A Warm Welcome

As a disclaimer: These photos were taken during a visit in September 2017, so this post may not be representative of this site today.

When I first arrived at Helsinki, it was humid and cold, the sky an overcast white blanket. I have this thing where it rains at least once every time I travel somewhere, but also where I get better weather than I should otherwise, given the time of the year in which I visit — this was true of Edinburgh, and it was true, as locals could never fail to remind us, of Iceland. It was the case as well with Helsinki, but it was a surprise that was yet to come to the me that visited Uspenski Cathedral under an overcast sky.

Uspenski Cathedral

The Uspenski Cathedral is not only the Eastern Orthodox cathedral for Helsinki, it is also the religion’s main cathedral in Finland. It is dedicated to the Dormition (falling asleep, i.e. death) of the Theotokos (mother of God, Mary). The name of the church comes from the Old Church Slavonic word uspenie, which refers to the Dormition.


The institution of the Orthodox Church in Helsinki is considered to have been formed in 1827 with the construction of the Holy Trinity Church. In need of a larger place of worship, the building of the Uspenski Cathedral began, largely funded by parishioners and private donors.

The building was designed by Aleksy Gornostayev, but was built after his death in 1862 under Ivan Varnek, perched on a hillside on the Katajanokka peninsula, and overlooking the city. The structure was consecrated in October of 1868.

700,000 bricks from the Bomarsund Fortress, demolished in the Crimean War, were used in the church’s construction, and it is believed to be the largest Orthodox Church in Western Europe.

Its iconostasis, the wall of icons and religious paintings that separates the nave from the sanctuary, was painted by Pavel S. Šiltsov. The church has also suffered the theft of some of its icons, among them the icon of St. Nicolas – The Wonder Maker, which was stolen in 2007 in broad daylight, while tourists visited the site, and is still missing. Another, Theotokos of Kozeltshan, was stolen in 2010, but was recovered in 2011, after its robbers had broken into the church a second time and were apprehended.

Made a short refueling stop at Johan & Nyström, which sits on the nearby harbor.

Senate Square

Known in Finnish as Senaatintori and in Swedish as Senatstorget, the Senate Square in Helsinki is the work of Carl Ludvig Engel. It, and its surroundings, are the oldest part of central Helsinki.

The square is flanked by the Helsinki Cathedral, the Government Palace, the main building of the University of Helsinki, and the Sederholm House, which is itself Helsinki’s oldest building, having been built in 1757.

Prior to its construction in 1812, the site had held a graveyard. Its purpose was changed as part of a construction plan devised by Johan Albrecht Ehrenström, a politician, for the new capital city of Helsinki.

Helsinki Cathedral

Originally known as St. Nicholas’s Church after Tsar Nicholas I of Russia, a name it kept until the Independence of Finland in 1917, the church serves as the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran cathedral of Helsinki. It was originally built from 1830-1852, also by Carl Ludvig Engel, though it was later altered by Ernst Lohrmann.

The church replaced the Ulrika Eleonora Church, named after a Queen of Sweden, which had stood on the same site. The bells from the old church adorn the new cathedral today.

Engel unfortunately passed 12 years before the building was completed, and so it was taken over by Ernst Lohrmann. Among his additions are statues of the Apostles in the corners of the roof, and a chapel and bell tower flanking the steps to the church.

Its interior, as a Lutheran church, is crisply white and a direct contrast to the Uspenski Cathedral nearby, which is done in the Orthodox style.

Helsinki City Museum

The Helsinki City Museum, dedicated to documenting and displaying the history of the city, is located on a corner of the Senate Square, on one of the oldest blocks in Helsinki.

Its collection, based on the memories of the everyday life of its citizens, numbers more than a million photos. The museum also holds reconstructions of typical Finnish establishments, as part of the daily life of a regular person living in Helsinki.

By the time I left the City Museum, the sky was almost completely clear blue, not a drop of rain in sight. A warm welcome to Helsinki, indeed.

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