Loviisa: Svartholm Fortress

Loviisa City, Uusimaa Region, Finland

Previous: Loviisa: The Town

Next: Loviisa: Coastal Fortress


Svartholm  (Swed. Black Island) is a ruined 18th century Swedish sea fortress on an isle in the Gulf of Finland, in the mouth of Loviisanlahti Bay, 8-9 km off the coast of the town of Loviisa. The biggest sight of Loviisa, Svartholm is absolutely worth a visit. Unfortunately it seems it is only really possible for less than two months in summer (mid-June to early August), when a scheduled boat from Loviisa operates. With a private boat it should be possible to visit Svartholm any time around the year. (Loviisanlahti freezes over in winter but I’m not sure whether the ice is normally thick enough as far out as Svartholm.)

I’ve briefly covered the history of Loviisa and Svartholm in the previous post, so there won’t be a big history lesson. The fortress was constructed by Field Mashal Augustin Ehrensvärd (same guy who designed Suomenlinna) after the War of Hats of 1741-1743. It was square-shaped, with four bastions in the corners, two ravelins beside the fortress, and an irregularly-shaped wall around the isle. The fortress was used as a sea base, but due to insufficient funding and incomplete construction it wasn’t able to put up real resistance in the Finnish war of 1808-1809, and surrendered to the Russians. After Russia annexed Finland Svartholm was used as a prison. Some of the Decembrists (officers who rebelled against Russian absolute monarchy in 1825) were imprisoned here, although the same can be said of virtually any fortress that belonged to Russia at the time. Svartholm was shelled and destroyed by the British fleet in 1855 as part of the Crimean War (even though it didn’t have any significant military value at the time). Ruins were well-preserved and partially restored in the second half of the 20th century. Nowadays Svartholm is a great picnic destination as well as a historical monument; visiting Loviisa is worth it for Svartholm alone. It is administered by Metsähallitus, Finnish Forest Administration.

Visiting Svartholm (including its small museum) is technically free, but the round trip on a boat from Loviisa currently costs 18 €/person (9 €/child). Boat schedule is available here: https://visitsvartholm.fi/reittiliikenne/ (Finnish only but should be clear enough). As you can see the 2017 season is over. Note that the boat, as of 2017, operated only from Wednesday to Sunday (Keskiviikosta Sunnuntaihin). The website suggests buying tickets online in advance, which could make sense during Finnish vacation season in July. Myself, I travelled to Svartholm the very last day of the season; there were only a few other passengers, and I bought a ticket when boarding without any difficulties. The boat, named Taxen, departs from the end of a long pier (the one with gas station for boats) at Laivasilta Harbor. It’s not big and might be a little difficult to find, but can be also identified by a small blue “Svartholm” sign on its front.

1. Laivasilta Harbor shops in the Sunday morning.  I drove here a kilometer from Tamminiemi Camping where I had spent the night, and left the car at a huge free parking lot.

2. There seemed to be no signs of the big wedding (?) celebrations the previous day.

3. Some of the locals looked a bit hungover though. But maybe that’s a regular Sunday morning thing. I searched for the Svartholm boat for a while. There aren’t any signs and the pier where it docks is really long (in the background in the middle of the picture) but in the end I found it.

4. Taking the boat to Svartholm is quite fun in itself. The boat is fairly small and skips along the tops of the waves quite merrily, completely unlike e. g. the Suomenlinna ferry in Helsinki. The back of the boat is open to the water so it’s most fun to sit there. A woman in her 50s was driving the boat, and a guy around the same age assisted her. The journey took a bit less than half an hour.

5. Taxen upon arriving to Svartholm.

6. And here is the view from the pier. Svartholm is a 18th century star fortress like Suomenlinna or St. Petersburg’s Peter and Paul Fortress, so it’s characterized by long but low thick walls with many sharp angles (bastions), and doesn’t have tall impressive castle-like   structures.

7.

8. Svartholm in a few words: overgrown ruins, pines and wild meadows, waves and strong breeze from the sea, and no people around. It other words it’s an absolutely heavenly place.

9. Ruins of the fortress buildings (basically barracks) are preserved under a roof. But they are not the real attraction.

10.

11. Svartholm is the perfect place to sit on the bastions with a bottle of champagne or two and gaze at the waves. I lacked the company in that trip of course, and anyway had to drive over 300 km back home in the evening. Otherwise I’d have gladly spent there the entire day.

12. The sea. The archipelago (I like the Swedish word for “archipelago”, skärgård) still continues on to the south; Svartholm isn’t far out enough to really be in the open sea. The horizon can only be seen a bit in the southeastern direction.

13. Walking on the outside wall.

14.

15.

16.

17. You can peek into the casemates although there isn’t much to explore there.

18. A big wooden casket on a rock. It was probably meant for the child tour that I briefly saw later.

19.

20. The courtyard.

21. The small exhibition (free of charge) in the northern barracks building, or rather, over its ruins. This is what Svartholm looked like intact.  Well, it actually still mostly looks like that, but the square barrack buildings in the center are ruined, the other small buildings do not exist, and there are lots of pines.

22.

23.

24. Svartholm meadows.

25.

26. The woman in the old Swedish military dress (Karoliner uniform?) actually greets the visitors on the pier, and holds child tours (or maybe it’s more like a play) in the fortress, not for free but also rather cheaply. I don’t know who the person to the left of her is supposed to be. Only one kid arrived on the last boat so it was all for him.

27.

28. I like the kind of posts where you don’t need to comment much.

29.

30. The sea-facing wall.

34. The eastern part of the isle is occupied by a tiny pine wood, with a navigation sign peeking between the trees.

35. A well among the fireweed.

36. Archipelago traffic.

37. Harbor for private boats.

38.

39. The old main gates and pier.

41. Apart from the museum there’s also a small restaurant in the fortress. I didn’t check it out. I wonder if it continues working after the scheduled boat season ends.

42. Loviisa can’t be seen from Svartholm. Valko cargo seaport, on the other hand, can.

43. The woman in Karoliner uniform walks to the pier to meet the next boat from Loviisa. The time between boat departures is about 1:30, which is quite enough to walk around the fortress without any hurry and enjoy the sea breeze. If you’re going to visit the restaurant or drink on the bastions you’ll probably need more time.

44. She plays a flute while the boat is approaching in the background.

45.

46. And the new visitors arrive, while I’m going to the boat for the return trip.

47. The fortifications from the water.

48.

49. More boats overtaking us.

50. Piles of wood in Valko seaport. The relatively small seaport is now managed by the Port of Helsinki.

51. Russian freight cars in Valko.

52. Passing some skerries. A huge rain began on the return trip, enough to get me drenched while I was running from the boat back to the car. I waited for it to calm down a bit and then drove to the beginning of the Ehrevsvärd Trail to explore the coastal fortress which I’ll cover in the next post.

53. One more thing I tried to do later that day (when the rain was over) is take a picture of Svartholm from the coast. Checking the map revealed that this should be possible to do from a harbor in a place called Kvarnholmen (Swed. Mill Island; not an actual island) on the eastern coast of Loviisanlahti Bay, where the distance to Svartholm is just half a kilometer or so. I drove there on the same road that led to the Loviisa Nuclear Power Plant. The turnoff to the harbor was actually signposted as Mustasaari (Svartholm in Finnish) and there was a small building that looked a lot like an old ticket booth. So it’s possible that boats to Svartholm used to depart from here (or maybe still occasionally do?).

54. The views of Svartholm from there are not that impressive, unfortunately. Although Svartholm is the kind of fortress that looks the best from above anyway. I really should get a quadrocopter drone someday.

55. The final look at Svartholm walls.

Published on: