Senate Square (Helsinki)

Senate Square (Helsinki)

Location: Kruunnunhaka, Helsinki
Trolley: 1, 1A, 2, 3B, 3T, 4, 7A, 7B
Bus: 16


Senatintori (Swedish: Senatstorget) is a market located in the heart of Helsinki and the historic central square of Helsinki. It is surrounded by numerous valuable buildings, such as the Helsinki Cathedral, the Government Palace and the main building of the University of Helsinki. In the center of the square is the statue of Alexander II. Senate Square with its cathedrals is Helsinki's most famous symbol and one of the city's most popular tourist destinations. Aleksanterinkatu, Unioninkatu, Snellmaninkatu run along the edges of the square, and Hallituskatu on the northern edge in front of the steps of the Cathedral.

Senate Square was created in the first half of the 19th century by the planners of Helsinki's monumental center, urban planner Johan Albrecht Ehrenström and architect Carl Ludvig Engel, on the site where the modest Suurtori with its buildings had previously been located.

Senate Square and its surroundings form the old core of Helsinki. The oldest buildings in the inner city are located in its area, such as the Sederholm House, completed in 1757.



Old Suurtor

The center of Helsinki has been located in the Senatintor area since the city was moved to its current location in 1640. During Swedish rule, the city's Keskustori Suurtori was located in the southeast corner of the current Senate Square, which was bordered by the city's public buildings, the town hall, a trivial school and the main guard. On its southern edge ran the main street Suurkatu (now Aleksanterinkatu), along which were the houses of the richest burghers. On the west side of the square was the city church, which was surrounded by a cemetery area.

A total of three churches were located on the site of Senate Square. The first was the brick Kristiina church, which was built at the end of the 1640s, but was destroyed along with the rest of the city in a fire on August 5, 1654. At the same time, the original town hall also burned down. After the stone church was destroyed, a wooden church of the Holy Spirit was built in its place. The city was destroyed again during the Great Enmity, when the Swedish troops retreating from Helsinki burned the city in May 1713. After peace came, Ulrika Eleonora's church was built, which was inaugurated in 1727.

At the beginning of the 19th century, the area of Suurtor was in the shape it had received during the previous century, after the Great Hatred that razed the city to the ground. Although the city consisted almost entirely of wooden houses, the most important public buildings and the houses of the richest burghers were already made of stone. Toria was dominated by two stone buildings, the town hall (1804) on its northern edge and the trivial school (1759) on its eastern edge. On the western edge of the square was a low main guard building, behind which the cemetery area began. Ulrika Eleonora's church, which rose in the cemetery, was a wooden cross church with a mansard roof, which was named after the Queen of Sweden. The church ground had become full at the end of the 1780s, but people were still buried in the old family graves at the beginning of the 19th century. Along Suurkatu, south of the market, there was a row of stone merchant houses, such as Sederholm's house and Bock's house.


Johan Albrecht Ehrenström and the design of Senate Square

When Helsinki was made the capital of the Grand Duchy of Finland in 1812, it was started to be built into a representative administrative city. The task was given to the Helsinki-born courtier Johan Albrecht Ehrenström and the German architect Carl Ludvig Engel. Ehrenström acted as the director of the reconstruction committee of Helsinki and drew a new square plan for the city, in accordance with the ideals of neoclassicism, while Engel designed the most important buildings.

The focal point of the new Helsinki designed by Ehrenström was the monumental square Senatintori, which was placed on the site of the old Suurtor. The market trade that used to be carried out at Suurtor was moved to Kauppatori and Senatintor was made into a purely representative space. When designing the new square, Ehrenström was influenced by European squares realized in the neoclassical style, above all Stockholm's Kustaa Aadolf Square. In accordance with these examples, Ehrenström emphasized symmetry, so that the northern edge of the square had to be symmetrical in proportions, and the buildings placed on the east and west sides of the square also had to have symmetrical facades.

Ehrenström's original outline for Senate Square differed from the version that was finally realized. He saved the old town hall in the northeast corner of the square, although it was modified into a neoclassical style, and placed it as a symmetrical counterpart to the post office in the northwest corner of the square. These buildings were connected to each other by a long and low main guard, and behind them on the rock north of the market square rose the main Lutheran church. Ehrenström placed the Senate House on the eastern edge of the square and the Governor General's Palace on the western edge. The old bourgeois houses on the southern edge were allowed to remain, but their facades had to be modernized so that they would fit into the square's neoclassical milieu.


Carl Ludvig Engel and the construction of Senate Square

The construction of Senate Square meant the destruction of the old center of the city. The old public buildings up to Ulriika Eleonoora's church were demolished in 1827 after the new church building (now the Old Church) was completed, and the area of Suurtor and the cemetery was leveled to form the base of the new market. The deceased in the cemetery were not moved, so the graves of Helsinki residents from the 17th and 18th centuries are still under the square and Aleksanterinkatu. Even in the 2000s, bones have come to light in connection with construction work. Although Ehrenström had saved the town hall in his original plan, its preservation was quickly perceived as problematic, and it was destroyed at the end of the 1830s, i.e. as soon as the city administration was able to move to new premises.

Engel's first work at Senate Square was the renovation of the Bock house, which was part of the old bourgeois houses on the south side, into a temporary 1816–1819 governor-general's palace. Other bourgeois houses were also modernized according to Engel's plans. In 1819, a long and low main guard building was completed on the northern edge of the square. The first real effort for Engel, however, was the design of the Senate House built between 1818 and 1820. It was the first of three monumental buildings planned for the square, and it was to define the final architectural character of the entire square. Engel was satisfied with the end result and later referred to the Senate House as his masterpiece.

In 1828, the university was ordered to move from Turku to Helsinki. The western edge of the Senate square was originally reserved for the governor general's palace, but since the Bock house intended as a temporary palace was deemed sufficient for the governor general, it was decided to reserve the western edge of the square for the university. The university's main building was completed in 1832, and in accordance with Ehrenström's rules of symmetry, its facade was identical to that of the opposite Senate building. In 1840, the university library was completed in the block on the north side of the main building.

The last of the Senate Square buildings to be completed was the Lutheran main church, located on the rock to the north. Engel designed the church for a decade and refined its style to be as elegant and reduced as possible. However, the look of the church changed decisively during the construction work that started in 1830 and lasted for two decades. On the order of the emperor and to Engel's chagrin, a monumental staircase leading down to Senate Square was built in front of the church, in the way of which the main guardhouse was demolished. This broke Ehrenström and Engel's original plan, according to which the square was to be surrounded by a closed building mass on all sides. After Engel's death in 1840, Ernst Bernhard Lohrmann took charge of the construction of the church, who made more changes to its drawings. The church was inaugurated in 1852, when the original construction phase of Senate Square can be considered finished.

Senate Square is a popular tourist destination, and in warm weather, the steps of the church are a popular place to sit for locals as well. Right next to Senatintor are also the popular destinations Kauppatori, Esplanadi park and Uspenski Cathedral.

As part of the revitalization of the city's old center, in recent years old valuable properties in Senatintor have been repaired for restaurant and other business purposes. On the south side of the market are the so-called market blocks.