Ever wondered what is this white building that somehow finds its way in every photo of Turku? Well, this blog might be for you then.
Completed in 1819, the neoclassical building was designed by the German architect Carl Ludvig Engel. It was initially built to host the Royal Academy of Turku, where scientists were to observe the Finnish sky, hence its title of Observatory. The Observatory was also one of the few buildings in the city which were left intact by the great fire of 1827 (also including what is now the Luostarinmäki Handicrafts Museum). However, the fire eventually resulted in the relocation of the Academy to Helsinki in 1834, which left the building empty.
In 1836, the Swedish Maritime School moved in, where it stayed until 1967. The building then became a maritime museum from 1986 to 1998, which then moved to the current Forum Marinum, and hosted some of the exhibitions of the Turku Art Museum while it was being renovated between 1999 and 2005. The Observatory now belongs to the foundation of Åbo Akademi (Stiftelsen för Åbo Akademi), which flag can be seen flying on the building.
Even though, as mentioned earlier, the area surrounding the Observatory was left relatively untouched by the great fire of 1827, not much else could be found there at the time. As shown above, the vicinity of the building was rocky and vegetation was scarce. Progressively, however, trees were planted and plans were elaborated to build a proper park. Through the XIXth century efforts were made to ”populate” the area and by the late 1890s Vartiovuorenpuisto was born.
The trees present in the park are particularly remarkable. As many as 70 different species are represented, a few of them from rare species. Some of the oldest ones are well over 100 years old. The area of Vartivuorenpuisto is also considered since 2009 a nationally-significant constructed environment.
A Water Tower?
For those who already knew some of the information above, here is something that might surprise you. The little hill next to the Observatory used to be a water tower with a capacity of 1080m³. Built in 1903, it is located underground and only the pumping station is visible outside. Its decoration actually constitutes a strong clue as to the nature of the small hill, including dolphins and water-like patterns. The water tower is not in use and hosted an art exhibition in 2011.
- Vartivuorenpuisto is a central location to the celebration of Vappu, the most important student celebration in Finland. Swedish-speaking Finns celebrate it there since 1919 and it is where everyone gathers the next day for a picnic.
- There is a number of signs indicating the former water line placed along the paths of the park. The hill was one of the first islands to emerge in prehistoric times.
- The Observatory building hosted until not so long ago the Dutch Consulate in Turku.
Sadly I have not had the chance to visit the inside of the building, hence the lack of photos. If I do I might make a follow-up.