The layers of history can be seen in the buildings of Helsinki – if you know where to look. Unlike Tallinn or Stockholm with their medieval parts, Helsinki has a unique Empire style centre. Here’s some tips where to go spot the most beautiful neoclassical buildings.
When Finland became part of the Russian Empire in 1809 Helsinki was rather a small town. Even the Suomenlinna Sea Fortress on islands outside of the city centre had a bigger population. By order of tsar Alexander I Helsinki was made capital of the Grand Duchy of Finland in 1812. The city needed new buildings to live up to new imperial standards. New buildings represented the popular Empire style with influences from the ancient Greece and Rome.
The two most important gentlemen of the new city centre were designer of city plan Johan Albrecht Ehrenström and German-born architect Carl Ludwig Engel. Their most famous work is the Senate Square area. Facades of old stone houses from the Swedish period on the southern side of the square were rebuilt to match the neoclassical houses of the Senate and the University of Helsinki. Only the small and gray Sederholm house with mansard roof shows what the square looked like on the 18th century. The Helsinki Cathedral is the centrepiece of the square but some changes were made to Engel’s original plans after his death in 1840.
During the first half of the 19th century Helsinki had a brand new Empire style centre with influences from St. Petersburg. When looking at Empire style buildings one can also get an idea how small the city was back in the early 19th century. Most buildings were wooden houses with no more than two floors.
Written by Ilmar Metsalo.