History of Ruissalo

During the Middle Ages, there was no permanent accommodation on the island, though it served as a location for fishing and agriculture. During the 13th century, Ruissalo came under the rule of Turku Castle. The island was kept as pasture land until the mid-16th century, when its administration was taken over by the Duke of Finland. During this period, the island served as royal housing, offering a park for hunting as well as fields to feed the inhabitants of Turku Castle. The forest was cut down to make room for crops, consisting mostly of rye. In the 17th century, Ruissalo estate was handed over to the governor General to serve as his official residence until 1844. During this period, Ruissalo had a considerable farm area, with as many as 15 cabins to accommodate the workers.

Interest in the conservation of oak forests grew during the 16th century, as oak was considered a valuable material in ship construction. During the Middle Ages in Sweden-Finland, fines were imposed for cutting down an oak suitable for ship construction. In 1647, a law was passed declaring that all oak trees belong to the crown. Since 1750, the forests of Ruissalo have provided shelter to grazing livestock. During this period, oak trees could thrive only in areas free of grazing, such as yards. To ensure the regeneration of oak trees, grazing was forbidden at the beginning of the 20th century.

After Ruissalo became a part of the City of Turku in 1845, a villa area was established for the upper class and it has flourished ever since. During the 19th century, spending summers at a villa was part of the bourgeoisie way of life. When Ruissalo was divided into patches of land which were then rented out as plots for constructing summer villas, one area of land was reserved for the common folk for recreation purposes and it became known as 'the Promenade' and later as 'Kansanpuisto'.  The promenade became a beloved destination of Turku residents during the summer. One of the most popular activities was leisurely strolling, also known as promenading. Promenading became fashionable already during the early 19th century and the beaufiful oaks of Ruissalo formed a particularly popular setting for it.  Essentially, Kansanpuisto has always been a place for getting together and spending time.

The most striking feature of the villa area in Ruissalo today is the wide representation of architecture from various eras. The oldest villas from the 1840's have an estate-like style, with the trend shifting to a Swiss style of building in the early 1850's. The end of the century was dominated by highly decorative styles, finally culminating in functionalism during the period 1900–1930.

Ruissalo estate in 1965. Image: Turku Museum Centre /Allan Salomaa


Farming cucumbers in the garden of Villa Roma in the 1920's/1930's. Image: Turku Museum Centre