It’s snowing today – one of those deceptive storms, with big fat snowflakes and only a little wind, so you think it’s not that bad. Then you step outside and you realize just how much snow has accumulated, as you slip and slide along your way, trying to get wherever you’re going without falling on your ass.
As I sit watching the weather out the window, it reminds me very much of the day I visited Turku Castle. Being February in Finland, I’d expected there to be snow, and I wasn’t about to let a few flakes deter me from exploring, so I put on my jacket and laced up my boots and headed out. Even if the sidewalks were bad, I figured, it was only a couple of kilometres away.
It was early enough in the storm that the sidewalks and roads were both still clear. But whether because of the anticipation of conditions worsening, the fact that it was the off-season, or that it was early on a weekday morning – or perhaps a combination of all three – I had the entire castle pretty much to myself.
I think I saw a grand total of five other visitors while I was there, and those only fleetingly. It was a luxurious way to sightsee, the lack of other people allowing me the comfort and freedom to take the time I wanted to have a good, long look.
And Turku Castle is worth a good, long look. Architecturally speaking, it’s a bit of a journey through time, as construction was begun in the 1200s, additions were made over the next couple hundred years, and changes were still being made to it as recently as the 1800s.
As a result, the lower levels are quite medieval in style, with lots of narrow, windy staircases, and small, dark, low-ceilinged rooms.
The dungeons came with an unexpected bit of whimsy in the forms of a fake crow and rat standing guard.
Moving up, things get brighter, rooms get larger, and finishes get more ornate.
This is the area of the castle where I was particularly glad to be able to slow down and really take things in. The rooms themselves were sparse, but there was a wealth of interesting things to see in the walls themselves.
In the Scriptorium, for example, scribes had etched their names into one wall.
In the Women’s Room, where the ladies of the castle would gather to do their work, there’s a labyrinth etched into the wall. It was believed that evil spirits that entered a building through the window would get lost in the labyrinth and be unable to cause any harm.
Without doubt, though, the cutest wall decor of all was a set of paw prints in a patched spot.
Another level above finds a church, complete with royal boxes. The boxes were built in anticipation of the upcoming visit of a king and queen (from where, I don’t recall). The visit was cancelled, and the seating has never actually been used.
The church can be rented out. According to a guide at the time, it sees an average of a wedding a month.
It’s not the only area of the castle that can be rented for events, although that area is a bit more subdued.
Through here lies the entrance to the Treasure Room, which would have held things like gold, gems, weapons, and clothing. It’s reached by a narrow, spiral staircase. As was the norm, the staircase spirals in a clockwise direction, to make it easier for right-handed swordsmen to defend, and harder for right-handed swordsmen to attack.
And finally, at the very top, is the attic, in my opinion, the most beautiful room in the entire place. The arches, which are absolutely breathtaking, would originally have been wood, and have been recreated in concrete.
The attic is a museum, filled with displays of gifts given to Finland’s ruling class by Russia – everything from toys, to silverware, fine art, formal weapons, and wood and leather work.
Having reached the top, I kind of assumed my tour was over, and a quick trip down some stairs would lead me to the gift shop and exit. But I was wrong. The route back down winds through a different section of the castle, which is presented in a much different fashion than the rather bare bones upwards journey.
First comes a sweetly romantic story. In a hallway that hugs the outer wall of the castle lies a room in which a high-level prisoner was once kept. He spent his days looking out the opposite window at the outside world, for so much time that his elbows wore the sill down where he leaned.
The object of his gaze?
His wife, looking back at him from across the river.
Continuing on, there’s a museum, and some cells.
There are also multiple rooms mocked up to show what the castle would have looked like at various points in history.
And of course, the heart of every home: the kitchen.
And now my tour really was at an end, and it was time to make my way back out into storm, which had only gotten worse while I was inside. The sidewalks were much greasier, and I found myself sliding my feet along the ground as opposed to lifting them, in a shuffling bid to stay upright.
After all the walking and climbing of the previous four hours, I decided it was time for some lunch, and made my careful way to a restaurant for a meal. When I was done eating, as I gazed out at the snow swirling through the air, I found myself in no rush to head back outside.
Then, as now, I was content to sit quietly, sipping on a hot chocolate, and revisit the castle in my memories.