Sunday, June 3, 2012

Between tiger and unicorn

On Esplanadi and Aleksanterinkatu you can sometimes spot signs with pictures and names of animals attached to some buildings. But why are they there and what do they mean?

The explanation lies in Helsinki’s history. For a long time Turku was the capital of Finland. In 1812 though under the influence of the Russian Empire it was decided to make Helsinki the new capital (Turku was too close to Sweden). Since a big fire in 1808 had destroyed big parts of Helsinki the city had to be rebuilt. The assignment was given to JohanAlbrecht Ehrenström. He started planning a new center in the style of Gamla Stan (the old town) in Stockholm. Following this example he numbered the different blocks in the city. Important blocks were then named after their function calling e.g. the senate’s building Senaatintalo. Other blocks that didn’t have any specific meaning were named after animals. All together 64 blocks in the quarters Kruununhaka, Kluuvi, Kaartinkaupunki, Kamppi, Punavuori, Ullanlinna, Katajanokka and Kaivopuisto were named and numbered. This concept was implemented in 1820 and was in use till 1900. After that street names were used instead.

In 1994 some citizens of Helsinki wanted to bring the old tradition back to life and installed the signs you can see in Aleksanterinkatu and Esplanadi today.

Pictures of most of the signs can be seen here.

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