Maggie and I thought we were starting to get a handle on Finnish history, at least the 19th and 20th centuries. We had it down that Finland was part of Sweden until 1808, then it was ceded to Russia. We thought we were ready for the next level. We didn’t know what we were getting into. The 18th century and before saw one murky scene after another, punctuated by broken alliances and treacherous dealings, as various kings and dukes tried to work out Finland’s place between the much more powerful kingdoms of Sweden, Denmark and Russia. From time to time some clarity would emerge, such as when Gustav Vasa, king of Sweden, solved his kingdom’s financial difficulties by nationalizing the assets of the Catholic church and declaring Sweden (which included Finland at the time) to be a Lutheran country. That all fell apart when the king died and his sons took over, starting a long series of internal and external wars, made worse by periods of unbearable cold, causing famines that devastated the Finnish population.
A visit to Turku Castle helped to make sense of all this, but there’s a lot more to learn. The castle itself is well laid out, with exhibits on the history of the castle itself, life in the castle, and how all that relates to Finnish history. There are directional signs to point the way throughout, and guides in period costumes to unravel things when the signage isn’t enough. All in all, it’s a productive visit, with things to do and learn at many levels. I think the fact that we came out feeling a little more enlightened and a little more confused shows that Maggie and I made an honest effort to comprehend the ins and outs of life in the old days of Finland.