa’s visit to the fortress. These were the best preserved murals we had come across on this tour.

Sture Church

In the next room was the Sture Church, which is the last monument in the castle to the Catholic period. It was built in the 1480s, by the order of Regent Sten Sture the Elder, when the most extensive renovations of the Middle Ages were taking place. The walls were adorned with 12 crosses, to celebrate the Apostles, as well as the coat of arms of Sten Sture and his wife Ingeborg Tott (on the alter wall). In the back corner of the room tehre is a piscina, which was used to wash vessels used for Mass. During the 18th and 19th century this space was used for storage for grain and weaponry, after the court left the Main Castle. Today, it is used to exhibit the sculptures of the saints, from the Museums collection.

The Gaolers’ Room

One level down on level 3, we came to the next space, the Gaoler’s room. It had perfectly polished wood from top to bottom and side to side and didn’t seem like much of a torture chamber. However, under the floor lays the prison cell, where prisoners would be detained. One famous occupant was Jaakko Ilkka, who was one of the leaders of the Cudgel War (1596-1597). Although this room is quite bright today, during the Middle Ages it didn’t have any windows, except for a small slit in the wall.

The Guest Room

The next room is the Guest room, which is currently housing a small exhibition. It was previously the space where vistors to the castle were accomodated. It is located near the entrance of the castle courtyard, so that guests could freely come and go. It was only furnished with benches and it had a large furnace to heat the room and the upper floors.

The Old Guard Room

Besider the Guest room, was the Old Guard room. Today this room is filled with models of the castles various construction stages from the 13th century to today. The castle began as a small fortircatio on a rocky island, surrounded by sea water. By the end of the 13th and early 14th century, a two-storey residential building was built inside the fortress, with a three-storey palace extention. During the middle of the 16th century the Main Castle received a new Renaissance floor, for the Duke John. However, a fire damanged the Main Castle in 1614 and the entire court had to move into the bailey. By the 18th-19th century the castle became a base for the Swedish and Russian armies, storage and prison. It was lastly renovated again at the end of the 19th century to become a museum.

Medieval King’s Hall/State Room

Back up on level four we came to the Medieval King’s Hall, which was Finland’s most important secular room from the 14th to the middle of the 16th century. Both Finland and the rest of the kingdom has been governed from this very space and many celebrations were held here. Nearly every Medieval Swedish ruler has graced this hall. This room has large gothic windows, which open out to the courtyard. There are two small rooms within this room. One is a medival privy (toilet) and the other was a storage space

The Youth’s Quarter

Above on level 5 is the Youth’s Quarters, which was the very first room to be converted in the Renaissance Style in the 1530s. The valuted ceiling was replaced with a flat ceiling and window openings were enlarged to let more light in and make the room seem more spacious. Open fireplaces and tiled stoves were also added to provide more heat. John, the Duke of Finland and son of King Gustav Vasa , resided here between 1556-1558 while the renovation to the residential floor was being completed. After it was used by the children of Duke John and his mistress, Karin Hansdotter.

The Ladies’ Parlour

Next we arrived at the Ladies Parlour, which was a workroom for the women. It is located in the West Tower, which was contructed in the early 14th century and until the early 1580s it was only accessable from a gangway mounted on the outerwall. This room served as an entrance this floor (third) and upper levels, via a spiral staircase. This room has a beautiful large bay window with a benhc, which was added in 1585. Beside the window there is a labyrinth motif, carved on the wall. Supposely, it was meant to travel evil spirits that entered the room to protect its occupants.

The Scriptorium

On the same level, was the Sciptorium, which was a workroom for the castle scribe. The oldest ledger that would have probably written in this room, was from the middle of the 16th century. It told of everyday life, renovations and how the storerooms were used. The recesses in the walls were used as bookshelves. This room was later used as a guest room and some of the names of the guests have been recorded on the wall.

The Stone Chamber & The Great Guard Room

Next we went up to level four and first entered the small room, the Stone Chamber. This was the bailiff’s chamber, where the bailiff levyed taxes and acted as an assistant to the lord. Below this room is a medieval storeroom/pit dungeon. We continued into the Great Guardroom, which is a large room built in the 15th cenutry. During the Middle Ages it was was the gathering place for the castle garrison. Today it is a temporary exhibtion for various castle objects.

The Castle Church

Next we went up level six to see the new Renaissance style floor. The Castle Church was built during the 1550s, to serve as a residence for Duke John. Originally, it was a the Duke’s banquet hall, however after the fire of 1614 it furnished and conscrated as a church in 1706. This church served both the castle residents and local from the region. The church was destroyed during the war in 1941 and has seen been restored to its likeness from old photographs. It is still used today and is a popular wedding church.

The Vestry

Beside the church is the Vestry, which was the bedroom of Duke John. It was considered the most imporant room in the castle. The Duke also recieved imporant guests in there. It was converted into a vestry after the church as consecrated in 1706

The King’s Hall

The next room was another great hall in Renaissance style. This style was more spacious, had large windows, repetitive patterns on the ceiling and floor. During the 16th century it was known as the Duke’s Hall and the people of the court dined here on weekdays. It was later served as an armoury in the 18th century, but today it again serves as a banqueting venue.

The Queen’s Hall

Beside the King’s Hall is the equally beautiful Queens Hall. During the 16th century it was known as the Duchess’s Hall, as it was used by Catherine Jagiellon and her caught. Back then the walls and ceilings were panneled, fabrics hung from the ceiling, large tapestries lined the walls and rugs covered the floor.

The Queen’s Chamber

The Queen’s Chambers was the bedroom of Duchess Catherine Jagiellon. It was richly furnished with a canopy bed made of damask, drapes and rugs. Today it looks to be a banquting venue.

The Queen’s Dressing Room

Beside the Queen’s Chamber is the dressing room of Catherine Jagiellon. She brought many fashionable dresses from Spain, whch were hung on beams and kept in chests. She had 113 skirts with matching bodices, sleeves and headdresses. They were made of velvet and silk and were decorated with gems and pearls.

The Ladies’ Drawing Room

Next we visited the Ladies’ Drawing room, which is part of the West Tower. It was used by ladies as a workroom and sitting room. In the 1580s there was a open doorway between this room and the Queens Dressing Room. Prior to this it could only be access from downstairs spiral staircase which lead up from the Ladies’ Parlour. We had to climb many spiral staircases on this tour. They were often built in a way, so that one had to climb them in a clockwise direction, which would make it difficult for a right-handed attacker to weld his sword arm.

The Silver Vault

The last room we visited was top level (seven) of the Main Castle. The Silver Value was a storage room for valuables, such as weapons, ammunition, tax revenue, money and furs. It could only be access from the Ladies’ Drawing Room. It was built in the 15th century with a a vaulted ceiling, which is quite well preserved. It has small openings, which were used as medieval heating ducks.

The Exhibition Rooms

After our tour we visited the Exhibition rooms, which are in the attic floor (level 7). It exhibits the collection of the Museum Centre of Turku, which is comprised of over 280,000 objects of cultural and historical significance. The objects we saw were more from a more modern era, then we just came from.

One of the more interesting things we saw was the Dinner table at the end of the 1800s. It is in revival style, which featured the romantic idealization and imitation of past centuries. This was the only group of objects that a text panel English, the rest was in Finnish in Swedish, which was a bit disappointing.

This Finnish dresses were made in different eras, between the 1830s to the 1950s. Unforuntunately the text panels were not in English either, but you can get a good idea of the chronological changes to fashion that occured over time.

The first display case is called Evening coffee in the 1950s. It tells the story of the importance of coffee in Finland, which has been band three times in the past 100 years. This also happened in Sweden, which is probably why the coffee culture is so strong here. The second display case has a variety of Finnish toys from the same era, including Moomin of course.

The last small room had a beautiful doll house and a couple of display cases of boys toys. There was no information the era of these toys, but I assume from around the 1950s to the 1990s.

Well thats the end of our visit to the Turku Castle. I hope you enjoyed getting a little walk through. Next we are travelling from Turku to Tampere…

Tallinn: Medieval Baltic Fairytale

Today I will share with you one of my favourite cities that we visited on our Nordic Adventure. Tallinn wasn’t a place we intended on see, but with it’s close proximity to Helsinki, it wasn’t a difficult journey to make.

Tallinn is the capital and largest city of Estonia. It has one of the best intacted medieval hanseatic old town in the world and retains it old world flair through both its architures, crafts, cuisines and residents. Its medieval roots date before 1219, when it was first mentioned in text. However its been a human settlement for over 5000 years. Today it is under independent Estonia, but it had previously been under the rule of the Danes, Swedish and Russian, who have all left their own mark.

Since we only had the day we couldn’t see everything. The highlights include Sadama district, Old Town, the Town Square, Town Hall Pharmacy, St. Catherine’s Passage,
Danish King’s Garden, Toompea Hill, Freedom Square, Kohtuotsa Viewing Platform, a few interesting old churches, a Medieval feast and Estonian sweet treats. There are plenty of free experiences to be had in Tallinn and it was one of the less expensive destinations so far on this trip. If you have the time and are less incumbered, there are so many museums and shopping centres as well.

Travel from Helsinki to Tallin

So to get to from Helsinki to Tallin, we took the Tallinki Shuttle Star, It left from West Harbour terminal 2 and arrived D-Terminal, Lootsi 13. The entire journey takes 2 hours. I was originally a bit unsure about making this journey, because we would loose 4 hours of our day in travel. However, we were able to board the ship at 7am for a 7:30 departure and arrive by 9:30am. The cost was 36 euro per adult and free for 5 and under, one way. We decided to add the buffet breakfast for an additional 21 euro per adult. However, in hindsight I would of preferred to grab a pastry and coffee from the cafe. I wasn’t that impressed by the buffet. On the plus it was free for O to eat and it did make it easy to let her choose what she wanted. On the Star there are a couple of shops, a few cafes and eateries, and a kids play area. You can book in for the lounge areas but its quite unnecessary as there is plenty of places to sit.

Sadama District

Our ship arrived in the Port of Tallin, which is in Sadama or the harbor district. Since it was early in the morning it wasn’t as bustling as I had heard. But it did have a very nautical vibe near the harbor. If you have the time to explore there is quite a bit to see here. You can do shopping at Nautica Keskus shopping centre, Foorum shopping centre, Sadama Market. There are also more boutiques and shopping malls in this area and neighbouring district of Südalinn, which is adjacent to the Viru Gates. There are also museums, including the Steamship Admiral Museum, Museum of Estonian Architecture, Estonian Jewish Museum and the KGB Museum. There are a couple of art installation. The first we came across was Arrival, which represents the Estonian Republic sending its troops overseas to serve for the past 19 years. The other is the Digital Building Block, by the Architecture Museum of The Rotermann Quarter is also within Sadama, so you can see alot of interesting architecture that influenced by its former industrial roots.

Old Town

In the heart of Tallin is the Vanalinn, the Old Town of Tallin. This is one of the best preserved medieval cities in Europe and the reason why we travelled all the way to Estonia for the day. The architecture is like something out of a medieval fairytale and so are some locals who are dressed the part.

Tallinn origin city plan is still intact from the 13th-16th centuries. Many of the buildings were home to wealthy merchants from Germany, Denmark and beyond during the Hanseatic period. Today many of the shops and restaurants have a medieval flair, selling traditional Estonia product, arts, crafts and foods, which you may of found back then. The buildings are typically painted in pastel colours and most retain terracotta tile roofs.

The old town is divided between the lower town and upper town (or Toompea), which today is no longer sectioned off by the city gates. We entered via the Viru Gates, which is part of the lower town. These gates give you a idea of what the 14th-century extensive defence system would have looked like. Just before entering the gates there are flower markets on the left, which back onto the Musumägi park. On the left you can find souvenir shops and restaurants. Just inside the gates there are markets selling clothing and wooly accessories along the wall. You can actually climb and walk along the the 3-story Hellemann Tower and Town Wall (for 200m). Its also an inexpensive and child-friendly. We didn’t do it because we didn’t realise we could.

From the Viru gates there is a main pedestrian road (Viru), which takes you nearly all the way to the Town Square. Along the road there are plenty of little boutiques, cafes and as you near the town square there are also many Medieval themed restaurants. One that stood out to us was Olde Hansa, which we did return to later for lunch. Here you will also see many locals dress in Medieval clothing who are selling things on the street or working in these busy restaurants. You can also find the Museum of Medieval Torture Instruments, which we so would have visited if we didn’t have a small child, who would find it scary or worse, boring.

The Town Hall Square (Raekoja plats) is a massive public space, in the centre of Old Town Tallin. It is lined with restaurants and Estonia souvenir, craft and Baltic Amber stores. The space is often used for festival and concerts. One of the most popular events is Tallin Old Town Days, which is an annual five day event, celebrating local cultural heritage.

The most icon building in the square is the Town Hall, which originally built in 1322 and then rebuilt in 1402-04, which is the current form you see today. It is the only surviving Gothic Town Hall in all of Northern Europe. It was used as a seat for local government and is today still used ceremonial and cultural purposes. You can go inside the Town Hall from October to June by appointment, Monday to Friday. During the summer (May- Sept) you can also visit the Tower for only 3 euro adult/1 euro child (included with Tallinn Card). Since its cash only we couldn’t visit the tower. You can see some photos of interior here.

Another significant building in the Town Square is the Town Hall Pharmacy/Raespteek (Raekoja Plats 11). It is the oldest pharmacy in Europe and the oldest continually working apothecary in the world. It is unknown how old it is since it wasn’t mentioned in text until 1422 and it was already up to its third owner. During the plague years it was the only place to seek medical care, when there was no doctors left in town. It was also a place where people met to catch up and the latest news and drink wine together. The pharmacy didn’t just sell medicines, ointments, tinctures and medical teas. They also sold cakes, spices, gun powder, playing cards, paper and ink. Some more peculiar items include burnt bees and hedgehogs, earthworm oil, human fat and blanched dog faeces. From 1582-1911 it has been owned by ten generation of men from the Burchart family. This was followed by the Lehbert and Schneider families between 1911-1940. One of the most significant medicial advances was created by Rudolph Lehbert in 1907. He produced anti-anemia preparation for Ferratol and today known as a pioneer of the Estonian pharmaceutical industry.

Inside the first room of the Pharmacy there is a large counter where you can buy medical items and there are a few item around that room. There is a door way which leads to a second room, which is a mini exhibit. It was quite interesting to see what kind of objects were used in medieval medicine and to see how far we have come. It is free to walk around and have a look. You can also do a guided tour, herb or marzipan workshop. Underneath the building there is an antique store, where I bought some Amber souvenirs.

Another building in the square, near the pharmacy is the Püha Vaimu kogudus
(Püha Vaimu 6). It began operations as a social service welfare building for housing and hospice for the crippled and sick in the 13th century. It later became a retirement home and contained a sauna and other buildings. The hospice was connected to the Holy Spirit Church, which it backs onto, which was a chapel for the City Council. It was converted into a girls school after 1620 and later became the Theological Institute of Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church. Today there is a shop in the front and the church still holds sermons. It amazing how many lives a little building could of lived.