History & Culture

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Founded as a trade post by Swedish invaders in 1550, Helsinki has its roots deep in the sea and is affectionately called “the Daughter of the Baltic”. Under the Swedish King Gustavus Vasa the city grew slowly, but its power and influence increased dramatically when Russia invaded in 1809 and Helsinki subsequently became the capital in 1812.

Russia’s dominance had a major influence on Helsinki and the city was rebuilt to match its new status. A monumental empire-style city plan was drawn up to reflect the power of Russia. Industrialisation and snowballing wealth led to new neoclassical and art deco buildings springing up.

Finland became independent in 1917, and Helsinki assumed the demanding new role of the capital of the young republic. This meant another makeover for Helsinki, the city planning characterised by classicism and functionalism. Helsinki boomed throughout the 1920s and 30s. It became a centre of creativity, producing designers such as Alvar Aalto along with the Moomins cartoon, the Nokia company and latterly, Angry Birds.

Recovering from the war, Helsinki hosted the Summer Olympics in 1952 which created for Helsinki an international reputation of a friendly host city.

Now part of one of the wealthiest countries in Europe, Helsinki is becoming a trendy tourist destination and is as renowned both for its cutting-edge design buildings and fascinating east-meets-west churches.

Helsinki was one of nine European Cities of Culture in 2000. The city received additional international cultural visibility when it successfully hosted the Eurovision Song Contest in 2007. In the year 2012 Helsinki was chosen as World Design Capital. In 2014 Helsinki was awarded City of Design status as part of the Creative Cities Network established by UNESCO.