FX Excursions

FX Excursions offers the chance for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in destinations around the world.

Helsinki: Moments of Reflection

by Brandon Schultz

Dec 1, 2018
December 2018

AT JUST 101 YEARS OLD, FINLAND is a relatively new nation, being part of the Kingdom of Sweden for the majority of the last millennium. The Russian Empire took control throughout the 19th century until Finland declared independence in 1917, but not before both influences left their indelible marks on Finnish culture and, especially, its capital.

Helsinki, a small capital with a population of just over 600,000, remains Finland’s most diverse region and a trending destination for travelers to the Nordic north. A Scandinavian city by the broadest definition (Finland is not technically a Scandinavian country), Helsinki is far more famous for dynamic architecture than for any religious ethos, but its churches are as visually varied as the rest of the city’s singular structures and provide the perfect architectural itinerary for a chronological crash course in Helsinki heritage.

Helsinki Cathedral (built 1830–1852) carries the most commanding presence in central Helsinki’s Senate Square, standing stoically atop a series of steps so steep and narrow they appear as a sheer cliff face from even a short distance. While the government palace, the University of Helsinki and the city’s oldest building all lie within this impressive square designed to evoke a miniature St. Petersburg in Neoclassical style, all eyes focus on the cathedral’s five domes, exactly as designer Carl Ludvig Engel intended.

Not far from here, perched on the hill of Katajanokka Peninsula, Uspenski Cathedral overlooks the city with its Byzantine Revival roofs of green bronze beneath a glittering gold onion dome. It’s no surprise to find a plaque here commemorating Russian Emperor Alexander II, who controlled Finland during its construction.

Western Helsinki offers a more recent contribution to the city’s curio collection of churches, boasting the Temppeliaukio Church, better known as the Rock Church and completed by architect-brothers Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen in 1969. Built directly into rock, the rounded church is capped with a copper dome surrounded entirely by a ring of skylights. The nearly unworked rock walls yield spectacular acoustics, making the Rock Church a popular concert venue.

Finally, no “arch walk” is complete without a moment of peace inside Kamppi Chapel in Narinkka Square. More commonly called the Chapel of Silence, this award-winning 2012 creation offers an ecumenical respite for the weary wanderer in need of a moment of solitude amid Helsinki’s hustle and bustle. Simultaneously relaxing and invigorating, it’s an architectural must-see and an ideal spot to reflect upon all Helsinki’s cultural history offers.

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