Turku – the city by the river

19.6.2015                                                                     

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When inhabitants of Turku speak about “this side” and “the other side” of the river, outsiders are puzzled unless they have the basics of the history of the oldest town in Finland. Medieval Turku was located on the East bank of river Aura where its remnants can be explored in the museum Aboa Vetus et Ars Nova. Ottmar Hörl's work "Existence" hangs on the wall of the museum.

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Archaeological discoveries are still made whenever something gets built in the area around the Cathedral. A huge fire destroyed most of the city in 1827 preserving its history under a layer of ash and coal and making room for modern buildings. A few buildings were left standing on “the other side” where the modern city centre is now located.

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Once upon a time Turku was the most important harbour in Finland, mentioned in 1154 in the compendium of the Arab cartographer Al Idrisi, a distant descendant of Prophet Muhammad. Located South from the city, the port of Turku is today the second after Helsinki in the volume of cargo and passenger traffic.

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The fountain Harmonia was created in 1996 by the German sculptor Achim Kühn.

In the summertime the banks of Aura are lined with old boats turned into restaurants, pubs and discos. A number of cruise boats offer tours of the beautiful Turku archipelago.

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It may seem the chap above is sunbathing but he is actually gazing at stars. Created by Kari-Petteri Kakko in 2013, the troll has three buddies, all similarly occupied under Myllysilta, "the Mill Bridge".

The ferry – called Föri in Turku – downstream of the ten bridges, allows to cross the river in less than two minutes. In the old times a couple of ferries transported workers to the shipyard and factories on the waterfront. The oldest bridge built next to the cathedral in 1414 was destroyed by the fire in 1827.

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On the West bank the Föri stops by a former brewery built in 1885. The production of the Aura beer brand in these premises seized in the 70s.

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On the East bank the Föri stops close to the Manilla mill built in the 1860s. Booze, bricks and ropes have been produced in it, but today it is a venue for cultural events and activities.

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Possibly the most exotic place to stay in Turku is an ancient passenger ferry turned into tourist hostel. Built in 1960, s/s Bore ferried passengers between Finland and Sweden until 1987.

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Bore’s commanding deck has been preserved as a small museum.

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Bore’s slightly shabby image is deliberate, intended to give a feel of its history. The facilities certainly seem modest if you have crossed the Baltic Sea on one of the modern floating entertainment centres.

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A thorough look at the development of Finnish cruise travel after World War II is offered in an exhibition that stays open till January 2016 in Forum Marinum, the museum of maritime history.

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Bore is part of the collection of historical ships attached to the Forum. Suomen Joutsen, "the Swan of Finland", is a full-rigger built in 1902. The three-mast barque Sigyn built in 1887 is claimed to be the world’s last remaining merchant ship of this type.

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A few cranes are left standing to remind of the shipyard that was phased down in the 1980s.
The hostel ship Bore is anchored just a stone’s throw from Turku castle, the biggest and oldest castle in Finland, dating back to the 13th century.

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The Castle served as prison until a new prison was built in 1853 up on a hill above a park in a slope by the river. The impressive granite building hosted up to 400 prisoners, including some of the most dangerous violent criminals. Despite security arrangements, shown in old videos, some convicts managed to escape. The prison’s colloquial name Kakola –"the Looney Bin" – refers to its predecessor, a mental hospital located on the hill with the best view over the city.

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In June 2015 the prison was sold to a developer who plans to revamp it into apartments, offices and restaurants. In the meantime you can stop for a cup of coffee in one of the buildings and take a guided tour of the premises.

Turku has a reputation of tearing down old buildings irrespective of their historical or architectural value to make room for more efficient modern edifices. Apartment blocks have risen on the former industrial estates on the waterfront. The name of the building below, Sokerinranta or "the Sugar Bank" refers to a sugar mill that was operational on the spot for a hundred years.

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The replica of a 17th century leaver beacon is one of 17 historical navigation markers located along the popular leisure boating route. Burning coals were placed in the wrought-iron basket.

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