Helsinki is a relatively young city by European standards. Founded in 1550, it became the capital just about 200 years ago. Yet Finland itself is ancient. This contrast is nowhere better explained and demonstrated than at The National Museum, or the Suomen Kansallismuseo as it’s known to the natives. Separated into different sections, it offers displays covering the country’s ancient past up to the very latest features that define this vibrant, modern metropolis.
The building itself carries this theme. Though the external appearance is very much that of a medieval church, it was in fact built in 1910 and opened to the public in 1916. Designed by the world-renowned architect Eliel Saarinen, it offers a comprehensive look into Finland.
It houses a large array of archaeological, cultural, and ethnological artifacts from thousands of years ago up to the present-day. There are permanent exhibits, both objects, and animated video, showing the geography and geology of the region, and how it’s changed over the millennia.
In the Prehistory of Finland section, archaeology lovers will find in-depth and simple-to-follow explanations of how the country emerged from the Ice Age thousands of years ago. And, how it will be swallowed up again in another one someday in the future.
Stone Age artifacts abound in The Land and Its People, showing how the natives evolved over the centuries. Some objects will look familiar since humans have a common type of mind and body and make objects to fit their needs. Yet each culture is unique, and none more than Finland. The land itself forced many distinctive adaptations, from early snowshoes to the one-of-a-kind animal husbandry practices that are explained.
In the Treasure Troves section, those with an interest in cultural history will find a variety of objects showing Finland’s aristocratic past and its democratic present. Jewels, clothes, and armor give the visitor a feel for how Finland was both similar to and different from its southern neighbors of Europe. Medals, silverwork, and weapons show how these innovators of the north created their own take on familiar objects.
Paintings, sculptures, and much more will keep art lovers entranced for hours. Atop and alongside the vaulted central hall there are numerous frescoes that will also delight those interested in fine art. Painted by Akseli Gallen-Kallela (1865-1931), the displays demonstrate themes that will be familiar to fans of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, who drew on similar sources for inspiration. Many depict scenes drawn from the Finnish national epic, the Kalevala, drawn from work done for the Paris World Fair of 1900.
In one section there are a great many displays showing the political development of this society, from the Middle Ages through its dominance by Sweden and Russia to its full independence in the early 20th century. Visitors will find a fascinating look at the countryside prior to industrialization. Later displays show how Helsinki and Finland have become world leaders in technology.
Old and new and everything in between. That’s Finland. That’s The National Museum.