Over a year ago, I was with my brother, on a trip that took us from Grenoble to Grenoble, via Helsinki and Copenhagen, and got us memories for a lifetime, when we stopped at Bomarsund. Located on the eastern shore of Åland’s main island, at first sight it’s an impressive ruin crossed by a road… yes, the road runs through the fortress, so you can’t really miss it.
If you take the time to walk around and follow the paths, you’ll discover rich info signs retracing the story of this short-lived stronghold.
The Russian Empire gained control of Åland Islands in 1809, when it took Finland from Sweden (more about Finnish history here). To secure his control over the Baltic sea and protect his capital, Saint Petersburg, Czar Nicholas I decided the construction of new fortifications in Sund, on Åland Islands. Work started in 1832, but soon the Crimea War broke out and it wasn’t close to being complete.
At this point, you’re probably as puzzled as we were back there… the Crimean War, really? In Åland?
This war involved many protagonists of World War I, but in a different arrangement: Britain and France joined forces with a declining Ottoman Empire to prevent Russia from gaining ground in Eastern Europe, with religious conflicts between the Orthodox and the Catholic churches as a background. To force the enemy to divide its forces, the two Western powers decided to create a diversion in the Baltic sea, and sent a fleet to Krondstadt, the fortress in front of Saint Petersburg. The Russian armada didn’t move, so they decided to attack Bomarsund.
With soldiers from both countries on the ground capturing two lone defense towers and the fleet opening fire on the main building, the defenders surrendered after only three days of battle. After the battle, the two allies decided they didn’t want to care about the citadel, given its remote location and the hardness of winter, so they left some engineers to demolish it completely. After the end of the war, the Åland Islands were demilitarized; this status had remained to this day.
Bomarsund was a very ambitious construction, and walking in the forest, discovering ruins of never-finished buildings gave us an idea of the sheer size of what the Russian had imagined. This trip back through time was enhanced by the presence of info signs displaying computer generated images of what the fortress looked like, and should have looked like if it hadn’t met its fate so early. You don’t see that very often, and I guess it requires a certain financial power, but I found it a very immersive way to tell about the past.
The most poignant evidence, though, was the abondance of gunfire and cannonball impacts on the few battered walls still standing today. Touching those, we could almost feel the violence of battle, and through it, the vacuity of wars.