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.