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The demand to catch a glimpse inside the palace was obvious upon nearing the building. I was almost bowled over by an elderly woman who kindly advised me she was hurrying to see the Presidential Palace, and that was half an hour before opening.
At the steps leading to the palace on Mariankatu, the energy could be felt as typically reserved Finns beamed with anticipation before being let into the building. Miia and Monrten from Espoo were visiting the palace for the first time. “We lined up for an hour to get into the building, but it’s not open every day and therefore is quite exclusive. We love the architecture.”
This impressive building was originally built in 1820 by a local merchant, J H Heidenstrauch, as his residence. In 1837, the building was purchased by the state and converted into the Imperial Palace. The palace hosted Czars and other dignitaries from Russia witnessing many festivities.
At the official opening on Wednesday, Major-Domo Anne Puonti welcomed her guests with open arms. She has held the position as head of the household for 11 years and the pride she holds for its appearance is obvious. “This is only the fourth time we have opened the doors of the palace. This is arranged especially for the hundredth anniversary of Finland’s independence. We have extended the exhibition to show portraits of the presidents’ spouses and a photographic exhibition of presidents performing their tasks. There is at least one photograph of each president.” She advised there have been 70 staff working tirelessly to present the exhibition and 40 staff work as guides this week to assist visitors with any queries.
During World War I, the palace was converted into a Military Hospital of the Finnish Senate. Following Finland’s newly gained independence in 1917, the upper floors served as the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. It was 1921 when the name changed to its current name, the Presidential Palace, and up until 1993, the palace served as the official residence for most Finnish presidents.
The palace had a long overdue renovation completed in 2014 at a cost of over 45 million euros. Today its purpose is twofold: serving as a functioning workplace for the Office of the President (40 staff) and its grand rooms are utilized for ceremonial occasions.
Local ladies, Meri and Satu, had never visited the palace before. “The architecture is my favorite part of the palace. The money spent on the restoration was high largely due to the proximity of the palace to the sea and the tides had destroyed the building’s footings,” the ladies had learned. A group of travel industry students were observing the palace for future work and pleasure. “We are studying travel and we wanted to know about the palace if tourists ask. It is awesome to see all the presidents and the things used in the Independence Day celebrations.”
Walking through the many beautiful rooms, and looking at the photographs displayed throughout, one can’t help but feel as if you’re walking in the footsteps of many great figures who once visited the palace. Russian Czar’s, President Bill Clinton, President Boris Yeltsin, [highlight color=#FFFF00 ]Chinese President Xi Jinping[/highlight] to name a few. Brave soldiers being addressed by President Ryti just days before joining the battle in WWII are also depicted in the palace.
There are certain opportunities in life which rarely present themselves, and if you are in the position to grasp one of these rare moments I recommend clutching it with both hands. Such an opportunity is currently on offer for four days only, in Helsinki City.
The Office of the Presidential Palace is expecting over 10,000 visitors over the four days. The last time the doors were open for only one day and 2,500 people visited. If you want to experience the building yourself, the doors are open from 10:00 – 16:00 Wednesday, Friday and Saturday and Thursday 10:00 – 18:00.