The past at last in old Rauma

There’s not much that’s old in Finland- architecturally that is. Although civilisation has been here thousands of years, as an independent nation, it is younger than Australia, having been occupied variously by the Swedes and the Russians, gaining independence from the latter only in 1917.

In the capital Helsinki, there are some grand old buildings, built mainly by the occupying powers, and up-country in Savonlinna, the well preserved medieval castle that features on most tourist brochures of the place, but that was built by the Danes, taken over by the Swedes and finally modified by the Russians.

Not long after independence, in the 1920s the Finns began to assert themselves architecturally mainly through the free thinking architect Alvar Aalto, who after bestowing them on his countrymen (who have never recovered from them) took his ideas firstly to the US and from there to the world. What he took was that kind of rational functional modernism, that reached its zenith in Melbourne’s high rise housing commission blocks of the 1960s and 70s. Yes much of Finland’s architecture looks like that but on a much more modest scale.

Therefore it was a blast to come across some real past that hadn’t been wiped out either by modernism or one of the numerous wars that have ravaged the country. So here we are at Rauma just 25 kilometres from the Olkiluoto nuclear power complex (see next blog).

Rauma has managed to keep its old town, mostly wooden buildings with a crazy layout that hasn’t changed from the middle ages. In the centre of it was a thundering American car from the early 1950s, a Buick Eight Roadmaster driven by some very cool looking characters. They drove off not in a roar but a whisper. A car like that would probably use more fuel in a day, than an average European would use in a month. But most people ride bicycles over the cobblestone streets.

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