Culture Capitals

written by Tasha on July 20, 2011 in Content with one Comment

Our intern Lauri Pouta­nen from Fin­land writes about culture capitals

The vast dimensions of European culture cannot be captured with a quick glance. In fact the European Union (formerly the European Community) has since 1985 dedicated a calendar year to a European city or cities to promote Europe’s immense cultural assets. Previous European Capitals of Culture include Athens (1985), Lisbon (1994), Graz (2003), Sibiu (2007) and Istanbul (2010.)

This year’s European Capitals of Culture are Turku and Tallinn, two important medieval trade ports. The cities host architectural wonders with both Western and Eastern influences.

Painting from 1872 depicting winter fishing in Turku

photograph of Tallinn's city wall



Important trade cities always attracted all sorts of “entrepreneurship” and thus defensive structures were necessary. Tallinn and Turku were not an exception: the Turku castle and the Toompea castle in Tallinn were built keeping possible outside (and inside) aggressions in mind.

The first bricks of the Turku castle were laid in late 13th century, when Finland was part of Sweden. It was built primarily as the main defensive structure of the city to secure naval traffic from present-day Sweden (especially Stockholm) and to oversee the Aura river. Its importance as a defense of the city was tested luckily only once in 1318, when Russians from Novgorod destroyed Turku.

The castle saw many uses from being a stronghold for the rivals of the king of Sweden to acting as an administrative centre for Western Finland. The renovations of the castle were completed in 1987, and it now serves as the Turku provincial museum.

The Western end of the Turku castle

The Western end of the Turku castle

The Toompea castle was built slightly earlier than the Turku castle. Estimates vary from the 10th to the 11th century. It started out as a wooden fortress but was gradually built in a more solid way. Although its construction started as early as in the 10th century, the majority of the present-day castle was erected in late 11th and 12th centuries.

The castle consists of three parts – the Small castle, the Great castle and the outer ward. It was built on the hill of Toompea, from the German “Domberg”, literally meaning “Dome hill”. The hill takes its name from the Dome Church that also resides on the hill.

During its colourful history the castle has been occupied not only by Estonians (or the people of the ancient North-Estonian county Revala) but also by Danes, Swedes and Russians. Today the Toompea castle serves as the home of the Riigikogu, the parliament, and of the government of Estonia.

A photograph of Toompea from the 1930s

A photograph of Toompea from the 1930s