In many ways, Helsinki has the Swedish military to thank for its existence. During the eighteenth century, when the Kingdom of Sweden ruled much of what is now modern Finland, today's cultural and political capital was a relatively small town, with a population of roughly 1,000 citizens. Meanwhile, beginning in 1748, a massive stone fortress called Sveaborg (Viapori in Finnish) began to take shape on the nearby Susiluodot Islands in the Gulf of Finland. Built as a defense against Russia, the base at its peak contained close to six times as many people as the cluster of wooden buildings across the harbor. But Sveaborg and its garrison needed civilian goods and services, and over time they gave significance to the trading post on Sweden's eastern frontier.
Today the tables have turned, and Suomenlinna, as the eight fortified islands are collectively known, has a fraction of its former population—about 850 at last count. On any given afternoon, most of the people wandering around the gravel footpaths and cobblestone avenues are tourists, visitors from other cities and countries eager to explore this UNESCO World Heritage site and maybe learn something about its history. Not long ago I was one of those wanderers, contentedly roaming around the rocky landscape as winter's snow began to melt. I brought my point and shoot camera over with me on the ferry, and shot a bunch of pictures as I covered the distance between the main quay and Bastion Zander, a mile walk to the south. The sprawling, painstakingly-restored complex is a scenic place to be sure, and even more inviting during the warmer summer months. I only wish the little ravintola panimo (restaurant brewery) had been open on the day of my visit. A pint of porter would've been good company while I waited for the boat back to Helsinki's Market Square.