Compared with major traditional European countries, Finland and Estonia are young upstarts, indeed one of them – Finland – only acquired its unique and very own identity in just a hundred years. In this time, its culture has became recognizable almost as ‘a European brand’. Estonia is still on the way, but the process is visible.
Both nations belong to one language group – Finno-Ugrian, but their history and their heritage are very different. Only a short sea journey across a narrow strip of water – the Gulf of Finland – separates them, but for all their similarities, it might just as well be a giant ocean.
Estonia has a much more complex history and Tallinn has all the hallmarks of a well preserved medieval city. The city was originally developed by the Danes, then belonged to a German Order, then to Sweden and since 1721 was a Russian enclave up until independence in 1991. All these ‘invaders’ have left their traces and the city is a charming mixture of Gothic, Baroque, classical and even neo-Russian monuments. But it is also exciting to see the formation of a new Tallinn with its inventive contemporary architecture and the Kumu , a wonderful new museum of art. To the east of Estonia, is the old city of Tartu with its famous University which has played a critical role in the development of Russian and Soviet cultures.
Helsinki is another story altogether and its development only got going in 1817. Its core is classical and in many ways is reminiscent of St Petersburg. But the late 19th century brought growth of a national conscience and its artistic expression was a neo-Romanticism, a fascinating mixture of Art Nouveau and a northern national folklore. Indeed, the Villa Hvittrask belonged to leaders of this nationalist surge and became very influential in the Arts and Crafts movement at the beginning of the 20th century.
But today’s Helsinki is also very modern city and there will be a particular focus on the works of one of the greatest 20th century European architects and designers, Alvar Allto, including his stunning University at Otaniemi.
Throughout the journey, Professor Leporc will focus on the fascinating history of these two countries and their irresistible will for independence. Perhaps one of the most glorious moments was the Soviet –Finnish war of 1939-40 when small Finland heroically resisted Russian aggression. The whole world suddenly took note of this great example of Finnish courage. Though the Finns were defeated, they showed a strength of character that inspired a rapid post-war development.
Perhaps most surprising, is both countries’ passion for classical music. Helsinki’s opera and orchestras are world-class institutions. The journey ends, perhaps fittingly, with a visit to the home of the great Finnish composer Sibelius who was surrounded by nature and tranquillity which was the inspiration for much of his music.
Maximum Party Size: 20