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History of Olavinlinna Castle

Olavinlinna was built into a scarcely populated area. However, the area was of military and geographic importance, since the borderline went through the area in accordance with the Peace Treaty of Pähkinäsaari (1323). First it was a borderline between Sweden and Novgorod, later between Sweden and the Grand Duchy of Moscow. When the Grand Duchy of Moscow tried to extend its power and started to threaten the Swedish border, a new fortification - Olavinlinna - was needed to strengthen the defence of Sweden's border in the east.

Olavinlinna was founded in 1475 by a Danish knight called Erik Axelsson Tott, who  at the time served as the governor of Vyborg Castle.  Building site for the castle was chosen from the point of view of defence: steep, rocky islet emerges from a strong stream at the meeting point of two waterways. It was difficult for the enemy to approach the castle and the waterways could be used to transport building material to the islet.

Before the building of the actual stone castle could be started, it was necessary to build a wooden fortification to protect the builders, who straight from the beginning had become the victims of Russians' attacks.

First a so-called main castle was built. It rose on the highest side of the islet, the western side. The main castle consisted of three towers with encircling wall between them. It took roughly ten years before the main castle could defend itself. Immediately after the main castle was finished the building of the so-called bailey was started. The bailey had two towers and the building work was finished at the end of the15th century. At that time the castle with five towers rising on an islet represented the most modern defence architecture with round towers and high encircling walls.

The castle's ability to defend itself was put to the test quite early. A war broke out in 1495 and the Russians made several attacks towards the castle. Also during the 16th and 17th century the castle was a subject of numerous attacks. The effects of the Great Northern War were seen in the castle, and in the summer of 1714 the first change in the ownership occurred, when the castle capitulated to the Russians after a fierce siege. There was some disagreement over who actually owned the castle. Thus in the Peace Treaty of Uusikaupunki in 1721 the castle was returned back to the Swedish. After many battles during the 18th century, the Peace Treaty of Turku in 1743 made Russia the owner of the castle. Russians took up extensive construction work in order to improve the castle's defence. Rectangular bastions are a proof of that period.

There was a garrison stationed in the castle up till 1847, although the castle lost its military importance in the Finnish War, where Finland became part of Russia (1809). When military activity came to an end, the castle served as a remand prison for a short time. After which the castle was deserted and started gradually getting reputation as a tourist sight and an attraction.

The thorough reparation of the castle became a burning issue during the1870's, right after two bad fires had raged in the castle. The function of the castle was also debated, and the state started looking after the castle, as an antiquity.

Olavinlinna quickly developed into a significant tourist attraction, and a popular location for festivities. In the summer of 1912 opera singer Aino Ackté organized the first out of the five opera festivals. These were the predecessors of the contemporary annual Savonlinna Opera Festival that started in 1967.

Restoration in the castle occurred in late 19th century as well as in the 20th century. However, the latest large-scale restoration began in 1961 and was finished in 1975, just in time for the castle's 500 -jubilee. After this only small annual repairs have been necessary. Today Olavinlinna is one of the most well known sights in Finland and many events are held inside its restored halls and rooms.


Webpages presenting Olavinlinna Castle done by the pupils of the University Practice School of Savonlinna.

Ruin of the Saint Erik
Ruin of the Saint Erik's Tower. Photo: Soile Tirilä