There is much to love about this city. But one of its greatest virtues is stunning architecture.
Most prevalent in harbourside districts such as Eira & Katajanokka is ‘Jugendstil’ – the Finnish national version of the late 19th century romantic movement. Heavier in form than Art Nouveau, it is also informed by German architecture of the time. Influences from Finnish castles & nature are clear to be seen. It would be impossible to walk the streets without gazing upwards. Buildings are richly embellished with glorious detail – animals, mythical figures, floral designs and stylised nameplates. An afternoon spent wandering the streets around Eira close to the waterfront, left me needing a chiropractor for all the upward gazing! There is so much design detail to be found at every turn; carvings on doors, corbels, decorative lintels… hours of wonder in exploration.
In contrast are the beautiful Neoclassical buildings of the centre of the city. Around the Senate square can be seen stunning examples of this style which echoes a time when the city was annexed in 1809 as part of the Russian empire and it was deemed that it should reflect such imperial standards in its central buildings. The clean, elegant lines of the imposing Cathedral are picture perfect against a clear blue winter’s sky. Floating high on steps above the square, the cathedral of St Nicholas is the epitome of the simple beauty of neoclassical architecture. Stunning copper domes embellished with gold stars and crosses are complimented by statues of the 12 apostles upon the gables. It would have been a landmark for the city in its day – visible from miles around.
In the district of Katajanokka, close to the old warehouses and docks, you can also find the imposing gilded domes of Uspenski Cathedral, built in 1868. The most western Orthodox cathedral to be found, it is evidence of the massive influence of the Russians over Finnish history. An imposing red-brick facade gives way to an ornate interior where 4 granite columns support the vaults. On the day that I went to explore this austere place of worship, early spring sunshine flooded the ornately frescoed cupola and all about the grass on the hill where it stands, bluebells shone vibrant against the green. By night, a full moon shone down to highlight its position above the sentinels of warehouses along the harbour.
Possibly the most formidable piece of architecture in the city belongs to the Central Railway station on Rautatientori – the railway square. Designed by Eliel Saarinen and inaugurated in 1919, it is a fine example of the move from National Romanticism toward Functionalism. It is a monumental building of pink granite, flanked by lamp-bearing giants. Inside can be found soaring halls with beautiful deco plasterwork and lights. It is a building that would draw crowds regardless of its purpose.