No matter how I try, I can’t escape my Battle Castle calling. I’ve just returned from holidays in Finland where I spent the weekend in Turku, Finland’s second largest city. Turku was the historical capital of Finland: a commercial cnetre dating back at least to the 13th century, as well as religious headquarters for the Catholic church until the Reformation and administrative centre for the Swedish empire. With some 3,000 inhabitants in the fourteenth century, it was the second largest city in Sweden. Turku is also home to a very fine castle. Turku Castle or Turunlinna as it’s called in Finnish, is one of a series of castles built by the Swedish overlords to secure their borders from the neigbouring Russian empire. Construction started on a island in the 1280s, but uprising of land means it is now connected to the mainland—about three kilometers from the town centre.
Having visited a lot of castle over the past few years, I can say that Turunlinna has one of the finest museum exhibitions to explain the context of the castle, geographically and historically, and did so in Finnish, Swedish and English. Turku Castle is split between the Main Castle, which includes the oldest parts of the fortifications, and the Bailey, which was built after the land rising expanded the space available for construction. Castle tours are available in many languages for the Main Castle. The bulk of the exhibitions are in the Bailey, which was the administrative heart and luxurious palace.
In true Battle Castle form, Turku Castle was the heart of epic power struggles. During the reign of the great Swedish king, Gustav Adolphus, he made each of his four sons, a Duke of an Administrative. A younger son, John was made Duke of Finland. John would marry Catherine a Jagiellon princess and their renovation of Turku Castle brought a glamourous Renaissance to Finland. Upon Gustav Adolphus’ death, his son succeeded him as King Erik XIV. The ambitious John overthrew his unstable brother and imprisoned him in Turku Castle, where you can still visit his cell. Erik would eventually die of arsenic poisoning and his widow, called Kaarina Maununtytär lived the rest of her life in a nearby manor house and was buried within the Turku Cathedral. She is still considered Finland’s Queen.
Turku Castle became treated as a historical site in the 1880s, when Finland was still a Grand Duchy of Russia. Restoration work began and has been lovingly completed.
The restoration work has also revealed historical curiosities like this graffiti of this party being sent to Russia on a diplomatic mission in 1584. The knowledgeable tour guides described the fates of many from the party, including one executed for adultery for allegedly falling in love with the baker’s wife.
Here are some examples of the exhibits located in the Bailey. As mentioned, I was really pleased with how they placed the castle within its geographic and historical context. They presented loads of information, but allowed the visitor to engage as much or as little as they wanted in a way in which was not overwhelming –especially since everything was presented in three languages.
This map showed the locations of the castles built by Sweden to prevent Russian encroachment.
And the doors opened to reveal a picture of each castle and some general information about each.
Exhibits like these presented models and artifacts located at the castle giving insight into life here.
Turku Castle was an ideal destination, but be sure to allow plenty of time. Regular castle sieging rules apply. Stop for lunch or a snack in the restaurant after touring the Main Castle. The Bailey section can easily take an addition two hours and you’ll want to keep up your strength so you can take it all in.