The merchants’s quarter is a small piece of a 19th century Russian city relocated in a barren sea fortress. It was created when the Engineering Administration in Viapori zoned, as part of the development of the island of Iso-Mustasaari, a quarter for use by Russian merchants in 1866. Some of the oldest shop buildings in Finland survive in this quarter.
The quarter had a central location in the vicinity of the Orthodox church which was completed in 1854, and the Jetty Barracks, the new gateway to Viapori. A number of older wooden buildings, built haphazardly in a way that resembled a village, were demolished to free up space for the merchants’ quarter. The buildings were replaced with merchants’ houses, storages and bakery buildings, sheds for firewood, stables and privies. Sinebrychoff, a brewer, built a spirits office and a tavern, later demolished, in the quarter. A bakery serving the tavern, the Nedonoskov’s house, the Semenov’s house, and the Petrov’s house belong to the oldest surviving shop buildings in Finland; the Galotshk’s house was rebuilt after it had burned down in 1908.
The wooden buildings in the merchants’ quarter were clad with broad horizontal boarding and covered with a gently sloping saddleback roof. The buildings had many Russian features: the exterior surface of logs had been left unhewn – referred to as round logs –, the gables of the houses faced the alley, and the houses had been built on a high foundation clad with boarding. A portico the width of the gable to which one had to climb along a high staircase represented the Russian fashion of the 1860s. The portico had an access to the shop, and customers could converse with each other on it. The Nedonoskov’s house sports a particularly wide portico with three gables; the portico of the Petrov’s house was taken down already during the Russian period.
The drawings that have survived to our day indicate that the tavern and spirits office were also impressive houses, the crests of which were graced with flèches in the shape of a horse head.. In the Russian culture, sculptures depicting a horse were believed to protect the house from evil spirits and fires. The name of the alley still used in spoken language by the residents of Suomenlinna, “Kännikuja” (“Booze Alley”), serves as a reminder of the tavern and the spirits office.
After Finland had declared independence, shops remained in the quarter until the 1980s. In the Semenov’s house, originally built to be a bakery, a grocery store operated until 2006.
Many other wooden buildings were built in Viapori, as using wood as construction material made construction fast and economical. Wooden utility buildings, such as kitchens and barracks for the rank and file, were normally unpretentious, clad with horizontal boarding and painted in yellow ochre and equipped with tall cylindrical brick stoves covered with sheet metal, panel doors, and six-pane windows with a ventilation opening, known as a “fortuska”. An excellent example of this is constituted by a barracks with a log frame, completed in 1893 to be used as a barracks for the rank and file; today, the building houses the restaurant Bastion Bistro.
The Russian merchants’ quarter. Photo credits: SLHK
Text: Netta Böök
The Russian Viapori online exhibition
is part of the jubilee programme for
Finland’s 100 years of independence.