Vyborg: Once Finland’s 2nd most influential city, now only a small provincial town somewhere in Russia5 min read
In Vyborg, Russia, time seems to have stopped.
The city has a long history behind it that the ruins of its past never cease to pass down. Once Finland’s second most influential city, Vyborg is now only a small provincial town somewhere deep in Russia, about 30 km from the border with Finland and 138 km West of Saint Petersburg, one of Europe’s largest megapolis.
According to locals, the city has been damaged the most in recent years than it was devastated during the Soviet period.
About 1km east of the city center are the “East Vyborg Fortifications”, a spectacular fortification system built between 1863 and 1870 by war architect Edward Totleben. Some of these appear to be connected by a deep ditch that the soldiers used as a safe passage during military operations.
When the ex-mayor was appointed director of the city park, where the fortifications are now, all the metal constructions started strangely disappearing, including a huge Soviet ferris wheel and a tin plate roof of one of the gunpowder cellars. After the collapse of the roof of a dungeon, access to the area was promptly closed to preserve the building.
However, this astounding fortification system today it enjoys only a very feeble, almost nominal, protection status: “architectural site of regional importance” in the Russian classification. Higher ones being “of federal importance” and “UNESCO site”.
The city’s Dominican Cathedral has an intricate history: the first building appeared in that place in the 15th century, but from that moment on, various reconstruction operations were documented, even if builders have never completely demolished the original structure. Its location in general and some previous details in particular were always maintained from the previous construction, as if marking the continuing legacy of the place. By the time a new cathedral was commissioned to Karl Ludwig Engel in 1828-1832 it was a real mixture of Middle Age and Gothic themes. He renovated, reconstructed and modernized the existing building, partially preserving the Gothic basilica. However, the interiors of the Cathedral, dating back to the Middle Ages, have been completely lost. The Cathedral has not seen any restoration work since the day Vyborg was annexed to the Soviet Union in 1944. Along one of the sides of the building, today there is a functioning car wash.
Set Solberg Block, more commonly known to the locals as “Block Seventeen”, is probably the most famous abandoned space in Vyborg, in the heart of its historical center. Seven buildings dating back to 1790-1890 used to be located here once, six of which were granted some conservation status (“regional importance” again).
It seems that the buildings were preserved thanks to the presence of an electric instrument factory which was located in the same place during the Soviet era and block’s misadventures began shortly before the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
It was rumored that in Vyborg there would be a free trade zone, so anonymous scammers bought the entire complex in the late 1980s. Their hope was to restructure it quickly and sell it to some rich westerners. However, soon the dreams of the new owners were shattered: no international investor would reach the city.
The scammers disappeared and still today no documents are available to understand who was involved.
Poets and local artists occupied the buildings to organize clandestine events until in 2008 the administration took possession of them. One morning in 2014 some workers demolished a part of the block, but the destruction was not completed thanks to the protests of the citizens.
It stood half-destroyed for five years before the local governor decided to take the affair into his hands. He estimated that the reconstruction of the block would cost $36 million, and he was going to get this money from the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development. However, the credit was never approved.
In 2018, after no money was found, a complete “reconstruction” of the site was scheduled. This time, the grand plan is to open a theater center of 800 seats here.
Only a few steps later, there is the Clock Tower with the Main Cathedral next to it. Both constituted an architectural whole once, and both are in desperate need of major reparation works. The Clock Tower is relatively well preserved and is now covered with canvas, as if that would prevent it from falling apart!
It is famous all over Scandinavia for the fact that the first clock in Karelia was unveiled and launched here in 1600. It also hosts a huge bell presented to the town of Vyborg by Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia from 1762 until 1796, the country’s longest-ruling female leader. When the Main Cathedral was active, Clock Tower also served as its bell-gable.
The Main Cathedral of Vyborg, by the way, is one of the most sacred places to the Finns: according to the legend, Michael Agricola is buried somewhere here (in fact, the area around the Cathedral is a big cemetery where archaeologists keep finding lots of sensational things every time they carry out research excavations). He was the direct apprentice of Martin Luther, and he was credited for being a very talented diplomat, and, on top of that, he is the one who created the modern written Finnish language.
After the Second World War (1939-1945) the roof collapsed, and, of course, no efforts were made to restore it. By the 1990s, a huge crack appeared under the Clock Tower which, in addition, stands on a huge rock and has no foundation.
Another notable place is the Hoving Building, whose story is probably the most characteristic about how ruins appear in Vyborg.
The publisher and book seller Victor Hoving, commissioned the construction of the building, in the style of Art Nouveau, between 1902 and 1904. It was a library with apartments on the upper floors. Windows were made by one the best Dutch specialists of that time and eight Abo ovens were set up to warm the whole house.
As well as many other buildings, it was acquired in the early 1990s by some businessmen: they planned to turn it into a prestigious hotel. However the 2008 crisis blocked all jobs and forced the owners to sell the entire building.
One day, suddenly, the inhabitants of the city heard an explosion coming from the structure that the fire then devoured in a few minutes. The interiors of the right wing, from the roof to the cellar, have collapsed. Destruction is also visible from the road.
Images from web.