King Gustav I of Sweden had a great interest to build up at the rapids of the river Vantaa a community that would transfer all trade, both export and import, to one place in Finland. In 1550 he ordained that a new town, Helsingfors, should be founded. At that time, however, Helsinki was little more than a place for the King and his retinue to stay while they were away from the capital Turku on hunting trips. It was thanks to the paternal solicitude for his people that the city was founded. Gustav believed that a town standing directly opposite Tallinn, which was a remarkable Hanseatic centre, was needed to attract to it the trade hitherto the monopoly of foreigners, mostly Germans, Russians and Dutchmen.
Finland was in those days the eastern province of the newly established Swedish state. After northern Estonia, including Tallinn, became a part of Sweden in 1561, the rivalry between Tallinn and Helsinki ceased to matter Gustav Vasa's economic plans. When the city later was moved to the southernmost peninsula of the neighbouring area, it was only because there were more favourable conditions for a harbour. The original foundation was at the mouth of the Vantaa river, but the population eventually migrated somewhat to the west in order to take advantage of better sea-anchorage. Helsinki only became the capital of Finland in 1812 after Finland had been captured from Sweden by Russia.
Carl Ludvig Engel (1778-1840) designed several neo-classical buildings in Helsinki. He was kept in Helsinki by a unique assignment, as he was elected to plan a new centrum all on his own, which later on was also referred to as The White City Of The North. The city became shallow and wide at the time when most buildings had only two or three floors. In the middle of the city he planned an enormous Cathedral, which was finished in 1852, twelve years after C. L. Engel's death.
Helsinki is, however, perhaps even more famous for its numerous Art Nouveau buildings, designed in the early 1900s and strongly influenced by Kalevala, which is a very popular theme in the national romantic art of that era.
The city is small and intimate; lively but not bustling. Its size makes it easy to walk around and cafés, markets, and the nearby islands are its summer delights. Suomenlinna is a huge fortress built on one small group of these islands in the mid-eighteenth century. It is a UNESCOWorld Heritage site and a popular tourist attraction. Another popular sight is the Helsinki zoo located on an island named Korkeasaari.