Helsinki: Museum of Finland (part 2, day 1)

After visting the Barbie: The Icon exhibition we made our way through the following permanent exhibitions. Each exhibition is a chrologically history of Finland, which starts from its early prehistoric beginnings, through the Middle Ages and until its modern modern national story. Although you don’t have to see each exhibited in this order, I found doing it this way really gave us a great overview and appreciation of Finnish history. Probably the heaviest content and largest exhibition the Realm, which took us through the Middle Ages to pre-industrial Finland. But the last exhibit of Finland’s more modern history was fun and interactive. They do have audio guides and all the text panels translated in Finish, Swedish and English. If I had more time I would have loved to do a guided tour and of course see everything else we missed. If you want to know more visit my previous post on the National Museum of Finland.


The first exhibition we visted was the Prehistory of Finland. We entered the exhibition there were a couple of text panels, which gave us an good indication to what we were about to see. They stated “Finland was under kilometres of ice. 18,000 years ago it began to melt. The first people arrived to the present area of the Nordic countries after the ice retreated 10,000 years ago“. Then we arrived into a stark white room, which looked like an underground cathedral. This exhibition wasn’t very big, but it did give a good overview of how people lived and what evidence remains from the Stone Age through to the Iron Age. It wasn’t the best exhibition for a child that couldn’t read, but there were a couple of interative features.

This neck ring is the gold torc from Nousiainen, which was found in Nousianinen, south-West Filand in 1770. It is one of the finest Late Roman Iron Age artifacts discovered in Finland. It was made by a early Scandinavian goldsmith in the 3rd century CE. Its is decorated with the head of a snake or dragon. It was probably buried as an offering.

This woman of Eura was buried in Luistari and in one of the largest burial places in Finland. The burial site was discovered in 1969 and she was originaly buried in the 11th century Viking Age. She would have been about 45 years old and was betweeen 165-170cm tall. She was the mostly richly buried woman in the burial site. Her dress was adorned with round buckled knobs on the shoulders, a cloak booch, bronze chains. She also wore a decorated bronze=plated knife sheath at her waist, broad spiral bracelets, four rings and a necklace made of glass beads, 12 silver coins and 2 silver pendants. Bronze was believed to protect the bearer and promote fertility for woman.

Below are some of the finds from the Susiluola Cave in Ostobothnia, West Finland. This cave was excavated in the 1990s and if the discovereries coul dbe proven to be made by humans, it would radically change Finland prehistory. The finds from this cave may prove that Neanderthal dwelling there more than 100,000 years ago. Although some archaelogiset believe they were cauced by natural processes. The bones and metal artefacts below were found in a waterlogged cemetary in Levänluht, Southern Ostrobothia. It is unknown why they were buried in water.

The Realm

Next we visited The Realm exhibition, which is exhibits Finnish history under the church rule, Swedish secular rule and the annexiation by the Russian Empire. This covers the 13th to 19th century, so it is quite a large exhibition, which is covered over a series for spaces.

The first room we entered was the Lutheran Church Room. This space depicts many of the religious artwork were created as a result of the integration of the adminsitration and development of church and parish activities in Finland and Sweden, during the during the 17th century. During this period the ranks of clergymen grew and their levels of education rose. Under the rule of Bishop Johannes Gezelius the Elder in Turku during the late 17th cenutry, regulations on the care of the interior of churches as established. They were to be clean and contain objects that fit the dignity of the divine service. This required old wall paintings, which often insited superisistions to be to be painted over. Benches and galleries were also introduced, as well as alter rails with kneeling benches, coats of arms (artistocratic burial) votive tablets, tablets and organs. Reredos were also replaced by framed altarpieces.

This was probably my favourite space as I am quite a fan of religious artwork. These pieces were quite different to what I have previous seen in western European museums and it is also quite wondefully creepy. There were quite a few depictions of Saint George with the dragon, which I hadn’t seen before.

One of the stand out pieces was the Altarpiece from Kalanti Church. It was made by ‘Meister Francke‘ of the Dominican borthers in Hamburg Germany in the 1420s. It is told that it was found floating in the sea by the inhabitance of Kalanti in west Finland and it may have previously belonged to the Turku Cathedral.

The central sculpture tells the story of the life of the Virgin Mary. From the birth of Jesus, to Circumcision of the child Jesus in the temple, Coronation of the Virgin Mary on ther death bed, her funeral procession and the Virgin freeing Knight Theophilus from his pact with the devil. The side panels depict the legend of Saint Barbara.

The next couple of spaces depict Finish history under Swedish rule. It is believed that the Swedes carried through First Crusade into Finland at the begining of the Middle Age period in 1150s. Finland then became a permanent part of Western Europe and the emerging Swedish empire. The Catholic Church and Western Europe influenced and introduced literacy culture, churches, castles and towns. Six towns were founded, including the most important Turku (which we visited next).

The Vasa family ruled in both Sweden and Finland during the Middle Ages. In 1523 Gustavus Eriksson became King of Sweden. The male lined ended in ended in 1672 with Johan Casimir, King of Poland. The female line ended in 1689 with Queen Christina of Sweden.

There is hardly any medieval furniture that still exists from the Middle Ages. Finnish people lived in chimneyless wooden cabins, sparsely furnished, with wooden tables and fixed benches along the walls. Chests, boxes and wall cupboards were used for storage. For dining, most vessels were made of wood and people ate with their fingers or with their own spoon.

Sweden was the leading European power during the reign of Gustavus II Adolphus to the death of Charles XII, which is also known as the era of Baroque and supremacy of nobility. Joint guilds of carpenters, painters and glaziers were founded in Turku in 1633. Baroque furniture in Finland was influenced by French tastes which was filtered through Stockholm or more modest styles of the English and Dutch. Finish cabinet makers made chairs and tables in English-Dutch style; wardorobes and chests were more North-German and Dutch style. French Baroque style was more utilised for inlay and fixed upholstery. The East-India trade also brought custom rattan or wickerwork chairs and backrests. However, the most extravagent furniture was imported from Sweden.

The following space depicts the furnishings of the burgher class or bourgeoisle, who rose during the Middle Ages from the craftsmen and artistans. In 1634 the Estate of burghers was giving an offical stuatus. By the 18th century this class had gained greater economical and political power then the noble class. The wealthiest of this class were the seafarers and owners of ironworks and manufactories, and tar merchants from the north. During the 18th century the owners of ironworks built their own fashionable mansions and villages were built around their factories. Shipowners were also very affluent and had residents in town as well as manisions in the countryside.

The following spaces depict the Drawing Room of Jakkarila Manor, the Enlightenment and the Romanticism and the Home. By the late 18th century, the line between noblity, affluent burghers and clergymen began to blur. Many built manor homes in French Rococo classicism and were largely influenced by the designs in a book published by Carl Wijnblad in 1755-56. In the early 1760s, Anders Henrik Ramsay, the Governor of Savo and Kymenkartano, built a mansion on the estate of Jakkarila (Jakari) in accordance to Wijnblad’s book. During the Rococo period, there spaces were divided between private and representational. Thus, more attention was given to the interior for representative rooms, ei the gentlemen’s room or the drawing rooms. The walls and ceilings had painted wallpaper and there were also carved panels along the walls, doors, window frames. Through the Enlightenment and Romanticism period the interior styles evolved to also represent a womans hand in design.

Before coming to the last section of this exhibition, there was an installation of a old Chimneyless cabin from the village of Pajasyrjä in Jaakklima.This is a typical dwelling that Finn’s used since the early Middle Ages, but many continued to live in them until the early 19th century.

The last space represents the Russian Order, when many Finn’s served the Imperial Russian Army. Many Finn’s rose to positions of general or admiral and as a result strengthened the Russian Emperors trust with neighbouring Finland. In 1863 Emperor Alexander II visited Helsinki and its people looked forward to its visit. The had remained an autonomous duchy, unlike other parts of the Russian Empire. The Emperor did authorise a number of reforms on his empire, which were carried out in Finland by Finnish Estates. This meant that Finland became a separate state connect to Russia and thus idea of the Finnish nation was born. This was high point in Finish history, due to infrastructure of railways and muncipalities, parishes and schools were established and Finnish language was improved. However, soon after a famine would widen the gap between the rich and poor.

Story of Finland

The last exhibition we saw was the Story of Finland. This was probably my least favourite exhibit, probably because I was quite burned. The content wasn’t as interesting for me as I lacked the nostaglic memories of Finland. However, it was more interactive, which meant it was alot more fun for my kid. Probably my favourite part of this exhibition was the Sauna room, which showed an old video of Finns sauna culture and the space with the widescreen which showed photos of Finns over the past 100 years.

This exhibition set the scen of the years of unrest, whichi proceeded the golden age of Finland’s national culture from the end of the 19th century. The Finnish language enjoyed equal status with Swedish and artists, composers and painters and athletes contribute a strong international image of Finland. However, this was followed by oppression under the Governor-General Bobrikov, who saw progress and opitism as a poltical threat. Many rights and privilages that Finns had previously enjoyed were revoked and civil disobedience proved insufficent. Eugen Schauman murders Bobrikov, the Emperor losses the Russo-Japanese war and activists in Finland start importing weapons from abroad. From here the exhibition examines Finlands struggle for independence and some of the national iconic pecularities, such as the love as sauna, Moomin and heated overalls.

If you made it this far, thanks for reading! We have one more day in Helesinki and then we take boat to Estonia and a roadtrip through Finland.

Swedish Historical Museum (day 2)

After visiting the Swedish Royal Palace and having a quick lunch in Gamla Stan, we made our way to the Swedish Historical Museum. It is located north-east from Gamla Stan, in the neighbourhood of Östermalm. It’s relatively close to the centre of Stockholm, so you can easily walk or catch a tram there.

The Swedish Historical Museum offers a great presentation of Sweden, from pre-history to the present. Exhibitions often change, which makes this museum interesting for both tourist and locals. Another thing that makes this museum very attractive is that it has free entry and is very much family friendly. Their opening hours do vary, depending on the time of year, but generally they are open 6-7 days. You can hire Audio Guides in a variety of languages (also available on Smart phones) for a small fee.

The exhibition that we were most intereseted in seeing today was the Vikings/Vikingar. This exhibition tells the story of the peoples who lived in Sweden between AD800 and AD1050. These people were not all Vikings who travelled across the sea to pillage neighbouring lands. Rather these early Scandavians were farmers and hunters. Some the highlights of this show that we would see is the girl from Birka, the female chief from Öland and the landowner from Vendel.

After reading the text on what this exhibition was about we passed by wall with series of printed artworks that personified the pre-Swedish culture, and a piece called Lapidarium, which are fragments of rune stones. this museum has the largest collection of runestone fragments and we did see quite a few runestones while we were here.

Wealthy farmers and aristocrats often had rune stones and picture stones raised in their memory. They were made by speical stone-cutters and were painted in strong colours. Picture stones have mostly been limited to the Götland island.

Unna’s rune stone, which was raised for the memory of Unna’s son Östen, who passed away while in his christening robes. It is from Torsätra and is almost 1000 years old. Raising rune stones was the traditional way early Scandivians remembered their loved ones. In Sweden there about 2,500 and most are from Uppland province. First two stones in series of stones below (from the left) are from Götland. The third Runestone from Torsätra (runestone) in Uppland and was raised in memory of a Swedish king’s tribute collectors who fell ill and died during a trip to Gotland. It reads “Skule and Folke have raised this stone in memory of their brother Husbjörn, he became ill when taking teaxes on Gotland“. The little black and red runstone is from a church in Resmo, Öland island and is a modern interpreation of how it may looked. It reads “Ina had the stone raised in memory of Sveina her husband.” The last picture depicts a stone lid from a coffin from Husaby in Vastergotland, in memory of Styrbjörn.

These two display cases present Arab Silver and Otto’s treasure. There have been over 1000 Viking Age silver hoards discovered in Sweden. The largest ever found weighed over 6 kg and it was from Sigsarve, gotland island. It contained jewellery (whole or hacked) and 1382coins (mostly Islamic). Otto’s treasure or Vårby treasure was discovered by Otto Ludvig Jonsson in 1871. He found it Södermanland, unders a stone in Vårby. It was buried by a wealthy family in the mid-10th century and was probably placed their as a sacrifice for the gods or hidden for the future. It contains jewellery, belt fittings and beads and a few items are from the East.

The picture below is of the Magnate from Vendel. His body was dressed in his most expensive clothing, surrounded by very important objects and buried in a ship would would travel to the kingdom of the dead. He was from a powerful clan in Uppland and this family lived on a large estate. The display case contains many of the items that were in his ship. They include well-made items for self grooming and weapons, which highlight his wealth and role as war leader.

These Implements of Death demonstrate the kinds of weaponry used in war and feuds. Spears and axes were comon weapons, whereas swords were held by higher status and often had their own names.

The Princess from Birka was buried in a timber burial chamber and its contents demonstrates that she an high-ranking professional warrior or at the very least woman that held high status in Viking society. Her grave contained objects for self groming, jewelerry a knife, whetstones, whalebone board to press linen and Thor’s hammer ring.

Alcohol was very much part of the Viking Age and the most popular were mead and ale. The picture stone from Tängelgårda, Gotland island. It depicts two men battling around a large vessel, which may be refering the story of Oden stealing mead from the giant Suttung. The display case contains Funnel glasses, Persian bowls, glass game pieces and a small mirror. These items were typically used by arsticrates and drinking was an imporant aspect of aristocratic lifestyle.

In this exhibition, I didn’t see any objects from the Sami culture, but there were a couple of wall text explaing who they were. The Sami were a semi-nomadic tribe of peoples that occupated Northern Scandinavia and are known for their reindeer husbandry. They did trade with the Vikings and their religioun was quite similar to the Norse mythology.

Off in a corner in the exhibition was a quiet area for children. Here you could read books and listen to a story (Swedish/English) using headphones. It was a nice break for Octavia who wasn’t very excited about museum artifacts and text.

Årby boat is a burial boat from Årby in Uppland and is the best-preserved Viking-Age boat from Sweden. Although the grave had already been robbed of jewellery and weapons, the was still some objects and skeltons inside. It was found in wet clay, which preserved the wood and objects quiet well.The body of a man or woman would have been place on a bed of grass and it would have been covered with parts of a cart, oars and wooden planks. Inside the boat their were food bowls, wooden spoon and game board. Outside the boat, a 6 year old stallion and dog were found, which would have been sacrified for the voyage. The horse was hit in the head and decapitated and the dog given a fatal blow to the back of the head. The dog was slim like a greyhound and had a small rope lead with it.

This is an amazing replica of the Birka girl and her grave. The museum was able to replicate her using her cranium to assume what she would have looked like. They wouldn’t know the colour of her eyes and hair, but they do know that the Birka Market was visited from peoples all over Europe. She was only able six at her time of death and she was place in a wooden coffin next to the Birka castle around 1200 years ago. This was probably my favourite thing to see at this exhibit. I just wish there was more text about her.

These display cases contain jewellery, dress accessories, the keys held by the ladies of the house and combs owned by men and women.

These are replicas of typical clothing of people during the Viking age.

This ship is a model of the Gokstad ship and is 1:6 scale to the original from Norway. You can actually see this ship Viking Ship Museum in Oslo. It is an example of the how well built Viking ships were. The Viking built several different types of ships, depending on their use. Some were more suitable for shallow and coastal waters and others for were for the deep sea. The real Gokstad ship was dated to 895AD, 24 metres and was designed as a seagoing ship.

This large model is of the Viking Age Town of Birka, which is situated on the island of Björkö in Lake Mälaren. The model is 1:30 and depicts the town at around 800AD. It was pretty amazing to watch the town go from day to night and it was very well done and detailed.

This picture stone is from Tängelgårda, in the north of island of Gotland and was made duing the Iron age. This stone depicts Odin as the God of war and death. He was also a god of creation, poetry, widsom and a master of Seiðr. It also shows Sleipner (shapeshifter), who was owned by Odin and travelled the world; and human warriors travelling as a band.

The Ruler of Öland was a woman and she was buried in regal splendor and surrounded by powerful cultic implements. Her grave was found in Kopingsvik, on the island of Öland. There was an old Norse female cult leader, Völur, who was known for her skills of predicting the future and her name meant staff carrier. This woman was buried with a staff and it is believed that she could actually be Völur. The staff is made of iron and browns and it has a small house on the top of it. This staff demonstrates that she was a cult leader and an aristocrat from a wealthy clan. She was wrapped in a bear skin burned in a ship with a man and then the man was buried with his own rich gravegoods in a nearby grave. Her grave also contains a bronze dish from Western Europe, a jug from Persia, runic plates to protect against evil or disease.

The illustration below depicts a 300 year old aristrocratic grave mound, which had a Christian monument rebuilt on top of it. This Christian grave was found in Valsta, Uppland and is from the early 12th century. The three crossed stone coffins were use to emphasis the change from heathen to Christian beliefs. The smaller illustration shows a 10th century grave of a 20-year-old woman. Since she was not cremated, it is though that she was buried within the Christian belief. However, she was buried with Tor’s hammer ring, which suggest she may not of held Christian believes. The rune stone depicts two figures walking through a doorway holding a cross. On the back of this stone, it is written “Nikulaus had the stone erected in memory of Syhsa his father”. Nikulaus is a Christian name, so it maybe illustration Nikulaus’s father entering the gates of heaven.

This last photo is from the inside looking out into the museum’s central courtyard. This museum is quite expansive and if I had more time before closing I would of loved to see more of the exhibitions.

I hope you enjoyed seeing a bit of what the Swedish History Museum has to offer. Have you visited this musem, what did you think?

Santa Caterina del Sasso

While visiting with my family in Luino, we visited a beautiful heritage site not too far away. Eremo di Santa Caterina del Sasso is an old Roman Catholic monastery perched on the shore of Lago Maggiore, facing the Gulf of Borromean Islands. It is situated in the municipality of Leggiuno in Varese, Lombardia (see map).  The monastery can be reached a few ways. We took the long winding stairway by foot. However, you can also take an elevator down or by ferry across the Lago Maggiore.

This monastery was founded by a wealthy merchant, Alberto Besozzi in 1170. The story goes that after his boat capsized in a storm he prayed to St Catherine to be saved. He declared that if he was saved he would give all his money to the poor and retire a hermit. After surviving the storm he did, in fact, live in a cave as a hermit. However, when a plague struck in 1195, the local people asked for his help. He agreed to help them in return for their help in building a votive chapel to St Catherine. After his death in 1205, Besozzi was buried near the chapel and people would come there to pray for cures to ailments.

The site was later documented as a hermitage 1301 after people began coming to live there as hermits. By the 1700’s the hermitage went into decline, due to Enlightenment reforms in Lombardia. The foundations of the site also became weak over time. It wasn’t until 1914 that the Italian government deemed it a national monument. However, after major restoration works in the 1970’s  it was not open to the public until 1986.

The site consists of three buildings, the southern convent, the small convent and the main church. This church dates back to the end of the 16th century and is the artistic and spiritual heart of the Hermitage. On the altar-piece, there are scenes of St Catherine with the Virgin and child and St Nicholas with Blessed Alberto Besozzi. Besozzi body is also on display in a glass coffin.

If you are in the area, this site is worth the trip. It is truly a beautiful and spiritual place. It can be quite crowded though, as it is a tourist hotspot. You can visit it alone or do a guided tour, which would give great insight into its history. For more information on directions and opening times, see the official website.


Wine and Olive Press

Fresco’s outside on balcony


Main Church

Main church

Alberto Besozzi, Main church

The Chapter Room (la Sala Capitolare)

The Chapter Room (la Sala Capitolare)

The Chapter Room (la Sala Capitolare)

The Chapter Room (la Sala Capitolare)


Books I’m reading (Sept 17)

I go through phases where I become obsessed with one book and I have to read it in every spare moment until it’s finished. Then there are other times I just float between a few books, which I’m doing right now. There’s a few book sitting on my bedside that I’m trying to get through at the moment. So I thought I would share them and tell you why I’m really savoring every page.



Continue reading “Books I’m reading (Sept 17)”