Helsinki today is a capital of Finland as well as a big center for business, culture, education and science. Helsinki together with its satellite cities Espoo, Vantaa, and Kauniainen form the Capital Region with the total population about 1 million. Due to an exodus of people from the countryside Helsinki is one of the fast-growing areas in Finland.
Helsinki is situated in the region of Uusimaa, in southern Finland, on the shore of the Gulf of Finland. It was established in 1550 by King Gustav Vasa of Sweden. On the 12th of June Helsinki celebrates its birthday. The first settlement was established at the mouth of the river Vantaa. King Gustav Vasa’s aim was to create a rival to Tallinn, which prospered at that time and had good trade relations due to its advantageous geographical position. But the original location was not good, as the harbor was too shallow for ships. As a result the city was moved to its present place, where the city center and main harbors were established. But it took much time before Helsinki became a city. Until the 18th century it was a small town wooden town. In 1748 on the islands near Helsinki the Swedish authorities started to build Sveaborg (Suomenlinna) fortress to protect themselves from Russian attacks. At the same time first stone buildings started to appear in Helsinki.
In wars between Russia and Sweden Helsinki was ceded several times to Russians, and after the Finnish War (1808 – 1809) Finland became a part of the Russian Empire.
On the 8th of April 1812 Czar Alexander I of Russia made Helsinki a capital of the autonomous Grand Duchy of Finland. It was a new page in the city history. In 1816 the German-born architect C. L. Engel was invited to become a main architect, who had worked before in Russia. Czar Alexander I and his brother Nicholas controlled the building process. According to the architect C. L. Engel’s project the city got its neoclassical ensemble and the Helsinki Cathedral on the Senate Square. The buildings and central squares have much in common with the architecture of the Russian St. Petersburg.
When Finland declared independence from Russia in 1917 Helsinki became a capital of the Republic of Finland.