Euro Culture

The non-stop talk of the Eurovision Song Contest and the related topics about ‘European Culture’ have made me dig into my travel files to find something to counter-act the poppy-chatter.  So here’s my quiz question for today: What three things have Turku in Finland and Košice in Slovakia have in common?  Ok, the first one is easy: we visited both on our backpacking travels.  Secondly, both were the cultural and administrative centre of their region for hundreds of years and were in many ways regarded as a sort-of-capital.  And thirdly, they have both been selected to be Europe’s Capital of Culture.  Now you may not have heard of either of these two places, in which case you may well wonder how did they gained this grand title.

Dual Nationality?

Turku Castle.JPG

Turku is located in the Swedish-speaking part of Finland, which in itself explains the complex cultural history that this part of Europe shares. ‘Turku’  means market place’ in the Finnish language, and true to the city’s history, it also bears the Swedish name of Abø. The city dates back to the 12th Century and its cathedral was consecrated in 1300. Turku/Abø lies on the edge of the Baltic Sea which gave it instant access to markets anywhere in Europe while also having access to Russia in its back yard.  As a result it quickly became the most important city in Finland.

Did you know that….

The original region of Finland only included the territory immediately around Turku, which was called ‘Finland Proper’

For many years Finland was formally part of Sweden but the Swedish-Russian war put an end to that. Sweden lost the war in 1809 and lost Finland in the process. The Russians in turn decided that Turku was to0 far away from Russia, and moved the capital to Helsinki – and so Turku’s reign came to an end.

Turku Castle5.JPGDespite this, Turku is still much loved in Finland. The Great Fire in 1827 destroyed much of old Turku, but a considerable number of the old buildings were rescued and were eventually brought together in a lovely open-air museum called Luostarinmäki Handicrafts Museum, which gives a real flavour of what old Turku/Abø must have been like.  Thankfully Turku Castle, which dates back to the 13th century, was spared in the fire and can still be visited today.

Turku plays a large part in Finnish Christmas Celebrations.  A tradition which dates back to the middle ages involves the official ‘Proclamation of the Christmas Peace’, which takes place in Turku/Abø each Christmas Eve from the Brinkhala Hall Balcony and which makes Turku the official Christmas City of Finland.

Central European Struggles

Kosice (9).JPG

Like Turku, the city of Košice , in the east of Slovakia, was a regional capital.  While Finland gained its independence from Russia in 1917-18, Slovakia had to wait until 1993 before it finally gained its independence from the Czech Republic.  Throughout history, Slovakia was at some time or other part of the Moravian, the Hungarian and the Austro-Hungarian Empire before being merged into Czechoslovakia in 1918. While this makes Slovakia one of Europe’s youngest countries, the city of Košice has a long and proud history. The first written evidence of its existence dates back to the 13th Century, but there is evidence that people inhabited this area for much, much longer. Košice found itself on the cross-roads of the east-west and north-south trade routes and quickly established itself as a major trading centre. Košice became a real melting pot, which has resulted in a diverse and rich cultural heritage.

Kosice (20).JPGModern-day Košice is a beautiful city which benefits from a huge pedestrianised centre. It’s relaxed atmosphere is totally beguiling and there’s not much that will beat eating an icecream by Kosice’s fountain which spouts multi-coloured water in tune with classical music. We loved Košice and were genuinely sad to be leaving when we had to.

Neighbourly Votes

So why were Turku/Abø and Košice pronounced European Capitals of Culture? Well, I don’t know what the criteria were, but it is certainly easy to see how the culture of these two cities has been shaped by their own people as well as that of their various rulers. Turku/Abø is still Swedish-speaking and has to this day maintained excellent links with both Sweden and Russia.  Košice in its own way has made the most of its cultural heritage. Its people were ruled by various regimes and have emerged from this brandishing their own outward-looking, multi-cultural society.

Over the centuries both places, and indeed both countries, have had mixed relationships with their neighbours.  At times they have fought them, at times they have absorbed them. Ultimately, however, they have forged close links with their them and established what some might call ‘good working relationships’. It’s hardly a surprise then, that you might find them voting for their neighbours at tonights Eurovision Song Festival Final…. 🙂

Annemieke Waite is a freelance travel writer who specialises in writing for families and young people about EU travel destinations.



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  1. An
    Posted May 26, 2012 at 8:04 pm | Permalink

    Another very nice story… not at all related to our talk about the Eurovision song contest, of course… ! 🙂

  2. Annemieke Waite
    Posted May 27, 2012 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    No…. Of course not! Totally coincidental – I assure you…. 🙂

  3. Boris
    Posted May 27, 2012 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

    Enough about the E S C already! How can you combine that ‘contest’ with capitals of culture? Oxymoron?
    And what constitutes a city, as several European Capitals of Culture are no larger than most towns (less than 100,000 poulation) – just curious! A question for you next blog?

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