Castle Hunting: Hämeenlinna

On a bright October morning, I boarded a fast train from Helsinki up to the town of Hämeenlinna, in the Finnish region of Tavastia.  Fast European trains can be disconcerting.  They marry speed and calmness so seamlessly that a chaos of landscapes becomes somehow pedestrian.  I got off in a small city quieted by early Saturday - joggers and dog walkers were my company, all of the shops were shuttered.  I'd come to look at a handsome old castle named Häme (Hämeenlinna in Finnish, "linna" means fortress) which sits at a narrow point in lake Vanajavesi.  It was an easygoing day, and a pleasant one.  The brick walls and narrow moat served as a backdrop for contemplation more than a reason for excitement.
Hämeenlinna is most interesting from across the water, when its catches the light and looks very grand.  Inside, it's as drab and colorless as a middle-school - thanks to a 1980's renovation that saw the walls whitewashed, the addition of modern stairs and fluorescent lights, hallways opened up and excessive guard-railing.  The most prominent feature, without exaggerating, is the spacious coat-check area.  Walking around, there's virtually nothing to look at.  It's like a museum between exhibitions; blank walls, scuffed floors, too many radiators, tiny windows that look out at nothing. It's a real shame, because Häme would make a great old pile.  One can catch glimpses of narrow passageways and staircases (cordoned off from the public), and there are a few unrestored rooms with vestiges of… not much.  Some of these contain folding chairs and pull-down projector screens.
Probably the highlight of the interior, in terms of medieval atmosphere, is the well room.  The well itself is dry, but the chamber is suitably damp and dark.  This is the lock on the old, metal-sheathed door.
On the far side of the water, in a wetland mess of cattails and reeds, someone has set up a boardwalk system.  The way was narrow, but it let me get right out almost to the edge of the vegetation.  A few inches of murky water covered the mud on either side; the growth, at its autumnal height, was above my head.  Still, I was able to get a few photos before retreating to more solid land.  I had a picnic on a half-sunken cement slab in the brush.  There were a few crows overhead, and their calls echoed over the water.
Brick is an interesting castle material.  In some parts of the world - like Holland and parts of Belgium - there isn't very much stone, so they built with brick.  In some cases there was plenty of stone, but the architectural shapeliness of brick was more appealing.  Hämeenlinna is a perfect example of this type of castle, and is somewhat rare for Scandinavia.
Häme was originally built as a stone garrison on a small island, sometime around the year 1300.  The walls, at that point, were low and makeshift.  The purpose of the fort was to enforce new taxes after the region had been brought under Swedish control.  Almost nothing is known about this early period, though, and there's a lot of debate about when the structure was actually assembled.  The brickwork mostly covers up the older stone, which was rough and not well cut.  During the late 14th century, as the fortress was being enlarged, redbrick was used instead of the native greystone so that the overall effect would be more visually dramatic and impressive.  In Finland - a conflict area at the time, and not very well off - this was almost unheard of, but it was common practice in other Swedish holdings across the Baltic.  Castles like Cēsis and Sigulda in Latvia, as well as Trakai in Lithuania, were built in brick because of a combination of vogue and necessity.
Häme's most interesting period - to me, at least - was during the mid and late 1700's, when it served as a "crown bakery."  Six huge ovens were built in the southern part of the castle, and a granary and wheat drying room were added above.  Because it was somewhat outdated and there were a large amount of troops in the region, the Swedes decided that the castle might best function as a kind of industrial kitchen, to keep mouths fed and supplies close at hand.  Again, not much information survives about the bakery, but a Russian survey in 1808 found that it could produce 1,500 lb. of bread and 900 lb. of rusks in one firing, which certainly sounds substantial.
Hämeenlinna is in a precarious position between Russia and the old Swedish empire, and so traded hands many times during its history.  Because it was often under threat of attack, it was modernized repeatedly.  Circular cannon batteries called "rondelles" were added at the end of the 16th century. (The rondelles, like many towers in the age of gunpowder, were circular to try to deflect enemy fire.) Soon after, earthen embankments were built up at some distance from the walls, so that cannons could be stationed at low and solid firing points.  Today, these green humps obscure much of the old buildings, which is too bad.  They are a nice place to sit and look out over the water, though.
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