The establishing of the city
Hanko’s history is intertwined with the history of seafaring, and Hankoniemi as a berth was mentioned for the first time in the late thirteenth century. From the fifteenth century on, Pike’s Gut (Hauensuoli), a narrow strait between two islands, was used as a harbour. The rocks of the islands are covered with people’s names and coats of arms, carved by seamen while they waited for more favourable winds.
The port of Hanko became operational after the railway was completed in 1873, and Hanko was granted a town charter in 1874.
An excerpt from the ‘gracious charter of foundation’ from 1874: ‘We, Alexander I, Emperor by the grace of God and absolute ruler of all of Russia, Czar of Poland, Grand Duke of Finland, etc. etc., hereby make known that We, the Finance Department of the Finnish Senate, with the confirmation of the Governor-General of the country, have seen it good to graciously announce that a coastal town with the rights to practise foreign trade, to be called Hanko, is to be founded on the so-called Hankoniemi land…’
(Source: Hanko-vuosiluvut kertovat (Hanko year by year) by Birgitta Ekström)
The Spa Park
The villa area in the Spa Park was built in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and Hanko’s life as a spa town began. The villas, representative of ornate timbered architecture, were designed by well-known architects. After the spa was badly damaged in the Continuation War (1941-44), it was torn down.
The Hankoniemi cape is strategically situated, and has in the past been the stage for many battles. From the early seventeenth century customs duties were collected at the tip of the cape, and a small military fortification was built there. Sweden started building actual fortresses on the cape in the late eighteenth century, when three islands beyond Hanko were fortified. In the early years of the twentieth century the fortifiers were Russians, and the defences in Hankoniemi were a part of Peter the Great’s sea fortress. After the Winter War (1939-40) Finland surrendered Hankoniemi to the Soviet Union for use as a military base. When the Continuation War started, the front line was in Lappohja, and bloody battles also took place on the islands around the cape. In early December 1941, Hanko was taken back and the evacuated residents came home to rebuild their war-battered town.
Industry, the port, and tourism became the supporting pillars of the town, and they are still the basis of Hanko´s business life.
During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, approximately 400,000 Finns left the country to seek their fortune, about 250,000 of them leaving via Hanko to the United States, Canada or Australia. Their journey began on steamships which also carried butter, the most important export at the time, to England. The cape is still guarded by the ‘Eye of Hanko’, the Russarö lighthouse, whose twinkle was the passengers’ last sight of their native country.
An extract from Zacharias Topelius’s poem ‘Hangon silmä’ (The Eye of Hanko):
“I’m not a star in the sky,
just a fiery tower of the night,
a lighthouse on the coast of the Hankoniemi cape;
I guide the seamen, as the day wanes away,
and peril awaits on the hidden rocks.
Dark and light I alternate,
and sailors behold me with joy, thinking:
‘It must be the Eye of Hanko’.”