Turku Cathedral – Turku, Finland - Atlas Obscura

Turku Cathedral

A cathedral resurrected from the ashes of one of Europe's greatest urban fires. 


In 1827 a firestorm raged through the Finnish city of Turku, annihilating everything in its path.

Sweeping through the northern quarter, the southern quarter, and then hopping the Aura River towards the Cathedral Quarter just before midnight, the Great Fire of Turku made short work of the Nordic city, the largest in Finland at the time. When daylight finally arrived, 75% of the formerly bustling metropolis had been reduced to smoldering ruins.

With only small portions of the western and southern areas still standing, it was miraculous that only 27 people perished, however the reason the casualties were so low was also one of the contributing factors to the level of destruction accomplished by the fire. Along with unusually dry weather and high winds, the reason the inferno was able to sweep so efficiently through the city was that the majority of the residents of Turku were in Tampere visiting a popular market—there was no one there to extinguish the flames.

While the survival rate was high, the historical and architectural loss was devastating. Akatemiatalo, the main building of the Imperial Academy of Turku was heavily damaged, the fire swallowing up most of the Finnish archives and all of the material from the Middle Ages. Historical downtown was a pile of smoldering embers, and the grandiose Mother Church of the Lutherans of Finland, Turku Cathedral, was ravaged—but the most important religious structure in the country would rise once more.

Located in the heart of Turku, the wooden cathedral was built in the 13th century, and fortified with stone in the 14th and 15th centuries. After the fire, the cathedral was resurrected, bigger and better than ever before. Elaborate Romantic-style frescos, three organs, and an altarpiece by Swedish artist Fredrik Westin depicting the Transfiguration of Jesus are all newer features of the cathedral. Perhaps the most impressive addition is the tower spire that can be seen for miles—its height measures in at 101 meters above sea level.  

The Great Fire of Turku remains the most disastrous urban fire in the history of all of the Nordic countries, and the Turku Cathedral remains as well, a symbol of the endurance of the oldest city in Finland. 



Know Before You Go

The Cathedral is just 3 blocks away from the city center, and at one side of the Aura river

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