Ruissalo rises from the sea
The basic structure of Ruissalo was formed during the ice age and the following lake and sea phases of the Baltic Sea, during which the deep joint valleys, steep ridges and moraine formations and flat clay grounds were formed.
The highest peaks of Ruissalo rose from the sea approximately 5,400 years ago. These rocky hill areas used to be skerries swept over by seawater and partly treeless. Washed up till, in turn, was accumulated on the slopes of these hills as coastal moraine deposits. The underwater sandbanks at the southernmost points of Saaronniemi are also formed by waves and ocean currents.
The ice sheet also brought large boulders to Ruissalo. The most famous of Ruissalo’s large glacial erratics is Kukkarokivi, located in the sea to the north of the westernmost point of Ruissalo and rising 17 metres above the water line.
Post-glacial rebound is still changing the landscape of Ruissalo. Ruissalo rises from the sea by 4–5 mm per year, or half a metre per century.
At the end of 1845, Ruissalo was handed over to the City of Turku ‘in perpetuity’ by the approval of the Emperor of Russia. The next year, the island was cut into plots for summer villas for the city’s bourgeoisie, but farming still continued on the island. Gradually in the early 20th century, Ruissalo began to transform more and more into a recreational area for all the city’s residents, even though the island remained very rural until the 1950s with its cattle and vast fields.
An island shaped by farming and villa culture
In the middle ages, there were not yet any permanent settlements on Ruissalo, but the island functioned as a shared pasture and a base for fishing. At around the same time in the 13th century, Ruissalo was taken over by Turku Castle. The island remained a pasture until the mid-16th century when it became the hunting reserve of the Duke of Finland and a royal estate, the crops of which fed the people of Turku Castle.
In the next century, the Ruissalo estate was handed over to function as the official residence of the Governor General and later the Provincial Governor, the latter of which held it until 1844. To house the workforce of the estate, a total of 15 sharecropper farms were established on the island.
Along with bowling, a popular party game was croquet. People also played tennis in the courtyards of the villas and occasionally cooled off at bathing huts. Nature and water were integral parts of summer life at the villas.
The summer villa encapsulates an idyllic image of Finnish summertime: carefree and tranquil life in the countryside, where people usually moved to for the entire summer. Spending the summer at a villa was a part of the bourgeois lifestyle of the 19th century. Everyday chores were performed with the help of servants, farmhands and gardeners, but the masters of the house also contributed to keeping the villa presentable. Those without their own villa could enjoy the Ruissalo summer on the public promenade Yleinen käytävä, which later got the name Kansanpuisto. The promenade became the summer trip destination of the people of Turku.
Life at the villas of Ruissalo
The villa culture of Ruissalo and the entire Finland started in the mid-19th century. The bourgeoisie of Turku spent their summers at their villas walking and playing games in the scenic environment of Ruissalo and enjoying music and each others’ company.
The story of Ruissalo
The diverse landscape of Ruissalo shows the centuries of interaction between humans and nature. The island was drawn on the map a long time ago as the landscape was shaped by the ice age and the following lake and sea phases of the Baltic Sea. Humans started inhabiting the islands near Ruissalo in the middle ages. The island of Ruissalo functioned first as common pasture and a base for fishing, until the lands of Ruissalo were gradually transformed into fields and the features of the island were changed further as a result of human activity. In the mid-19th century, people started building villas in Ruissalo, and the island gradually became a recreation area for all the city’s residents, keeping its splendour even today.
Botanical Garden of the University of Turku
The roots of the Ruissalo botanical garden reach back to the gardens of the Royal Academy of Turku from the 17th to the 19th century. In the early 20th century, Turku received a new garden when a botanical garden was established in Iso-Heikkilä as a part of the newly founded Finnish-language University of Turku. In 1956 the garden was moved from Iso-Heikkilä to Ruissalo, which is still the location of the present-day Botanical Garden of the University of Turku.
The present-day garden includes an outdoor garden and six greenhouses, featuring over 5,000 plant species and strains. The plant collection is a living showcase of the diversity of the botanical world of the planet. The primary functions of the garden are to assist in botanical research and education and provide recreation opportunities for the general public.
Honkapirtti was built in East Karelia in the early 1940s. During the trench warfare stage in 1942, the men of the 14th Infantry Regiment, most of which were from Turku, founded a brothers-in-arms association, and the idea of a brothers-in-arms house sprung to life. Based on the idea, the men built and erected Honkapirtti in the White Sea Karelian building style in Ukhta, East Karelia. The building was moved to Ruissalo in 1944, and the next year it was handed over to the City.
Café activities at Honkapirtti were started 20 years later. Today, café-restaurant Honkapirtti is a popular place for city residents engaging in outdoor activities in Ruissalo to have a coffee break or lunch.
Behind Honkapirtti, you can find one of the most representative hazel woods of Ruissalo. In the springtime, the landscape is at its most beautiful when the hepaticas thriving under the common hazels bloom impressively.
Cultural attractions, part I
Spring of Choraeus
The Spring of Choraeus was named after writer Mikael Choraeus, Docent of Eloquence at the Royal Academy of Turku from 1799 to 1802. The spring is said to have been a place of refreshment in the 19th century, by which joyful baccalaureates and town residents raised merry toasts and enjoyed the refreshing water of the spring. The stones of the spring carry the text FONS CHORAEI PHOEBEI PERENNIS – the ever-flowing spring of poet Choraeus.
Rantapromenadi and Kansanpuisto
In 1846, one of the plots of Ruissalo was reserved as a recreation area for the general public and received the name Yleinen käytävä, ‘the public promenade.’ It was moved in 1860 from by the Spring of Choraeus to its current location. The promenade became the summer trip destination of the people of Turku, where people used to promenade, among other activities. The area was later named Kansanpuisto.
In the present-day Kansanpuisto, visitors are welcomed by the restaurant Villa Promenade. One of the oldest rock festivals in Europe, Ruisrock, has also been held in Kansanpuisto since 1973.
Turku Boatyard was founded in 1889 on the Hevoskari peninsula of Ruissalo. A large boatyard building, machine shop, boat shelters and a mast shed were built in the area, and an old villa functioned as the boatyard’s office. When the boatyard ended its operations in 1954, the buildings were transferred to the use of the Port of Turku. The official name ‘Turku Boatyard’ gradually transformed into the name ‘Ruissalo Boatyard.’
Since 2013, most of the buildings and area have been sold to the tugboat company Alfons Håkans Oy. The use of the old boatyard area has remained the same for over a hundred years – the area is still home to docking and shipping operations, boat storage and a boatyard. However, during the summer season, the large boatyard hall functions as a banquet hall. Nowadays, the area also includes a restaurant, a café and an interior design shop.
Cultural attractions, part II
At the heart of the landscape of Ruissalo are the buildings of the Ruissalo estate, which were the centre of the island until the 1840s. The main building of the estate was rebuilt in 1901, as the old main building dating back to the 1720s had been damaged in a fire two years earlier. The estate’s vegetable garden, established in 1754, grew apple, pear and plum trees as well as lilacs and Siberian pea-trees, in addition to plants used in the kitchen.
The rocky dry meadows and horse pastures near the estate buildings are popular among many rare and threatened insects, and the surroundings of the coastal meadow and the estate’s fields are home to many other species, from northern lapwings to roe deer.