Dominating Senate Square is Helsinki Cathedral, built in the neo-classical style this landmark building was completed in 1852 and its tall green dome can be seen from many parts of the city. Senate Square was designed by Carl Ludvig Engel in 1852 and the cathedral was his masterpiece, majestically dominating the surrounding buildings. The large flight of steps leading up to the cathedral act as seating when performances are taking place in the square below. I’ve visited the cathedral before so if you would like to read about the interior you can do so in my previous post here.
To the left of the cathedral stands the University of Helsinki and just beyond it is the National Library of Finland. Being a lover of books it was only fitting that we should take a look inside this building.
The library is both the oldest and largest library in Finland and is responsible for the collection and preservation of Finland’s printed national heritage. Anyone is welcome to visit the library and it is unnecessary to hold a library card. Bags and coats must be left for safe keeping in the ornate wooden lockers near the door and there is no charge for this service.
The library is divided into two principal buildings, its large halls all being connected to each other. Leaving the foyer we stepped into the splendid Cuppola Hall, connected to two ornate side rooms, the North Hall and the South Hall which are both now used as reading rooms. The columns are coated with stucco marble and each hall has its own colour scheme. I just loved the exquisite painted ceilings which are from 1881. The three halls form a unique suite of rooms in Finnish architectural history, an academic temple devoted to research and science.
Connected to these rooms is the annex called the Rotunda which was built between 1902 and 1906 and designed by architect Gustaf Nyström. The Rotunda has six floors and its semi circular extension is surrounded by curved bookcases. Creating natural light, the glass roof is made of iron and its pillars are ornately decorated with reliefs.
From the top (6th) floor of the Rotunda we could see all the way down to the ground floor level. The bookcases have intricately engraved numbering on the ends to enable readers to find their required books and the hall is furnished with some delightful antique chairs.
Interestingly, the bulk of the collection is stored in an underground bunker drilled into solid rock below the library. The library collections, the largest in Finland include a total of some three million books and periodicals. We very much enjoyed our visit here, so if you might be in Helsinki and have an opportunity to visit, do take a look for yourselves, the library’s website can be found here.
Strolling across Senate Square we turned left onto Snellmaninkatu to visit the museum of the Bank of Finland. This museum is open daily except Monday and has free admittance, more details can be found on its website here. Being interested in economics we found the galleries very informative.
The museum is divided into three sections. The main theme focuses on the operation of the Bank of Finland and the European system of central banks and their monetary policy. The history section details the history of cash and monetary developments in Finnish society. The third gallery focuses on banknotes and displays the developments in banknote design since the early 19th century.
On the opposite side of the road to the Museum of the Bank of Finland lies the majestic House of the Estates. This building was constructed in 1891 and is currently used for occasional government meetings as well as being the location for official coalition talks after general elections. From there we walked the short distance to the market square passing Helsinki City Museum on the far corner of Senate Square. This museum depicts city life through the years and offers a fascinating insight into how the capital has evolved. We then took a tram back to the Kamppi district to return to our accommodation after an interesting tour of Senate Square.