Senate Square

Helsinki, Finland

Submitted by: Maija Merimaa

Square, and a staircase adjacent to it

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Why It Works

Senate Square has been the main square of Helsinki since the 17th century. It was transformed into its current form in the early 19th century, when Russian Tsar Alexander II, moved the capital of Finland from Turku to Helsinki. The buildings on the four sides of the square represent the four powers of the state as conceived at the time: senate, church, university and commerce. The old merchant houses are now mainly occupied by city offices, but there is also a nice café, and a bazaar. The Square itself is empty except for a statue of Tsar Alexander II in the middle. The greatness of the place doesn’t lay so much in the Senate Square itself, but rather in the staircase leading to the cathedral on the north side. The staircase is as wide as the square itself and on a sunny day it is crowded with people.

What Makes Senate Square a Great Place?

The square is located in central Helsinki. The main shopping street – Aleksanterinkatu –passes the square on the south side. A small, cozy street – Sofiankatu – on the south side of the square connects Senate Square to Market Square by the sea. As the main building of the University of Helsinki is on one the west side of the church, the square is linked tightly to University area. The square is accessible by tram and bike.

Most of the buildings along the Senate Square are drawn by one of the most famous Finnish architects, C.L. Engel. They represent neoclassicism of the early 19th century. As the sea is only one block south from the square, the view from top of the staircase looks above the roofs directly to the sea. Although the streets surrounding the square are also accessible by car, the traffic is almost absent.

The square is not completely empty – during the summer it has an ice cream stand which is a popular activity. Many people buy a cone and a sit on the stairs eating it. The emptiness of the square makes it also a place where it is easy to arrange outdoor concerts and other programs, and different events occasionally take place on the Square.

The square itself isn’t necessarily a social place, only tourists stop there to take pictures, while other people usually only cross it. But the staircase is definitely a social place – students go there to negotiate about their group projects, couples relax there, tourists take a break and rest their feet. But it is also comfortable for solitary sunbathers or students studying for an exam.

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