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The Pori church registry office, built in 1893, is typical of buildings adjacent to Kokemäenjoki river.EVERY city in the world has its own pace – its own way of doing things – and Pori is proud to go its own way in many matters. Helsinki may have electronica and hip-hop, central Finland its tango traditions, and Rovaniemi its monster metal, but Pori defines its identity through the complex and subtle time signatures of jazz.

Pori is short for Swedish Björneborg, or Bear Castle. It was founded in 1558 by Duke John, later King Johan III of Sweden, as a more navigable harbour on the Kokemäenjoki river in Satakunta than the existing towns of Kokemäki and Ulvila.

The bourgeoisie of Ulvila had been forcibly resettled in Helsinki after the decline of their city, but unsurprisingly were unhappy there. In response to their entreaties, the duke ordered them to migrate to Pori to form the economic and social base of the new settlement.

Pori is now capital of the Satakunta region, and while shipbuilding is still a vital part of its economy, it has diversified into metals, electronics, chemicals, information technology and energy, as well as processing 12 per cent of all Finnish overseas transport.

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Music and more

Ask the average Pekka on the street about Pori, and they’ll likely answer with one of two things. The first is the annual Pori Jazz festival, first held in 1966. One of the founding organisers, Jyrki Kangas, is known as Mr Pori Jazz, and has had a hand in every one of the 46 instalments of the event.

From humble beginnings, Pori Jazz has grown into one of the biggest music festivals of any sort in the Nordic region. It currently draws well over 100,000 visitors annually with its wide-ranging programme, featuring the musical talents of such stars as Norah Jones, Miles Davis, Bobby McFerrin and Paul Anka. The eclectic mix of the festival is one of its draws – so much so that the “jazz” part of its name is now something of a misnomer. Yet it goes from strength to strength, and is definitely a high point of the Finnish summer season.

As for the other thing that Pori is well known for: the Porilainen, a sandwich that owes its name to an execrable pun with hampurilainen, or hamburger. It features a thick wodge of garlicky hunter sausage between slices of white wheat toast with raw onion, pickles, mustard and ketchup. It is now available widely throughout Finland from local grillikioski, but of course true aficionados will tell you that the real thing can only be had from Pori itself.

Sand and sea

Yyteri beach offers greater charms than the local nosh. Six glorious kilometres of sandy dunes host some of the best sunbathing, swimming and windsurfing areas in Finland, and indeed northern Europe. This being Finland, it is also home to a rich variety of waterfowl and waders.

In the compact city centre are some lesser-known gems of Finnish architecture, including the city hall, the 19th century Old Courthouse by C.L. Engel, and the Juselius Mausoleum, which used to feature frescos by Pori native Akseli Gallen-Kallela. The originals have since been lost, but have been replaced with works by the artist’s son, Jorma, in the same style.

Just under 250 kilometres from Helsinki, Pori is easily accessible by road and rail. Buses and trains take about 3 and half hours to get there, and there are as many as six 45-minute flights daily to and from Helsinki.

So if you find yourself wanting a change of pace, look no further than Pori, the city that dances to its very own, very funky rhythms.

KENNETH QUEK
HELSINKI TIMES

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