Helsinki is celebrating 200 years of capital-city status this year. Pictured: a view of Helsinki from the south.The decree by Alexander I two hundred years ago came as a shock to the residents of the Finnish capital, Turku.

ON WEDNESDAY 8 April 1812 many a resident of Turku might well have felt let down, if not downright swindled. The city council had only been the capital of the Grand Duchy of Finland for three years, when Tsar Alexander I dropped the proverbial bomb on them.

It took the form of a decree stating that: “In concurrence with the proposal of Your subordinates, we have in all mercy seen fit to declare Helsinki the capital of Finland, in consequence of which the Governor-General and the Counsel of State will henceforth be stationed there...”

Turku had become the capital of the Grand Duchy following the Finnish War (February 1808 - September 1809) between Sweden and Russia. Sweden lost the war, and lost Finland as a result. Nevertheless, few had suspected that the city’s capital status would be affected. In the end, however, Turku was the capital city for only about a decade, since the long process of implementing the Tsar’s decree of April 1812 lasted until 1819.

After the great fire of Turku some years later, the Imperial University transferred to Helsinki as well, in 1828. How did those in favour of transferring the capital to Helsinki succeed in convincing the imperial powers of the necessity of the change? The main lobbyist (as he would be called nowadays) was Gustaf Mauritz Armfelt, who himself hailed from the Turku region. Armfelt’s opinions carried weight, since he had acted as chairman of St. Petersburg’s influential Committee for Finnish Affairs since November 1811.



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