Thursday, 7 March 2013

Helsinki: National Library

The National Library of Finland, Kansalliskirjasto. It sounds so grand. The building is not the hugest in Finland or in Helsinki, but it has certain grandeur - just look up towards the ceiling once you've left your coat in the cloakroom and your bag in a locker and entered the main hall. This is a home to important books: Finland's printed national heritage. It is the oldest and largest scholarly library in Finland. Thus, well worthy of the gorgeous cupola above my head. Why on earth have I not visited this place before?
If you are into books, you could easily do a bookish toure in Helsinki: visit interesting libraries and bookshops. You don't need to be intent on buying or even reading to go for a stroll in such places. Besides a historic library such as the National Library (built in 1840-45), situated right next to Senate Square you could stop at more modern ones (the newest is within a stone's throw from this library). Being a book lover, I can't help admiring places like this. I wonder what a... Kindle, well, "room" would like in comparison...
The South Hall reading room (Eteläinen lukusali) is very inviting. I wish I had time to grab a book, sit down and read for a while like some other visitors have done.
I walk along the gallery and stop to read at the titles. Valtiopäivät 1888. That is Diet 1888 and these are the diaries from those days when Finland wasn't yet independent (that had to wait until 1917) but as an autonomous Grand Duchy, it was allowed certain rights such as its own constitution, legislation and a Diet. In those days, Finland wasn't yet as democratic as today;  it was only the nobles, clergy, burghers and peasants that could send their male representatives to Säätyvaltiopäivät.
I pick up a copy and open it at random. Mr Iivonen of the clergy has made a speech about inn-keeping and feels that peasants understand better than the clergy what is fair for inn-keepers (inns were maintained by peasant class). Free translation: They have brought all kinds of numbers to prove otherwise, but numbers can always be used to defend such things that are not good. The world hasn't changed one bit.
I browse the library and arrive at Rotunda, the annexe that was built in 1902-06. The huge poster that is hanging there tells about the exhibition that was opened only recently for poet Saima Harmaja (1913-1937) who was born exactly 100 years ago.
Unfortunately she had poor health and died so young; miss Harmaja only saw three of her well-acclaimed poetry books published before her death and her fourth book was published posthumously. Very little of Saima Harmaja's work has been translated to other languages from Finnish.
I climb up to the 6th floor - what a great shape this hall has!
Most visitors to Senate Square in Helsinki probably see the Helsinki Cathedral facade only from the square below (unless they bother to climb up the steps to pay a visit inside). When I step out of the National Library, I face the main entrance to the Cathedral on Unioninkatu street. Daylight is already fading away and it is time to turn on the lights for the night.


  1. Thanks for sharing your walks in Helskinki and for the absolutely beautiful photography. I lived part of my childhood there on Puistokatu and loved it. I walked all over that neighborhood and beyond many times.

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