Hämeenlinna

In order to secure their newly aquired territory in Finland, the Swedes built a castle at Häme in the mid 13th century. This fortification, originally a simple square fort with wooden buildings inside, replaced the old Häme Castle six miles away.

In the 14th century, the castle was built up in brick to a final height of three storeys and the two corner towers were added in the late 15th century. The inner castle is square with a courtyard in the centre. After the middle ages the castle went into a decline and in 1659 was ravaged by fire.

Plan of Hameenlinna in the 18th century.

With the development of firearms, the castle's fortifications were gradually modified to resist artillery. Two large circular gun towers were built in the 16th century, although one of these was destroyed in a Swedish civil war at the end of the 16th century.

View of the surviving gun tower with the inner castle in the background.

The towers had extremely thick walls and were three floors high with a conical roof. There were guns on the first two floors, with embrasures spaced at regular intervals around the wall for them to fire through.

The top floor of the towers was a gallery that enabled muskateers to fire down on nearby enemy troops. This design of circular tower was used extensively by the Swedes in early artillery fortifications, but it was inferior to the bastion because it could not be completely covered from the walls.

Following the damage caused by war in the late 16th century, the castle underwent some refurbishment. The king of Sweden visited the castle in 1626 and the Governor-General of Finland, Count Per Brahe visited in 1639 and founded the town of Hämeenlinna.

The earthwork bastions on the north side of the castle.

After the Great Northern War between Sweden and Russia, the castle was strengthened again with the construction of angular earthen ramparts, which were able to absorb cannon fire better than stone walls.

The western earthworks.

In the 1770s the trace of the earthworks was improved to comprise more regular bastions where possible and the original earthworks, which had fallen into disrepair, had to be repaired. In the 18th century various storage buildings and a prison were constructed.

In the 19th century the whole castle was converted into a prison and new buildings were built to house the prisoners. The prison closed in the early 20th century and the castle was restored from 1956-1988.

Visiting Hämeenlinna

Today, Hämeenlinna is in excellent condition, the whole castle has been restored except for the demi-lune (which protected the northern entrance). The outer defences can be visited free of charge but it costs €5 (€3 for consessions).

Scale model of the castle.

There are two other museums in the castle, the prison museum and the Hämeenlinna museum. These museums have seperate entrance fees and in my opinion neither of them is worth the fee. Just to the north of the castle is yet another museum, the artillery museum, which has an extensive collection of artillery from all ages.

A tower in the medieval core of the castle.

Hämeenlinna station is on the main line from Helsinki to Tampere and there are trains every hour - journey takes 30 mins from Tampere or 1 hour from Helsinki. The castle is on the opposite side of the river from the station, about 10 minutes walk. Hämeenlinna is a unique fortification, with extensive earthwork fortifications, a 16th c artillery tower and an impressive medieval castle all on the same site. It is well worth a visit, especially as its within such easy reach of Helsinki.

Condition Access to fortifications Size of fortress Accessability of town Museum/Info Overall score
10 9 6 8 7 8
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