Vallisaari is an island situated between the islands of Santahamina and Suomenlinna, just off Helsinki. It has been used as part of a military defense system for both Sweden and Russia from the 1700th century until Finnish Independence. Water traffic to Vallisaari began in May 2016. The neighbouring Kuninkaansaari island is situated in Santahamina.
Vallisaari (Embankment Island) acquired its present name in the 17th century when the first fortifications were built there. The decision on the construction of a massive sea fortress off Helsinki was taken and a big maritime fortress was built on Viapori, which is today known by the name of Suomenlinna, while only a small bastion was built on Vallisaari. The trees on the island were cut down for firewood and cattle was was allowed to graze there. The island served as a supply point for Viapori.
The failure to build fortifications in Vallisaari backfired in the early 19th century when the Russians fell into war with Sweden and besieged Viapori. From Vallisaari, it was possible to shoot directly towards Viapori and the Russians brought dozens of cannons to the island. After Russia’s victory in the war, Finland was annexed to Russia. Vallisaari was renamed Aleksentarinsaari (Alexander Island) in the honour of the tsar. Viapori became an integral part of the defenses of St.Petersburg and the Russians also began developing the defense of Vallisaari. After the Crimean War broke out, the plan was carried out and gun emplacements for artillery were built.
Due to the wars and upheaval, Vallisaari continued to live unstable periods during throughout the 19th century. It remained the property of the army even when Finland became independent, and weaponry of the Finnish Defense Forces was stored on the island. In addition to the functions of the Finnish Defence Force, civilians employed by the state of Finland lived on the island, totaling at most 300 people.
In the 1950s, a shop, school and different hobby clubs were active on the island. The children searched for a tunnel that, according to rumours, led to Suomenlinna. The last inhabitants left the island in 1996.
The different stages of Vallisaari
1600 Vallisaari acquires its name
1748 A big maritime fortress is built on Viapori, while only a small bastion is built on Vallisaari
1700s Vallisaari becomes a base and home for maritime pilots
1808 Sweden and Russia drift into war and Russia conquers Finland and Vallisaari is also taken over by Russia
1853 After the Crimean War broke out, Russia’s plan was carried out and gun emplacements for the artillery are built
1854 The military build-up on Vallisaari and Viapori is intensified when an English-French naval force sails into the Baltic Sea
1906 The rebels of the Russian Revolution take over Vallisaari and Kuninkaansaari. From Kuninkaasaari, they bombard Viapori causing an explosion of the gun powder supply there and killing dozens of people
1917 After Finland became independent, weaponry is stored, loaded and maintained on Vallisaari
1920 The last maritime pilots move away from the island
9.7.1937 A destructive explosives accident occurs in Kuolemanlaakso (“Valley of Death”) and twelve lives are lost
1900s The island continues to host a settlement, but the last inhabitants leave the island in 1996
2008 The Finnish Defense Forces announce they are giving up the rental agreement of the island after years of quiet existence
2013 Metsähallitus undertakes a project to open the island to visitors
2016 The island opens to visitors
Ghosts exist on Vallisaari. For over a hundred years, local inhabitants have told the tale of the headless colonel, hanged from a big linden tree along the road leading to the Alexander Battery. People are interested in ghosts and on many Helsinki archipelago summer sightseeing tours, guides keep the story alive.
During the Sveaborg Rebellion in the summer of 1906, rebels cruelly killed Colonel A.D. Notara. First he was shot several times, before being thrown, with a stone hanging around his neck, from the bridge between Iso Mustasaari and Susisaari into the sea.
Photo: Metsähallitus / Tuomo Häyrinen