Wherever you go in Finland, you’ll discover that Finns have a rich and diverse cultural heritage. This is evident from the fact that there are seven UNESCO World Heritage sites to explore, and in virtually every town and city you’ll find museums and galleries galore.
The Finnish National Opera is a national institution, being made up of the country’s only professional opera and ballet companies, the only professional choir in Finland, and the largest orchestra. The lavishness of its productions, and the professionalism of the performers and musicians has ensured that its status and reputation for high quality have been recognised and appreciated internationally.
Located by the edge of Töölönlahti Bay, the Opera House
was designed by Hyvämäki-Karhunen-Parkkinen architects, and opened in
1993 . It is one of the finest modernist buildings in Helsinki, in my
humble opinion, with walls that are finished in ceramic tile, render and
natural stone, with the public spaces inside a mix of Carrara marble
and red beech timbers. The main foyer features a glass wall that
overlooks Töölönlahti Bay and Hesperia Park. The Opera House
features state-of-the-art technology and two auditoriums: the main
auditorium with 1,350 seats and a smaller studio auditorium with 300 to
As is the usual practice, most operas are performed in their original language, with translations in Finnish, Swedish and English being projected on a surtitling screen during performances. The Finnish National Opera puts on around 300 performances every year, with a repertoire that might include 15 operas and 9 ballets. It also organises recitals, free matinee concerts, events for kids and teenagers, and briefings with audiences where opera and ballet production teams discuss their work. The season begins in August and ends in June, so there is still plenty of productions and performances left to enjoy in the season.
Located alongside the Port of Turku, Turunlinna or Turku Castle has stood as a guardian at the mouth of the River Aura since the 1280s, and has, during its long history, functioned as a defensive bastion, a majestic court, an administrative centre, a prison, a store-house, and a military barracks. Today it is one of Turku’s most visited tourist attractions, and a source of considerable pride for the citizens of Finland’s oldest city.
Turku Castle has played a major role in Finland’s history, and has witnessed any number of dramatic events and turning points. The main exhibition tells of this rich history, over 800 years worth, from its earliest beginnings right up to the present. Visitors are encouraged to follow a well directed path through this immense site, taking in the countless rooms that are styled with periodic furniture, costumes, jewelry, and all manner of historical artifacts, showcasing the Castle Museum’s treasured collection. Along the way you’ll learn how life was lived here, how the castle’s residents celebrated, as well as coming to know the royal court and the lives of those who served them. Your journey takes you from the late Middle Ages, through the Renaissance, the Reformation, up to today.
Children will also find much to amuse them within Turku Castle‘s walls. One of the highlights of the exhibition are the life-sized dolls of, among others, Duke John & Catherine Jagellon, 15th century Turku merchant Valpuri Innamaa, and the castle’s sausage maker, Pylsy-Elina. They will also discover that in the Knight’s Hall of the Children’s Castle they can dress up as a knight or princess and play at being a part of a medieval court. There are Little Knight tours, as well as the Castle Workshop, the mini-court, and the Castle Elf’s treasure chamber. The trip through the castle can be thirsty work, and whet any appetite, but both can be satisfied in Duke John’s Cellar, which serves lunch and all kinds of beverages. Souvenirs can be purchased in the Fatabur Museum Shop.
A short walk up the river, Forum Marinum is a a lively and versatile centre for maritime activities, comprising a national special maritime museum, and the Finnish Navy Museum. Last month Forum Marinum opened its latest permanent exhibition, developed around the theme “working on the sea” through different persons’ perspectives and their tasks and work on the sea and in the navy. Visitors can explore various experiences from cabin boys to officers, not forgetting the women working on the ships as well.
The new permanent exhibition takes up more than 850 square meters, and it covers large concepts, including the history of Finnish Navy and Finnish South-West maritime trade. Other themes include the culture and history of maritime rescue and the Coast Guard, professional sea fishing, farmers’ sailing trips and archipelago culture. The sea fishing theme also covers leisure fishing, which has not been exhibited in Finland before. The Navy exhibition has been renewed to include the complete history of the Finnish Navy, as well as coastal artillery and coastal infantry.
The museum provides several interesting temporary exhibitions during a year and displays also a very interesting boat collection. The maritime centre has a considerable collection of museum vessels: two tall sail ships, four naval ships and several smaller vessels, ranging from a steam harbour tugboat to a police boat. The museum ships are open during the summer months only, while the exhibitions are open throughout the year.
Further up the river, and on the opposite bank, lies the Wäinö Aaltonen Museum (WAM), named after the famous Turku born sculptor Wäinö Aaltonen (1894–1966). Almost 50 years old now, the museum is housed in a modernist white building that has become a distinctive part of Turku’s cultural landscape. The permanent exhibition is based on the art collection of City of Turku, which includes a large collection of works by Aaltonen himself, but there are also temporary exhibitions that present new and experimental art projects. The rich calendar of events held at WAM includes events, lectures, concerts and theme days for families.
Although the museum was designed by Irma and Matti Aaltonen, Wäinö Aaltonen also took part in the design process, travelling abroad to visit numerous art museums and get a feel for what was needed to best exhibit large works of art. His influence is felt in the spacious exhibition rooms that enable the visitors to view three-dimensional art from every angle, with certain rooms reserved for specific forms of art. The upper and lower galleries were planned for miniature sculptures, paintings and graphics, whereas the main sculpture hall, with a height of 11 metres, was planned for large works of art, allowing the museum to exhibit pieces that would have been impossible to display in smaller spaces. The atmospheric atrium illuminates all the space that surrounds it. Through the large windows, the visitors are able to see the sky or the rippling water of the pool. Susanna, a bronze sculpture by Aaltonen, is kneeling by the pool. The museum is also home to the Wäinön valinta museum shop and the pleasant Café Wäinö.