Architectural drawing of the Leander House facade, Gesellius-Saarinen-Lindgren 1903. The Provincial Archives of Mikkeli.

Until the beginning of the 19th century, Sortavala was built by folk masters, such as Juhana and Matti Salonen from Savitaipale who built the Lutheran Church 1799–1801. In the first half of the 19th century, the town changed from a humble log village into an Empire-style painted town. The oldest remaining town structure is the Krasilnikoff House, completed in 1839.

After the Empire period, the greatest influence came from Ivar Aminoff, whose most famous works are the fire station (1888) and the 1893–94 renovation of the Lutheran Church. Beside Aminoff’s works, for example, the F.A. Sjöström Town Hall (1885) and the Gustafsson & Schulman Winter House (1900) represent quality, Empire, and Renaissance-influenced Classicism. Although the most valuable wooden structures from the 1870’s and afterwards were designed by architects; the wooden town appearance was hand work of self-taught or master builders. At the second half of the 19th century, a significant portion of the building stock of Sortavala was the result of the accurate and careful result of the father and son J.O. and Oskar Leander.

At the turn of the 20th century, design of the buildings started to diverge. Architects mainly designed stone houses, and local master builders designed wooden houses on empty lots. The first stone houses in the Historicism style were designed by Jac. Ahrenberg (Lyceum 1901 and Girl’s School 1911) and Magnus Schjefbeck (General Hospital 1901).The first architecturally significant Sortavala building was the Leander House, designed by architectural firm Gesellius-Lindgren-Saarinen in 1903.

In the 1920’s, several significant stone houses were built, such as the Raamattutalo, “The Bible House” (Väinö Leander), the Wegelius House (Kaarlo Borg), Säästöpankin {Savings Bank] building (Uno Ullberg) and the Greek Catholic church administrative building (Juhani Viiste). On the Kymölä side, the Ladoga Castle went up (Frosterus & Gripenberg) and the beautiful building of the primary school. After the Depression of the 1930’s, a modern way of thinking and functionalist style started to modify the face of the town. The first new-age style building was the last work made by Uno Ullberg, the bus station (1935), followed by the Turkama house (Erkki Huttunen), the business house and restaurant of the Eastern Karelian (Consumer Cooperatives Federation of the Department of Architecture) as well as the new Hotel Seurahuone (Erkki Huttunen). Before the Winter War, the six-storey Asunto Oy Riutta building (Ferd. Salokangas 1938) in Karjalankatu Street became a landmark as well as the Kymölä Hotel Hospiz (Elsi Borg) and Asunto Oy Puistolinna building.

Construction of Sortavala ceased during World War II. In 1939, there were around 680 buildings in the city, out of which around 260 were destroyed during the war. In their place, during the Soviet period, the architecture of apartment blocks and the quality of construction differed from what existed before. In 1990, Sortavala was granted the position of the historical town to preserve its architectural heritage. In 2002, 88 were listed as architectural monuments and 124 protected buildings, and in terms of the cityscape, significant buildings were designated that cannot be demolished without permission from the republic government.

Unfortunately, over the last couple of decades, the old buildings of Sortavala have been destroyed or left to decay uncared for at such a pace that the town has lost its historical town status. Over around the last decade, or 40 historical buildings have been destroyed due to fire. For the restoration of the historical town status efforts are being made, among others, by the Sortavala People’s Council.

Girls' school

The Sortavala Girls' ...

Linja-autoasema. Val...

Based on a request by ...

Pedri Shemeikka's st...

The Poet's (Pedri ...

Town Hall

The town hall of ...

Uittamo building. Se...

In 1898, master builder ...

Lutheran church

The first Lutheran ...

Pommee Cross on the ...

The inscription and the ...


Saint John's Church....

The church built by the ...

Poem Singer Statue, ...

The Kolmikulmapuisto ...


Orthodox church in t...

The Orthodox church of ...


Leander building

Sortavala's first ...

Vakkosalmi park, Sor...

When the Public ...

Girls' school 15 Aug...

"The girls' school has ...

Performance of the opera Aida in the hall of Sortavala Teacher Training College. Photo: North Karelian Museum.

While part of Finland, Sortavala was a town where music constantly blossomed and developed. Sortavala's musical life was given its initial impetus in the 1860s when the rector, C.W. Alopaeus, founded the first mixed choir. By the 1900s, the town had numerous choirs singing in Finnish. In 1877, a music society was founded in Sortavala as well as the first brass band.

The schools played a significant role in the development of the town’s musical life. The seminary’s first music teacher, Nils Kiljander, raised the standard of music at the institution to such a level that people from the surrounding areas used to come to listen to their interpretation of songs. Both male and female choirs were put together from students at the seminary as well as a wonderful mixed choir known as the evening choir. There was a high quality of choral and orchestral activity at the Sortavala Lyceum too.

The Karelian railway, which was completed in 1894, linked Sortavala to the rest of the world, and the town became a favourite concert destination for visiting artists, and through its song festivals it became Karelia’s City of Song. A joint singing and instrumental festival was organised by the KVS Foundation in Sortavala in 1896. A total of 967 people registered to perform at the festival and they attracted a large public to the town. The festival was also of historical significance in that this was the first time that rune singers, kantele players and performers of laments participated at a song festival.

Song festivals were held in Sortavala before the Winter War in 1906, 1926 and in 1935, and every time they attracted record numbers of performers and audience. Vakkosalmi Park was the main venue for the festivals and was considered to be the country's best natural concert hall. The song festival of 1935 also marked the 100th anniversary celebrations of the publication of The Kalevala. The opening ceremony of the festival culminated in the performance of Erkki Melartin’s opera Aino, based on a character in The Kalevala. A Kalevala jubilee was held on the second day of the festival in which some 25 000 visitors took part.

During the 1930s, opera was one of the main musical activities in Sortavala, and opera enthusiasts staged a performance of Carmen in 1931 and Aida a couple of years later. Its staging in Vakkosalmi Park was a great success. The performance of Aida also marked the start of the operatic career of Alfons Almi, who was the manager of the Sortavala dairy and went on to debut at the Finnish National Opera that same year.

Lower part of Kaivokatu, with ships 'Koitto' at Nissinen’s dock and 'Lilli' at Siitoinen’s dock. Watercolor by D. J. Pesu, North Karelian Museum.

“Ladoga is the Queen of lakes and its northern shore is, metaphorically speaking, like a diadem adorning the Queen’s brow“, was the praise bestowed by the rector Eliel Vartiainen on the scenery around Sortavala in the travel guide published by the town of Sortavala in 1932.

The rugged landscapes of North Ladoga and the Sortavala archipelago have fascinated many artists, of whom the best known include the Finnish painters Pekka Halonen (1865–1933), Väinö Hämäläinen (1876-1940) and Tyko Sallinen (1879-1955) as well as the Russian painter, archaeologist and philosopher Nikolai Roerich (1874–1947). During Sortavala’s post-war period, the most significant visual artist was Kronid Gogolev (1926-2013), who was known for his reliefs in wood and was particularly keen on depicting Ladoga.

There are only a few natives of Sortavala to be found among those who painted Sortavala and Ladoga; Erika Relander (1879–1937), Bruno Pakarinen (1880-1955) and Lauri Hämäläinen (1905-1952) painted in addition to their work as teachers. The only full-time artist was Daniel J. Pesu (1891-1956), a prolific painter who, it is estimated, painted some 15 000–18 000 works. Throughout his life, Pesu painted scenes from his home region, Ladoga landscapes and the town of Sortavala; from recollection and with the aid of photographs after the war.

Sortavala railwaysta...

Sortavala railwaystation ...


Vakkosalmi park, chi...

A chimneyless hut from ...

Bus station, Kristii...

Today, only a small ...


View from the tower ...

The photo taken from ...


Kuhavuori hill

The Kuhavuori ...

Lutheran church of S...

The Kisamäki Lutheran ...

Church bell of Luthe...

When the Sortavala ...

Poem Singer Statue w...

As a model for his ...


Orthodox church in w...

The church building ...

General Hospital on ...

The outcome of the ...

Hospital of the Deac...

Hospital of the ...


Orthodox church

When the Orthodox ...

Rakennuspiirustus Ra...

...


Kristiinankatu towar...

The watercolour depicts ...


Lynkkä-Liisa's cabin

The subject of the ...


Beginnings of a fire...

The motif of the ...


Photograph of Emil A...

A framed photo, ...

Photos by Into Konra...

Photos by Into Konrad ...


Antero Svensson

Antero Svensson ...

A view of Town hall ...

According to C.L. ...

Hyökvahti, fire stat...

The old Sortavala ...

Pitkäsilta bridge

In 1881, a pedestrian ...


Vakkosalmi park

Vakkosalmi park was ...


Winter road across V...

Winter road across ...

Sortavala Railway St...

Staff of VR (Finnish ...

Lutheran church of S...

The construction of ...


Printing house Raama...

Raamattutalo ("Bible ...

Hospital of the Deac...

The project to build a ...


Market square

The Sortavala market ...


Hospital of the Deac...

"It was extremely ...

Vakkosalmi park, Lot...

Vakkosalmi park, Lotta ...

Sortavala market pla...

Sortavala market place, ...


Building of the Chur...

The photo, also ...

Hospital of the Deac...

From 1944 onwards, the ...

Hospital of the Deac...

The group of buildings ...

Lutheran church of S...

The Lutheran church in ...

Service in the Luthe...

The Lutheran church was ...

Poem Singer Statue, ...

In 1926, the winnings ...


A statue of Väinämöi...

A statue of Väinämöinen ...

Civil Guard building...

The Sortavala Civil ...

Old Seurahuone

In the photo ...

Pharmacist Relander'...

Sortavala's largest ...

Vakkosalmi park, Pre...

In 1926, the Song ...


Building of the Chur...

The Church Council of ...

Krasilnikoff buildin...

The Krasilnikoff ...


Buildings of the Sor...

Buildings of the ...

Hotel Hospiz

One year after the ...


Housing company Riut...

Sortavala's tallest ...

General Hospital

The Sortavala General ...


Orthodox church in t...

After WW2, the Orthodox ...


Orthodox church afte...

The church has been ...


Sortavala Lyceum

The Sortavala Lyceum ...

Sortavala Lyceum, da...

The lyceum building was ...


Sortavala Lyceum

In 1945, the ...


General Hospital aft...

After Finns had left ...

General Hospital, in...

Interior of the ...

Students of the Sortavala Teacher Training College, early 20th century. Photo: North Karelian Museum.

“In the autumns, weather permitting, the community organised an outdoor celebration at Hiiliniemi. It was an evening where the new and former members of the community could get to know each other. There, with the autumn light fading to darkness, a beautiful sense of community spirit was first cemented through Karelian songs to the accompaniment of Ladoga’s waves. The poetic glow of coloured lanterns and the community’s large, brown coffee kettle wiped away the bitter home-sickness of the new “family” members in an instant.”

Hilja Karikko, Sortavala seminary 1880–1930.

The origins of the college can be traced back to the private Siitonen Elementary School which was founded in 1864 in the village of Kymölä near Sortavala. The owners of the school, Herman and Elisabet Hallonblad, donated the school buildings and almost 1000 hectares of land to the Finnish State on the condition that the college, then being planned for Eastern Finland, was located in Sortavala. The offer was accepted and the Finnish language college was founded in Sortavala in 1880.

In the summer of 1880 Uno Cygnaeus came with the architect C. Kiseleff to draw up plans for further construction. By 1891, 42 new buildings at Seminaarinmäki were completed. At its peak there were over 60 buildings. However, there was no clear overall plan for the area, instead whatever site seemed suitable at the time for a particular building was the one selected.

The strong economic and cultural development of Ladoga Karelia region occurred during the period of 1880–1940 when the Sortavala Teacher Training College was operating. This development was of course the product of many factors, but the college played an important part. The teachers at the college were heavily involved in the development of Sortavala and the Karelian border regions. The teachers set up the Ladoga newspaper, a printing works, a power plant and a library in Sortavala. The students embraced the social commitment of their teachers and after graduation, many of them applied for teaching and educational positions in Ladoga Karelia.

In 1940, the Teacher Training College was requisitioned for use by the military. The college and its grounds have been a military area since that time. The Sortavala Teacher Training College tradition is kept alive by the University of Eastern Finland’s Joensuu Campus, where teacher training is one of the university’s main academic disciplines.


Olavi Nyberg

Olavi Nyberg ...


K.A.O. Relander

Karl Adolf Oskar ...


Elisabeth and Herman...

Herman and Elisabeth ...

Arkadi Fedotov

Arkadi ...