Vyborg -The city with the most ancient European feel in Russia
Today’s town is arguably one of the most picturesque corners of the Leningrad Region with the slightly unusual-sounding name of Vyborg. You’ll be hearing all about it and just what makes it so special in today’s edition.
If you’re in Saint Petersburg you’re in luck. Vyborg is near the border of Russia, on the busy Helsinki – Petersburg – Moscow highway. There are regular bus and local train connections with Petersburg, which is 140 km away from Vyborg.
Suburban trains for Vyborg leave from St Petersburg's Finlyandsky station, usually early in the morning and in the late afternoon and take 2.5 hours.
If you’re in Moscow, you’ll need to either get a 1.20 flight to Saint Petersburg or choose the 8 hour train option.
Vyborg is a regional centre of the Leningrad region that you’ll find 130 km north-west from St. Petersburg.
Modern-day Vyborg is an industrial and cultural centre, an international port, an important railway and thruway and what’s more, it’s known as one of the biggest historical towns in Russia.
Apart from that, Vyborg is an important industrial producer of paper, although tourism is becoming more important, even the Russian film festival called Window to Europe takes place there each year which brings in all kinds of film lovers.
It’s not hard to see the pulling factor Vyborg has – it’s is an appealing provincial town that is dominated by a medieval castle and dotted with decaying Finnish Art Nouveau buildings and romantic cobblestone streets.
And here you might be wondering why you would find Finish buildings there and where the un-Russian sounding name comes from. Well, to start with the name, Vyborg can be interpreted as meaning ‘a holy town’, which interestingly enough comes from the Swedish vi translated as holy, sacred and borg as fortress, town.
As for the buildings, you may have guessed that Vyborg wasn’t always a Russian town. The border has jumped back and forth around Vyborg for most of its history. Peter the Great added it to Russia in 1710, a century later it fell within autonomous Finland, and after the revolution it remained part of independent Finland.
In any case, today it remains resolutely a Russian town but in the spirit of tourism Finns are back by the coach loads, coming to shop and take in a day trip.
Seeing as how now the Baltic States with their beautiful medieval towns are separate from the former Soviet Union, Vyborg has become a sort of unique place in Russia. Sure, the outskirts of Vyborg have some samples of the ill-famed soviet chic architecture, but the center is where the real attraction is. So bearing that in mind, here are the main things on offer.
The thing that brings in the bulk of the tourists is the old town of Vyborg because that’s where you’ll find picturesque landscapes, great architectural monuments and preserved ancient fortification defensive installations that are closely related to the centuries-old history. With the exception of Park Monrepo all Vyborg's main sights are neatly arranged around a compact peninsula, making it an ideal town to explore on foot.
With that in mind, your first port of call should be this medieval peninsula that stretches from the South-West to the North-West between the Southern and the Northern harbors. The two bays there are connected with a little Castle Island and the number one, must-see sight - Vyborg Castle.
Vyborg Castle was originally built in the 1290s by the Swedes then later, much later, captured by Peter the Great in the 18th Century then in the 19th Century it served as a Finnish prison. During World War II it continued to pass back and forth between the Soviets and Finns with the Soviets eventually being the ones who retained it. The ancient Vyborg Castle was built on a rock in Vyborg Bay and it is the town’s oldest building, although most of it now is made up of 16th-century alterations. The castle has plenty of different exhibits and each has its own entry fee but it’s not too expensive. Inside there is a small museum of local studies too. If you miss that then one thing you’ll definitely want to do there, camera in hand, is climb to the top of the tower which will give you a fantastic view of the town.
Once you have finished checking out the town’s calling card landmark you can cross back over the bridge and walk up Krepostnaya Street through the town, and enjoy the sights along the way like Aalto Library and the Statue of a Moose in the park, then you can finish it all up on Vyborg’s Red Square and take a look at the Statue of Lenin, just so you’re reminded of what country you’re in.
As a plus, Krepostnaya Street is probably the nicest route to see the town because it’s there you’ll find the majority of the centuries-old churches, bell towers and cathedrals.
For another great birds-eye view, especially of the Transfiguration Cathedral, you can brave climbing the crumbling 15th-century Clock Tower which is a stone’s throw away from the castle. The clock tower might be a bit worse for wear, but it is open around the clock, no pun intended, and will definitely appeal to some.
If you’re happy with all the quaint things seen while enjoying a walk around, you might like to enjoy one of the town’s many green parks and gardens.
One of the main parks visitors enjoy is the Central Park of Rest and Recreation. It’s a lovely place with plenty of pathways and even has some rides that might be fun to try out in the summer months. This park was opened after WW2 and now divides the two most populated parts of Vyborg, namely the center and Lenin suburb area.
Another lovely place to escape the hustle and bustle for a few hours, if not most of the day, is the 180-hectare park called Park Monrepo. This might just be the best park in the town and guests and residents alike enjoy the classical-style layout, curved bridges and sculptures - Probably a must-see.
Something else to finish up your visit with could be a bit of shopping since the prices in Vyborg lower than other cities like it. You can come across all sorts of discoveries at the market, or in the Prospekt Lenin shopping mall. If you feel like a bite to eat then one unique place to grab something is the Round Tower restaurant which is located in a medieval gun turret.
But on that mention of things medieval, this is a town with some history.
In pre-historic times the area where Vyborg is located was a trading center and was inhabited by the Karelians, - a Finnic tribe who came under the domination of Novgorod and Sweden.
The first castle there was founded during the third Swedish crusade in 1293 by Torkel Knutsson and it was subsequently fought over for centuries. At the time though, The Castle was gradually surrounded with a town, encircled by a fortified wall with towers, an earth mound, and a moat.
In the treaty of Nöteborg in 1323, Vyborg was officially made part of the Swedish realm and the town's trade privileges were chartered by King Eric of Pomerania in the early 1400s. Vyborg remained firmly in Swedish hands until the Great Northern War, when Peter the Great’s forces along with General Fyodor Apraksin recaptured it and received it according to the Treaty of Nystad. Old fortifications were restored and later, in the 1730-40s new ones were built. Later, in 1811, Vyborg together with the province was annexed to the Great Principality of Finland and it became the center of administration for the eastern part of the country. These events caused certain changes in the political and economical life of Vyborg and the whole governorship. After Saimensky Canal was built in 1856, a huge influx of cargo went to the terminals of the Vyborg sea port then, in 1870, a railroad was constructed which connected Vyborg with Helsingfors, Saint-Petersburg, and later, with other cities.
Naturally Vyborg was affected by the wave of revolutionary events that swept Russia in 1917 since it was very close to the "Cradle of the Revolution" – Petrograd.
On December 18, 1917, in Smolny Palace Lenin handed to the head of Finnish delegation a decree from the Soviet of People's Commissars that recognized Finland as an independent state and in March 1918 they withdrew Russian troops from Finland. So from here out, Vyborg became Viipuri, Finnish distortion of the Swedish Vyborg, that’s the way it stayed until the 40s.
During World War 2 it was occupied by Finnish and German troops until its release as part of the Vyborg-Petrozavodsk campaign in June 1944 and in the subsequent Moscow Armistice of September 19, 1944, Finland returned to the borders set by the Moscow Peace treaty and ceded land. According to the Paris Peace treaties from 1947, Finland relinquished all claims to Viipuri and in 1944 that it was finally transferred from the Karelo-Finnish SSR to the Leningrad region, and the name of the town was changed back to Vyborg.
After this, during the Soviet era, the town was settled by people from all over the Soviet Union and it became an important industrial producer of paper, and two navel air bases were built nearby.
Now, of course, it’s a popular spot to visit from people all over the place and an especially unique part of the Russian Federation.