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The Old Academy Building

Old Academy Building The first university in Finland, Academia Aboensis, was founded in 1640 in Turku/Åbo. By the end of the 18th century, the university’s existing premises had become too small, and the Swedish architect Carl Christoffer Gjörwell, drew up plans for a new building. Responsibility for overseeing the construction was entrusted to the Italian-born architect Carlo Bassi, who became the leading exponent of the empire style in Finland. King Gustav IV Adolf of Sweden laid the foundation stone of what is today called the Old Academy Building (Akatemiatalo / Akademihuset) in 1802. During the following years, the large building slowly emerged. The columns in the future Ceremonial Hall were erected by the summer of 1807 after being grinded and polished from local granite. The building was completed in 1815.

In September 1827, most of the city, including the library and the collections of the Academia Aboensis, was destroyed by a disastrous fire. The Great Fire of Turku is the largest town fire in the history of the Nordic countries. Two centuries worth of collections were destroyed and only 400 volumes, which were out on loan, were saved. The Ceremonial Hall of the Old Academy Building survived the flames untouched as did the halls on the second floor. As a consequence of the Great Fire of Turku, the university was relocated to Helsinki the following year. After the Great Fire, the Old Academy Building was renovated and was used by the provincial Governor, the Chapter of the Cathedral, and the Court of Appeal. The Ceremonial Hall of the Old Academy Building today serves as a celebration hall for the two universities in Turku/Åbo: the University of Turku and Åbo Akademi University. The hall, which seats 350, is also commonly used for events such as concerts; the acoustics of the hall is superb for choirs and chamber music. The rest of the building is still used by the Court of Appeal.

The architecture of the Old Academy Building and the works of art in the Ceremonial Hall

The style of the Old Academy Building in general reflects the simple and severe neo-classical style typical of the late Gustavian period in Swedish history. The decorations on the wall and the ceiling in the entrance vestibule are the work of Carlo Bassi. The plaster figures in the vaults were done by the Russian artist Jakov Shelesnov. Six relief sculptures were commissioned for the hall, and the sculptor Erik Cainberg completed them between 1813-1816. They are the first neoclassical monumental works made by a Finnish artist. The reliefs depict Finnish folklore (Väinämöinen playing the kantele), historical events of the country (e.g. King Gustav Vasa receiving the Finnish translation of the New Testament from Mikael Agricola in 1548), and events related to the Academia Aboensis, e.g. Queen Christina signing the Foundation Charter of the university, presented to her by the Governor General of Finland, Count Per Brahe in 1640.