We took another day trip from Helsinki to Porvoo Finland. Initially settled in the 13th century, Porvoo rapidly developed as a port and was designated a city in 1380, the second settlement (after Turku) to be granted this status. By the 16th century, it was drawing the wrong type of attention, being sacked and burned by pirates, and after recovering, sacked and burned again. While it recovered greatly over the next century and a half, it was then the Russian’s turn—burning the city yet again.
The city recovered again, growing to 1,500 to become one of the largest cities in Finland by mid-century. But alas, its plague of fires wasn’t over. In 1860, two-thirds of the city once again fell to flames, this time victim to a stove on which fish soup was being cooked.
History, however was not about to pass Porvoo by. In 1809, Sweden was forced to cede Finland to Russia and a legislative assembly, called the Diet of Porvoo, convened to establish Finland as an autonomous Grand Duchy. This brought Czar Alexander I of Russia to Porvoo, thereby cementing the city’s role in Finnish history.
By the mid-19th century, the city experienced another growth spurt, leading to the creation of a new neighborhood, the Empire-style district.
Porvoo Historic District
One can view Porvoo’s historic section of the city, which has 550 historic buildings, in three primary sections:
- Cathedral area, as expected, radiates out from around the 15th-century structure (originally built in the 13th century) that is not only the oldest building in town, but also one of the most historic. Porvoo Diet opened and closed here. One neighboring building also shared in the heritage of the Diet. The 1759 Chapter House was the site of Alexander’s opening speech and the meeting place of the clergy that participated in the assembly.
- The non-historic (1927) but sympathetically designed Bishop’s House is across the street and leads to the so-called Devil’s Staircase, a natural stone formation, that in turn leads to number of 16th and 17th century buildings that survived the 18th century fires.
- Riverfront and Town Square, which was originally built in medieval times and, after each fire, has been rebuilt in accordance with the same general plan. This section now consists primarily of 18th-century buildings that line the main streets and the square that is dominated by the 250 year-old Old Town Hall (1764).
The neighborhood stretches down to the riverfront which is lined by a long row of ocre-colored wooden warehouses. One in which we had lunch has reconstructed the old pully system that was used to load and unload ships. Another, much larger, much newer (1902) brick building served as the warehouse for shipments to Simolin House, the oldest of Finland’s department stores that remains in operation.
The Empire-Style District is the neighborhood that was developed in the mid-19th century. While the buildings and the parks do provide for a pleasant walk, the neighborhood’s primary historical distinction is as the home of J.L. Runeberg, who was one of the nation’s most important poets. There are Runeberg statues, the Runeberg home and the home of his son (Walter Runeberg), a sculptor whose home now serves as a museum for the artist’s work.
We added one other section to our walk, a short journey across the river to the Western Bank. Our primary destination was the Art Factory, which has performance venues and an exhibition space for local artists’ work.
We returned to the city via the “Modern Wooden House” District with recently built residences that were generally built in the style of historic row houses.
As this was a day trip, we only had time for one restaurant. We ate at Fryysarinranta, an old waterfront warehouse that was converted into a restaurant where we began with a very unusual and good preparation of escargot, this with foie gras terrine and garlic butter in the shell. The reindeer cheeseburger, meanwhile was nice, but not readily distinguishable from a lean beef. Tom had a local IP from Ilsami.