Helsinki has been the capital of Finland for about 200 years. Yet, Finland is an ancient land. Some of that history is well-captured in Porvoo, about 30 minutes outside the city.
Though largely destroyed by fire in 1760, the town has been restored to resemble its original look from the Middle Ages. There’s a spectacular medieval church and an impressive town hall that looks original. As is the case with many towns of the period, the entrance is via a large wooden bridge that provides an outstanding view of the town.
Along the four hour tour that takes you around to the various sights, you’ll see numerous examples of houses from the era. Guides will point out the red warehouses that stored goods, much of it hard-won from the sea in the days when fishing was the most common way to survive in the area. The red color dates from the 18th century when the owners painted the buildings to honor King Gustav III of Sweden.
The tour includes a walk through the museum that was once home to Finland’s former national poet, J.L. Runeberg. Not far away is the studio where his equally famous sculptor son worked.
Then you’ll have a chance to see the medieval cathedral that formed the centerpiece of cultural life during the time of monks and madness known as the 13th century. The granite structure was bombed during WWII but came through without major damage. The interior houses a model of a tall wooden ship that is alone worth the trip.
Outside, you’ll be able to explore the belfry that, unlike similar structures elsewhere, isn’t attached to the main building. Arrangements can even be made to get married in the cathedral, though you’ll have to plan a couple of years in advance, at least.
Just outside is a road that led from St. Petersburg, Russia to Stockholm, Sweden. Set atop a hill, some of the best views are available from this spot.
The Old Town Hall was inaugurated in 1764 and makes for another wonderful sight in this delightful tourist attraction. The Baroque building sports a clock tower that will fascinate anyone interested in the architecture of the period. Inside is the main museum containing displays about the town’s history.
Part of that history tells of when Tsar Alexander convened the Diet of Porvoo in 1809. A ‘Diet’ is a ruling council. It was at this historical meeting that the Russian ruler outlined his plans for the Grand Duchy of Finland, which recently come into his domain.
The Porvoo Bridge near Jokikatu Street is at the northern end of town. From here, visitors can get an excellent look at the riverbank and the Old Quarter section of town. Alongside are tethered numerous wooden boats that complete the picturesque scene. Cruises are available during the summer that floats lazily along the river, day or night.
Part of the tour takes in the studio of Albert Edelfelt, one of Finland’s most well-known painters of the 19th century. Born in Kiiala Manor in Porvoo itself, he is perhaps best known for his portrait of Louis Pasteur, the great microbiologist. His studio, dating from 1883, provides a stellar look at the range of architecture that forms this unusual town.
Come see an authentic medieval village near one of the world’s most modern cities.