Mataeriel Culture: The Archaeology of 20th Century Conflict

By John Schofield; William Gray Johnson et al. | Go to book overview

5

The Salpa Line: a monument of the future and the traces of war in the Finnish cultural landscape

ULLA-RIITTA KAUPPI

In Finland, there appears to be a common feature in the conservation of fortifications from different periods and other sites of military history. Abandoned structures are first allowed to go to ruin, and not until the last moment do people wake up to their value as monuments and start to bring them back to life. The delay thus involved is generally at least one generation.


FORTIFICATION IN FINLAND: A BRIEF HISTORY

Castles, fortresses and other sites of military history have been constructed on Finnish soil over a period of almost 1000 years, witnesses to the power struggle between East and West - Sweden and Russia, and most recently, Soviet Russia and Germany. If they were lucky, the Finns were onlookers as the great powers slogged it out. In the worst case they were forced to join in the fighting. For this reason only the very first and the very last fortifications in Finnish history, the Iron Age hillforts of around 1000 years ago and the lines of bunkers from the Second World War, were built by the Finns themselves. The rest were built by a foreign power, generally using Finnish labour.

All the stages in between those first and last fortifications represented the importation of fortification theories to the periphery of Europe. First of all the Swedes built five Continental-style citadels with encircling walls in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries to provide a modicum of protection for their sphere of influence. The first proper fortress was Olavinlinna in Savonlinna with its round gun turrets (donjons), founded in 1475 and nowadays known for its international opera festival. Vyborg was the only Finnish town where the Swedes built a medieval town wall in addition to a castle. But the wall was demolished at the beginning of the seventeenth century to make way for an eastward-facing fortress town, surrounded by bastions and built on a grid plan, the first of its type in Finland.

The European bastion system did not properly become established in Finland until the eighteenth century, introduced by the Swedes from the West and the Russians from the East. The towns of Hamina and Lappeenranta, which were built by the Swedes, and Taavetti, built by the Russians, were textbook examples of the art. Sveaborg, now known as Suomenlinna, was built by the Swedes on the approach to

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