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HISTORY OF THE ALAND ISLANDS

THE ALAND ISLANDS TOUR

The Aland Islands map. Click to close the window.

Facts:

  • Official name: Aland (Swedish), The Aland Islands (English)
  • Status: Autonomous and demilitarized province of Finland, member of the European Union
  • Population: 25.706
  • Number of islands: 6500, of which 65 are inhabited
  • Total area: 6.784 km2 of which land area is 1.527 km2
  • Main island: 50 km long, 45 km wide, inhabited by 90 % of the population
  • Number of municipalities: 16, Mariehamn is the only town with 10.500 inhabitants
  • Language: Swedish
  • Currency: Finnish Mark (FIM) and from 2002 Euro
  • Time: Eastern European time, GMT:12.00 = 14.00 in the Aland Islands
  • Average temperature: July: +16 degrees Celsius, February: - 4 degrees Celsius

The islands have an ancient history stretching back to around 4200 BC when the first inhabitants arrived. In 900 AD the population was already quite dense and trade was common with foreign countries as far away as Arabia for example. Vikings resided in the islands and the first Christian signs occur during this time. In the 14th century the islands belong to Finland and Kastelholm Castle is first mentioned in old writings. For the centuries to come, many wars were fought in the waters around the islands. Danes, Swedes, Russians and Finns all took turns in ruling the islands. By the beginning of the 19th century the islands had become an international matter, with their important location between several kingdoms.

The demilitarization is a result of a conflict started already in 1809 when Russia had acquired the islands from the Kingdom of Sweden and started building a fortress in Bomarsund. During the Crimean war France and Britain attacked and defeated the Russians and in the peace treaty the Aland Islands were declared demilitarized for the future. In the 1920ies a new conflict arose between Finland and Sweden. Who should the islands belong to? The islanders themselves wanted to belong to Sweden, but the question was delicate due to the internationally important location of the islands. The matter had to be decided by the newly formed League of Nations (today UN) in 1921. A treaty was signed by ten countries that the islands should belong to Finland but they were to remain demilitarized and autonomous in order to secure the culturally and historically unique society.

The islands are autonomous since 1921. The islands have their own parliament with rights to pass legislation in certain areas that concern the islands. Since 1954 The Aland Islands have had their own flag and since 1984 their own stamps. Otherwise Finnish law and governmental policies apply also in the islands. Still today these rules apply and anyone with a regional citizenship in the islands is freed from compulsory military service and no troops are allowed to be stationed in the islands. The regulations are also quite strict in other areas in order to secure the customs , culture and language of the islands. It is necessary to possess regional citizenship in order to vote and stand for elections in the local parliament, own and hold real estate in Aland and carry on business in Aland.

All these facts have lead to the unique society that we see today. The islanders are a proud people who know their value and their role in the international community. The islands are today a very peaceful and safe place and the locals are very friendly to visitors. The islands have a seafaring history that stretches thousands of years back and contacts with foreigners are nothing new. The special international regulations and history of the islands have resulted in a unique island atmosphere where the sea and local customs have kept their importance in everyday life.

NATURE, CULTURE & TASTES OF ALAND:

The nature of the Aland Islands is perhaps one of the most important reasons for visiting the islands. Spectacular variation with thousands of islands and skerries in contrast to the greens of land and the blue sea and sky are a truly unique experience. Rugged cliff shores, dense pine forests, wooded meadows, cultivated land and well-kept gardens are just some of the diverse scenarios you can enjoy. With their fairly isolated location and thousands of years of natural evolution, the islands have developed their own flora and fauna. Many kinds of rare wild orchids can be found here and nature conservancy is well developed. You can still enjoy strolling in these protected areas since special nature trails have been established. These large untouched nature areas are a great asset for people who want to get close to nature and experience pure natural environments. With few larger industries in the nearby area, both land, sea and air are cleaner than in most other European areas today. The Aland Islands lie in the so-called oak zone of Scandinavia, with relatively large elements of deciduous trees such as oak, ash, elm, maple and linden. The mild climate has contributed to an abundant flora and some southern European varieties of flowers. More varieties of vegetation can be found here than in any other part of Finland.

The culture of the Aland Islands bears traces from many of the historical epochs the islands have been through. The island culture mixes Scandinavian traditions with own additions and amendments. The perhaps most obvious cultural heritage is linked to the islands seafaring traditions. There are museums, shipyards where old ship models are still built and old captains homesteads open for visitors and several marinas prove that going to sea in a smaller scale is still popular. Contacts to all neighboring countries are dense.

The visual arts have always had great inspiration from the beautiful natural surroundings of the islands and there are several art galleries in Mariehamn as well as special exhibitions in summertime. Crafts of all kinds also flourish, both among amateurs and pros. Textiles, ceramics, jewellery, wood and metal objects are among the most popular souvenirs as they are hand made locally and can be found in all price ranges. Music and theatre are popular interests and many concerts and shows can be experienced throughout the year. Not only local talents perform, there are also festivals with well-known musicians performing. To mention a few there is a jazz festival, an organ festival and a rock festival. Internationally renowned authors like Sally Salminen and Anni Blomqvist have also found their inspiration here. Hunting and fishing are old means of livelihood that still today act as recreational traditions for a large part of the population. For a visitor there are plenty of opportunities to participate. Special local holidays play an important role in preserving folklore and traditions. Midsummer celebrations are perhaps the largest festivity in summer with the raising of midsummer poles in all villages around the islands, bonfires and traditional dinners.

Traditional food and drinks are also readily available. Between some of the restaurants in the archipelago there is a co-operation called "Taste of the Archipelago". These restaurants have committed themselves to a high standard of service and cuisine. As many as possible of the used products are locally produced with ecological farming methods. There is also a similar co-operation among the craftsmen in Aland. Some of the most famous dishes are, not surprisingly, based on locally caught fish. There is also a special pancake and a bread called Black bred which are considered delicacies.

THE ALAND ISLANDS TOUR

CST # 2022206-40

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