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History of the fortresses from the Middle Ages to the early 19th century

Crusades were made to between the 11th and 13th centuries Finland by both the eastern church of Constantinople and the western church of Rome. In the late 13th century, Sweden, representing the western church and power, founded castles at Turku (Åbo), Häme (Tavastehus) and Kuusisto (Kustö) as administrative centres. The castle of Vyborg was founded in 1293, marking the start of the struggle between Sweden and Russia - first Novgorod, then Moscow - for mastery of the Baltic and control of Finland. Torkel Knutson and Alexander Nevsky opposed each other and they launched an arms race of their era: building fortresses.

In 1294 Sweden conquered the ancient Karelian mid-13th century fortresses of Korela (Käkisalmi), which was controlled by Novgorod, and named it Kexholm. Just a few months later Novgorod troops retook the fortress and in 1310 began to construct a secure new fortress at Korela. At the same time Sweden founded the castle of Landscrona at the mouth of the Neva River.

The Treaty of Nöteborg of 1323 marked a lull in the struggle. Novgorod then began to build a border fortification at Orekhovets (Nöteborg, Pähkinäsaari) known as Oreshek. When the fighting started again, the wooden fortress burned down, a couple of decades after being built. In the mid-14th century Novgorod troops began construction of a stone fortress in the old Russian style.

Fortresses built to withstand firearms
Following an internal power struggle in Russia, all the territories of Novgorod came under the control of Moscow in the 1470s. This led to all fortresses being modernized. The old works were almost entirely demolished and replaced with stone structures capable of withstanding new weaponry and firearms. In particular, cannon towers were built.

The castle of Vyborg, in the territory of Finland, or Sweden's "Eastland", was also modernized. In about 1475 Sweden also started to build a contoured city wall with cannon towers to protect the town that had grown to the east of Vyborg Castle. At the same time construction began on Olavinlinna (Olofsborg), the sister fortress of Vyborg.

Wars and bastions
The following century brought several wars between Sweden and Russia. During the "Long Hate" (1570-1595), Sweden's Pontus de la Gardie conquered Kexholm in 1580, after which the fortress was modernized. As well as several stone buildings, three southern European-style bastions designed by Jakob van Stendahl were built at the Kexholm fortress. The appearance of Vyborg Castle was altered after the visit of King Gustav Vasa, when reconstruction of St. Olaf's tower began. Two modern bastion fronts were also built to the east of Vyborg's medieval city wall, the bastions Äyräpää and Pantsarlahti.

Following the Treaty of Tyavzino (Täyssinä) of 1595 that ended the Long Hate, however, Kexholm was once again ceded to Russia. Sweden now believed that Ivan the Terrible of Moscow wanted to gain control of the northern territories and open up a route to the Arctic Ocean.

To fend off these expansionist plans, construction of Kajaani (Kajana) Castle began in 1603. Swedish troops led by Pontus de la Gardie retook Kexholm in 1611. The following year the Swedes also overran Nöteborg. The Treaty of Stolbova of 1617 ceded all the areas on the Gulf of Finland and the shores of the Neva to Sweden. Settlers from Finland moved in. In 1642 the fortified town of Nyen was founded approximately where St. Petersburg stands today. The Kexholm fortress was modernized with the addition between 1630 and 1650 of five bastions next to the old cannon tower and a rectangular shaped town within the walls.

Bastion front round Vyborg
The medieval town of Vyborg was completely redesigned from the mid-17th century. One reason was fire safety - the town was rebuilt to a square plan. All buildings were made of brick and stone. The square plan was also influenced by new international trends in town planning, which in turn had to do with new defence techniques. By the early 18th century a bastion front was built round the square plan town. At the same time the medieval city wall was demolished apart from the Round Tower. Vyborg Castle also gained its definitive appearance.

The Great Northern War leads to territorial concessions
The early 18th century saw a clash between the two major powers Sweden and Russia - the Great Northern War. The two sides were led by Karl XII, who was barely 16 when he became king, and Peter the Great, who had studied warfare and shipbuilding in Europe. The Russian Emperor was set on opening up a route via the Gulf of Finland to the world's oceans.

The conquest of Nöteborg in 1702 opened up the way to the Neva and the North Sea and gave the impetus for the construction of a new city, St. Petersburg, which was defiantly founded in 1703 even before the war had ended. The Peter and Paul Fortress was built to defend the future capital city. Sweden's inadequate fortresses of Nyen and Landscrona were now destroyed for ever. Peter the Great's army then took Vyborg in 1710 and Kexholm.

Peter the Great modernized the fortresses using the bastion system pioneered by the French Field Marshal Sebastian le Preste du Vauban. The earthworks of Nöteborg (now called Schlüsselburg or Shlisselburg) were reinforced with stone and inside the fortresses imposing buildings modelled on St. Petersburg and the designs of the Italian architect Terzin were built

Hamina and Lappeenranta founded on the new eastern border
Sweden was no longer a major power. As well as losing the Vyborg region, the Baltic provinces had also been ceded to Russia. In order to check the expansion of Russia, Sweden founded two fortified towns to secure its south-eastern frontier immediately after the Treaty of Nystad in 1721: Hamina (Fredrikshamn), a circular fortress built to a radial plan, and Lappeenranta (Villmanstrand), built to a square plan and surrounded by an irregular bastion front. The two were modeled on the Renaissance ideal cities developed in Mediterranean countries, with a garrison and protective bastion front ensuring the security of the residents.

At the same time Peter the Great decided to secure his capital, St. Petersburg, both on land and at sea. He built a sea fortress on the island of Kotl which was given the name Kronstadt ("Crown Town"), which continued to be added to and modernized right up to the Second World War. The land defences of St. Petersburg were secured with the construction of the fortress of the Crown of St. Anne to the west of Vyborg Castle.

The Swedes build Viapori, the present-day Suomenlinna
Sweden wanted to regain its lost territories and started the so-called War of the Hats of 1741-1742. However, the final outcome was further loss of territory. At the Treaty of Åbo in 1743 the border was redrawn at the western branch of the Kymijoki River and cut through Saimaa. Hamina, Lappeenranta and Olavinlinna were now Russian. Once again Sweden's defences had to be rebuilt. In 1747 the Swedish Diet decided to counter Kronstadt by building the sea fortress of Sveaborg, nowadays Suomenlinna, off Helsinki, with the Loviisa-Svartholma dual fortress as a forward defence. Russia continued to reinforce Kronstadt in particular, and in 1773 also founded a new land fortress, Davidov, as a forward defence for St. Petersburg. Davidov, was a circular fortified town built to a square plan on the site of the current Taavetti, the centre of the municipality of Luumäki.

Fortification works in south-eastern Finland built under the direction of General Alexander Suvorov
Russia’s fears that Sweden might start a new war proved justified, when in 1788-90 Gustav III made an effort to regain the territories in south-eastern Finland lost in two previous peace treaties at Abo (Turku) and Nystad (Uusikaupunki). Gustav’s war ended without any change in national boundaries with Värälä Peace Treaty in 1790. However, these repeated attempts at retribution did make Catherine II order her capital to be protected by a triple fortification front.

The fortification works were at their most intensive in 1791-92, when general (and future generalissimo) Alexander Suvorov (1730-1800) was in charge of fortification in Hamina and Lappeenranta. Older Swedish earth wall forts were rebuilt in local stone and furnished with additional defences. There were improvements in Vyborg, Käkisalmi and Taavetti (Davidov). The Olavinlinna (Nyslott) Castle was surrounded with bastions and its artillery towers were raised.

The outer protective front included some new fortifications. Ruotsinsalmi Sea Fortress and Harbour, located in present-day Kotka, was different from typical idealized fortified towns (e.g. Hamina), in that it only contained a garrison and a military harbour. There were altogether about twenty forts scattered around at Ruotsinsalmi, but they weren’t particularly important in strategic sense, and neither did they constitute any sort of townscape.

Kyminlinna, built just north of Ruotsinsalmi, Utti, located in present-day Valkeala, on the site of a battle fought during Gustav’s war near the Vyborg road, and Järvitaipale (Ozernoje, “Lake Fort”) in Savitaipale were strictly regular and symmetric, and based wholly on bastions. Savitaipale also got its second fort to guard the shoreline of the lake Saimaa. This fort, Kärnäkoski, was asymmetric and built according to landscape forms. A small star-shaped fort Liikkala in Anjalankoski consisted simply of earth walls.

The Saimaa Fleet had its new bases in Lappeenranta, Savonlinna and Kärnäkoski, and four canals were constructed to ease water communications between these (Telataipale, Kukonharju, Käyhkää and Kutvele).

After Catherine’s death her heir Paul I didn’t take much care to support the fortresses in Vyborg province. Alexander I, on the other hand, was a military man and paid special attention to peripheral Finland in strategic as well as other senses. This is understandable bearing in mind the effect Napoleonic Wars had had on European geopolitics and the vicinity of the Russian capital.

The arrival of the caponier fortification system in the early 19th century
In Southern and Central Europe bastion fortification was already considered behind its times in XVIII century. Well-developed artillery made it more possible and effective to place cannons in separate, independent blockhouses, such as caponiers. Combinations of such structures meant a wholly new fortification style, the caponier system. This fortification model was brought to Finland by Russians in the early XIX century.

In 1803 Alexander I made a fortnight-long journey to inspect the fortresses in Finland. During this excursion, the Emperor made many remarks to military engineers in his company concerning the ineffectiveness and datedness of his fortresses. After the journey the Dutch-born engineer-general Jan Peter van Suchtelen who had accompanied Alexander presented him with a project for the modernization and improvement of fortifications. This project included plans drawn up to rebuild Kyminlinna, Utti and Hamina’s northern front from scratch. Kärnäkoski was to be supplied with additional independent caponiers. The already planned docks and harbour at Ruotsinsalmi were to be completed as soon as possible and function as a base for the Saimaa Fleet.

The construction work at Kyminlinna and Hamina began at once. Suvorov’s fort was torn down and replaced with what we see now – a fortress with five polygons, and a double external defence system, the only true caponier fortress in Finland. Suchtelen designed its ditches and moats so that the outmost one could be filled with water from the nearby stream Kymi.

The northern front of Hamina was replaced with a large Central Bastion, a massive blockhouse, and some independent defences such as caponiers and lunettes.

Van Suchtelen’s work was mostly done when the next war between Russia and Sweden, an episode of Napoleonic Wars, began. This conflict led to the whole of Finland becoming part of Russia as the Grand Duchy. The Vyborg province (“The Old Finland”) was united with the rest of the duchy (“The New Finland”) in 1812.

Old fortresses lose their status
As the border had moved many kilometres away to the Tornio River and the Gulf of Bothnia, the fortresses, which had been built with great efforts, became obsolete. They lost their status soon after, though Russian garrisons remained in Hamina, Lappeenranta, Kyminlinna and Vyborg until the Russian Revolution. Only Sveaborg (Suomenlinna) still functioned as a sea fortress, replacing Ruotsinsalmi as an outpost of Kronstadt. Russia founded the new Bomarsund fortress at its new border in Ahvenanmaa (Åland), as the situation in Europe still was unstable after Napoleonic wars.

During the XIX century, all the former castles and fortresses in Finland, except for Sveaborg and Bomarsund, were converted into prisons and magazines of the Grand Duchy or arsenals kept by the Russian army. This did not prevent the structures from falling into disrepair almost as swiftly as any disused fortresses would. Only Svartholma (an island fort near Loviisa) and Fort Slava (one of the outmost sea forts in Ruotsinsalmi) were cared for as potential defence bases, even though both housed a functioning Russian prison at the same time.

The religious conflict that had erupted between Russia, France and the Ottoman Empire in the early 1850s soon expanded. The war broke out in 1853 and the national interests of the United Kingdom became compromised. Allied British and French forces entered the Crimean peninsula. Russia was concerned over a possible attack on its western border and the Grand Duchy of Finland, and a large number of new, modern batteries were quickly built in Sveaborg. Meant for heavier cannons, the batteries were erected on top of older Swedish bastions and formed a continuous south-western front. Russian troops also built smaller batteries in Hamina, Ruotsinsalmi, Kyminlinna, Tammisaari etc.

The feared attack did indeed happen, when in summer 1854 allied British and French fleets raided the coasts of the Gulf of Bothnia, burning many towns down. The Finnish tar merchants together with Russian troops made an effort to build earth walls for protection. Soon the enemy fleet bombed Bomarsund, destroying it completely. Next year, Sveaborg suffered badly. Then Hanko’s Gustavsvärn, Svartholma and Fort Slava were destroyed.

Fortifications in the 20th century
The Crimean War ended the history of traditional fortification in many ways. Bastion forts with their handsome walls and impressive architecture demonstrated to the enemy the power and greatness of defenders. Caponier fortress still had a daunting effect but wasn’t meant to protect an idealized regularly-planned town. The main aim was now in placing the heavy artillery in an effective way. There were usually no inhabitants except for the garrison in a caponier fortress. With Crimean war, the batteries blended into landscape, concealing the artillery. No longer were fortifications there to impress, rather, they hid from the enemy. With wars and artillery gradually becoming mobile during the XIX century, traditional fortress garrisons were rendered ineffective and were no longer built. Military architecture now focused on unfortified garrisons usually founded outside of town or settlement rather than within it.

The advent of conscription (1878 in Russia) also demanded new types of garrison. Russia built over ten such modern garrisons in Finland in the beginning of the XX century, whereas the fortification works were carried out along the coast of the Gulf of Finland and all the main roads. These World War I defences were of a new type, blending into surroundings.

The only fortifications built in independent Finland are Mannerheim’s line in Karelia from 1920s and 1930s, the Salpa line running along the eastern border, and Harparskog in Hankoniemi, the latter two dating from World War II. These defences follow the international fortification style of the period but represent interesting local variations.

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