Finnish Roadtrip: Olavinlinna Castle (day 5)

In the afternoon of our fifth day on our Finnish Roadtrip, we visited the Olavinlinna Castle in Savonlinna. This is a must-see attraction if you are visiting this town, as its one of the best-known sights in Finland. We had a really great time exploring and learninng the history of this medieval castle

Olavinlinna is an imposing medieval construction, which was built from 1475 by the Swedes. It was designed as a military base to protect the Savo Region from Russian attacks from the east. It is located on a rocky islet on the Kyrönsalmi strait. The castle was founded by the Danish-born knight, Erik Axelssonn Tott, under the name Sankt Olofsborg. This was to profit on the political tumoil of Ivan III’s conquest into the Novgorod Republic and thus laid claim to the Russian side of the border. It survived several sieges by the Russians, druing the First and Second Russian-Swedish wars. It was never captured by force but it was under Russian rule of Empress Elizabeth as a result of the Treaty of Åbo.

Olavinlinna holds several small exhibitions, which include the Castle Museum and Orthodox Museum. It also hosts the Savonlinna Opera Festival every year since 1912.

The Olavinnalinna Castle is open 7 days, from 11am until 4pm (earlier in summer season). The admission fee is 10 euro for adults, 5 euro for children (7-17yr) and there are discounted prices for students, pensioners, families and groups. Guided tours are included in the admission price and run throughout the day. We took the last guided tour that afternoon, so I will take you through everything we saw. I really recommend doing guided tours, especially if they are free. Even if you have little kids, they don’t have time to get bored, as the pace you move from each room is relatively quick. There are text panels through the different rooms in Finnish, Swedish, English and Russian. So I assume the guided tours would be available in just these languages.

Here is an introductory film made in the Olavinnnalina, to illustrate how life was in the castle. It’s a little long but it gives you a good glimpse into the past and what we saw on our visit.

We arrived from the Bridge and entered into the Watergate Bastion, which is where we bought our tickets and assembled for the guided tour. From there we moved through to the Courtyard in the Shelter of the Inner Bailey. This small courtyard was secured by the three towers that overlook it and the curtain wall between each. The northern wing was used living quarters, the eastern wing was used for festal and household rooms, the southern wing was the castle’s kitchen (demolished).

We then quickily moved through the small exhibition into the Central Hall. This is part of the Castle Households on two floors, which were the living quarters. Castle workers would have been paid in food and these accomodations. They were able to access this area through a central spiral staircase, as the northern wall would have been solid for defene purposes. The first floor would have housed the men-at-arms and the servants. The baliff’s arched residential rooms were found on the second floor. The large statue is the patron St Olaf, didn’t arrive to the castle until after 1911.

The Bell Tower (St Virgin’s Tower) was located on the highest point of the island, for best visible defence. The Storeroom was located in the first floor shelter of the Bell Tower. It was used for storage of food and clothes and was protected by a 3 metre thick stone wall. These items were collected as taxes from the nearby provinces or produced by the crown estate. It included dried grain, salted/smoked fish and meat, metal dishes, furs, hides and other textiles. The would have been a housekeeper in charge of the clothing and a scribe in change of the tax collection accounting.

Adjacent to the Bell Tower was the Church Tower (St Olaf’s Tower), which was probably part of the first fortification of the castle. This is evident by the arching technique and masonry, that would have been constructed by the 16 foreign masons during the 1470s. The stone was locally acquired, the mortar was made from sand from Kuhaslmi and the lime was made of lime kiln cape.

Next we came to the Chapel, which is located on the third floor of the Church Tower (St Olaf’s Tower). There remains some fragments of medieval lime paintings on the chapel walls and ceiling. On the walls there are twelve cross for each apolstle. This church as been Catholic, Luthern and Orthodox at different times. So today it change be used by any of these religions for religious purposes including weddings.

Next we walked down a long thin hallway until we came to the Outer Wall of the Courtyard. From here we could see one of the towers and the different materials that were used to construct it. From here, there would have been men stationed with longbows and crossbows. The longbow was made of pliable wood and the string from plant fibres or animal tendons. The arrows were made of wood and iron. It could shoot arrows 120 metres and six per minute. The crossbow was alot slower weapon to operate and could only shoot one arrow per minute. However, these arrows could shoot 360 metres.

We took a spiral staircase down to the highest floor in the Bell Tower. This was a bit difficult to maneuvre since they were built uneven to slow down a potential intruder. The Tower Room would have been occupied by defended during a siege, since it has a broad area to fire from. It would have been cold and damp place to reside. These rooms had a fireplace, wall closest, toilet, and benches. The small recesses in the walls would have been covered with thin parchment made of sheepskin, to allow some light and shelter from the wind. Light would of mostly been givenn from candles and the fireplace,which would of made this space quite smokey. Also visted the the residential rooms, which had leaded glass windows, by the end of the 16th centuryand heat-preserving stoves by the end of the 17th century. These rooms were lined with skis annd colourful textiles. Its a bit hard to imagine how opulent they would have been, but the guide painted a picture in our head.

At the very top was the the Lookout Storey, where we were able to see from the Outer Wall of the Courtyard.

Next we went down to the Medieval Armory, still in the Bell Tower. This was the important defence junction within the inner bailey. This is where weapons were held, such as longbows, crossbows, harquebuses, gun barrels and projectiles.

Next we walked through a well lite and darken Defence Passage. There were great views from beyond the outer walls of the castle.

The last spaces we were taken too was a large banquet hall and a room which had a model of the castle. This gives a good depiction of a birds eye view of the castle, which is hard to gauge when your inside it.

Before we left we had a bit of fun in the castle’s playroom. Here you can try on outfits armor, weld a sword and have a fake medieval feast. This was really great to relax and let our daughter touch everything without worrying she was going to break something priceless.

Well thats the end of my tour of the Olavinlinna Castle. My next post were will be our last stop on this Finnish Roadtrip and for this Nordic Adventure.

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…

Bellinzona: Castles of Montebello

Before I take you to my last travel stop in Bruges, Belgium for my Euro Trip for 2017, I thought I better take you somewhere else first. I actually completely forgot that I made another stop in Switzerland.  While I was in Italy staying with my family in Luino, my cousins took me to the Swiss city of Bellinzona.

Bellinzona is the capital city of the canton  Ticino of Switzerland. It is in the Italian-speaking southern region of Switzerland, just north of Lugano. This city is famous for its three medieval castles, Castelgrande, Montebello and Sasso Corbaro.

We visited the Castelgrande, which overlooks the other two castles. This castle was fortified from the 1st to the 13th century. Although the original Roman fort is no longer visible, parts of the High Middle Age castle are visible. Most of what stands is from the 11-15th century.

To get up to the castle we had to take an elevator from the foot of the rock. There is a museum, which covers 6500 years of human inhabitance from this hill. There is also a restaurant, had a function on the day of our visit.

This castle was truly an amazing site to see. Not only are the views of Bellinzona spectacular, but the sheer majesty of the castle blew my mind. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to visit the museum on this afternoon. If you’re interested in human history, I think it would be fantastic.

Continue reading “Bellinzona: Castles of Montebello”