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Turku’s medieval summer – golden ticket to new tourist markets?

Finland's former capital, Turku, is gearing up for what city officials hope will be a busy tourist season – though it's still overshadowed by a shortage of Russian visitors.

Turun linna
Turku's castle is at the centre of the town's medieval-themed summer festivities Image: Jussi Kallioinen/ Yle

There's a medieval flavour to this summer's events in Finland's oldest city. Turku Castle features an exhibition devoted to Queen Christina, who ruled Finland and Sweden in the 1700s before abdicating the throne at the age of 28.

The show is based on The Girl King, a 6.5-million-euro international film about her that was filmed in the castle – where her parents were staying when she was conceived in 1626. Directed by Finland’s Mika Kaurismäki, the costume drama premieres in Germany in September and in Finland and the US later in autumn.

The castle now looks more or less as it did in Christina's time, says Lotta Mujo, Project Manager at the West Finland Film Commission.

"The castle was built in the thirteenth century, but during the Second World War, the whole castle was practically destroyed,” she explains. “Afterwards, the architect Erik Bryggman decided to renovate to make it look like the medieval castle. So it looks pretty much same as it did in the seventeenth century, the same rugged atmosphere."

Queen Christina meets Joan of Arc

The castle hosts a Medieval Fair on 27 June as part of a three-day Middle Ages festival centring on the Old Great Square. At Sigyn Hall, just down the road from the castle, the Turku Music Festival presents The Footsteps of Jeanne d'Arc featuring Finnish actor Hannu-Pekka Björkman and American mezzosoprano Kate Lindsey on 9 August.

Medieval fair, Turku
The medieval fair will be one of the highlights of Turku's summer attractions. But will it compensate for dwindling numbers of Russian visitors? Image: Yle

In between, the Aboa Vetus archaeological museum is celebrating its 20th anniversary, and there are plenty of other places to soak up ancient atmosphere, says Mujo.

"Turku cathedral has been here more than 700 years now so that's definitely the place to go,” she says. “Then there's the Luostarinmäki Handicraft Museum, which represents the authentic nineteenth-century Turku."

Filling the Russian gap

Turku is already welcoming foreign tourists – or at least semi-foreigners like Finnish-Canadian Henrik Hinkkala of Vancouver.

Turku's 700-year-old cathedral is a must-visit, according to city authorities
Turku's 700-year-old cathedral is a must-visit, according to the town's authorities Image: Yle
"It seems like a nice city; it obviously has a lot of history, a lot of character. I'm still trying to learn more about it, but I especially enjoy the variety of foods they have to offer," he says.

Turku hopes that such tourists from Western and Asian countries will fill a gap left by a slump in Russian visitors. The city's tourism director, Satu Hirvenoja of Visit Turku tells Yle News she expects about the same number of Russians as last year – in other words well below previous levels. She's upbeat anyway.

"I think we are going to have more tourism this summer because the bad financial times are starting to be over. Finnish people travel mostly to see us, also Swedish, German, English – and some Russians are still coming."

So are more Finns vacationing within the country because of tight budgets?

"Actually I think it's more expensive to have a holiday in Finland," she says with a chuckle.

Watch the full report here.

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