Vyborg was founded in the XI-XII centuries as Karelian-Swedish-Russian settlement. According to archaeological research, the area of present-day Vyborg was once considered a trading hub on the western branch of the Vuoksi River. Nowadays, that branch is not marked on maps anymore, since it dried up to become several lakes instead. Still, the settlement remained, and even flourished.
Modern Vyborg is a city at the junction of borders. Given its complicated history, Vyborg has been lucky enough to become the first and the most popular border city between Europe and Russia. Even in the Soviet era, being the entry point for the Finnish cargo trucks, it had a kind of a “foreign city on Russian soil” aura.
The unique appearance of the historical part of Vyborg was formed under the influence of several ethnic cultures for over seven centuries. Thus, walking around the city, one can easily spot the Finnish-style windows, red-roofed houses and Nordic folklore inspired ornaments. Architectural traces of different eras are present, from timeworn buildings of the Middle Ages to modern constructions of the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
The reason is the city has lost count of how many times it had been handed over from one of the neighbouring nations to another. The old town hall, rebuilt in the hanseatic style in 1898, looks like a ready-made backdrop for a historical movie – one can hardly believe it is just an ordinary apartment building. The outline of the Granite Palace is a fine example of national romanticism, attracting the viewer’s eye with its heavy, asymmetric granite facade, semicircular windows with medallions and scrolled triangular pediments.
Everything in Vyborg, from the elegant historical structures in the old part of the city, to the impressive, simple and logical modern shapes down in the port, gives the guest an instant urge to reach for their camera. Even the dilapidated buildings of the past provoke both the usual sadness of desolation and a romantic impulse of awakening. An excellent example of this magic combination is the Domus apartment block – once one of the most beautiful buildings in Vyborg, it now weirdly charms the guests with its decaying look.
Other buildings, on the contrary, seem to avoid an excessively archaic appearance. For example, the medieval Vyborg castle (dating back to 1200s), that has survived many wars and restorations to basically become the heart of the city. The structure can be considered a rare monument to Western European defense architecture. The castle opens its doors to visitors every day.
The famous Clock Tower is the dominant feature of the Old Town, with its lower storey started as early as 1494.The tower later served as the bell tower of Vyborg Cathedral (the latter destroyed during the Soviet-Finnish war of 1918-1920). Its exterior used to strike with the imprint of a complicated history, and had patiently awaited restoration up to 2019. It has now regained initial grace and stands confidently and proudly above the Old Town, as if time, humid air and winds have no power over it.
An excellent example of the Finnish period is the library of Alvar Aalto (fortunately, perfectly preserved without restoration), built in 1933-1935 by a Finnish architect.
Apart from its glorious past, the city can boast hosting the Russian end of the enormous 1,222 km Nord Stream gas pipeline that runs all the way to Germany under the Baltic Sea.
Vyborg has prepared a special treasure for nature enthusiasts, namely, the landscape Park of Monrepos (French for my place of rest) on the rocky shore of the Vyborg Bay. This museum-reserve preserves the remains of the manor architecture of the von Nicolay family estate of 18-19th centuries. Currently the Monrepos complex has two zones: the Park area with several restored buildings, and the forest part.
Most definitely, it is here that foreign guests experience the part of Russia that is tightly interwoven with the history of Russia’s closest neighbours.
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