Finland: Porvoo | Borgå
Porvoo (Fin) or Borgå (Swe) is a small town east of the Finnish capital Helsinki.
For a tourist, Porvoo is best known for its charming old town, Vanha Porvoo (Old Porvoo). The hilly medieval town is dominated by the 13th century stone Porvoo Cathedral. The story tells that in 1346 Maunu Eerikinpoika (Magnus Eriksson), then the King of Sweden, visited Porvoo and granted the town rights there and then. The mosaic-like town plan with its maze of streets and irregularly shaped plots dates back to the Middle Ages. Since then the town suffered many fires, but always the stubborn citizens rebuilt their houses on the same foundations.
Shore houses, cobblestone streets and idyllic gardens make Old Porvoo a uniquely historical urban milieu. Porvoo has been an important centre of trade since the 13th century. Jokikatu and Välikatu have always been lively shopping streets. People came to the city to shop, spend the night, have fun and eat well. Today, this tradition continues as people enjoy the unique atmosphere in the streets, gardens, cafés, resraurants, hotels, galleries and museums. The buildings in Old Porvoo today were built according to a medieval town plan and are ofhistorical value in terms of their construction. The Old Porvoo district currently covers an area of 18 hectares, with 250 residential buildings and 300 outbuildings. Roughly 700 people live in this area.
The bustling trade town was built on the Porvoonjoki River, and so one of the typical vistas of the town are the red ochre paint storages by the riverbank. a curious fact is that they got their colour only in the late 18th century. Red ochre paint was used to paint the shore houses in honour of King Gustav III's arrival from Sweden. All of the houses along his route were painted, in order to make them more beautiful. The red ochre also helped protect the logs from wind and sun damage, as well as the small, winding lanes lined with colourful, wooden huts that nowadays host a variety of good resturants and small shops.
Porvoo is a culturally significant town, and it became the second biggest town in Finland in the 18th century. Porvoo marks an important cornerstone in the history of Finland as well: The Porvoo Diet in 1809 started the autonomous country to begin building after the was between Sweden and Russia. Finland then switched from being part of Sweden to an autonomous Grand Dutchy of Russia. The Finnish independence was gained in 1917.
The Empire-style part of Porvoo tells us about the era of Nicholas I, the Czar of Russia between 1825-55. This reactionary ruler wanted to get rid of the dense and flammable old town built under the Swedish rulers, to replace it with a regular and spacious Russian rectangular plan. Luckily, Old Porvoo was not touched, instead the town expanded to the south built according to the Empire-style St. Petersburgian plan. Architect Carl Ludwig Engel, who also drew the Senate Square area in Helsinki, was nominated the designer of new Porvoo. The most popular attraction in this Empire town is the home of the Finnish national poet Johan Ludvig Runeberg. The best known of Porvoo's own artists is probably Albert Edelfelt, born in Kiiala manor in 1854. Edelfelt was especially enchanted by Old Porvoo with its narrow streets and the red river-bank outbuildings.