June 12 in Swedish History
1550: King Gustav Vasa of Sweden establishes the trading town Helsingfors (in Finnish and internationally known as Helsinki). Vasa intends it to rival the Hanseatic city of Reval (today’s Tallinn), and townsmen of nearby Borgå, Ekenäs, Raumo, and Ulvsby are forced to move into the new town. Unfortunately for Vasa, Helsinki remained a tiny town plagued by poverty, wars, and diseases (the 1710 plague killed the greater population of Helsinki). It’s not until the construction of the naval fortress Sveaborg in the 18th century, that Helsinki improves its status, and only in 1809, after Russia has defeated Sweden in the Finnish War and annexed Finland as the autonomous Grand Duchy of Finland, does Helsinki begin to develop into a substantial city.

Åbo (or, in Finnish Turku), however, remains the capital of Finland until 1812, when the Russian tsar moves it to Helsinki.


Helsinki is Finland's largest city with a population of just over 600,000 in the city itself and 1.3 million in the metro area. (Finland, population: 5.4 million) A minority (6%) of the city's population still has Swedish as main language. For more info, see www.hel.fi/www/helsinki/en

More on Gustav Vasa, the King who's credited with having unified modern Sweden: The coronation of Gustav Vasa