Country and region

Last modified 15.3.2011 at 13:19

A very brief history of Oulu

Text: Laura Myllykoski

Oulu is known for its high technology but it’s clear that this hasn't always been the case. It is over 400 years from Oulu’s foundation.

Oulu in 1840 as drawn by J. Boström.

Oulu in 1840 as drawn by J. Boström.

Oulu was founded by King Charles IX of Sweden in 1605. The name Oulu comes from a Saami word meaning the floodwater. The mouth of the Oulu River is an ancient trading centre.

The city of Oulu was founded near to the castle of Oulu that was built on the island of Linnansaari. Later on the castle's wooden parts were burned by Russian forces in 1715. In 1793 the whole castle was destroyed when a lightning set a wooden storehouse on fire and one of the gun powder cellars exploded. Nowadays the area and the ruins are protected as a relic.

A living from the woods

At first when Oulu was just founded its population was about 400. In 400 years this has increased by 129 600 people. Since its founding Oulu has been known for its pine wood tar and salmon. Nowadays tar (in Finnish: ”terva”) shows up mainly in names of places, events and even in the name of a football team. What comes to salmon, nowadays it returns to spawn to Oulu River after many years of being blocked by the power plant dams, thanks to the fish way.

Tar has been produced in Oulu for centuries. It is made by heating pine wood. This causes the wood to start ”sweating” and the sweat is tar and pitch. Tar is known for its disinfectant qualities and the wood tar also has a pleasant scent.

Previously tar was also used to make wooden ships, boats and ropes waterproof. As the building of ships increased during the centuries the tar became more and more important for Oulu's trade. The golden age of tar was in the 19th century. After that the wood industry started to grow on the expense of tar production.

The effects of the wood industry of Oulu can still be seen as there is a paper mill just outside the centre of Oulu.

Destroying and rebuilding

In 1822 the whole centre of Oulu was burnt in a fire and had to be rebuilt. All in all Oulu has been burnt at least ten times in its history.

Little is left of the old Oulu. Most of the old buildings and wooden houses were demolished to make way for bigger and more modern buildings. The saved buildings are now protected and they can be found for example near the market place and by Rotuaari.

During the Second World War Finland fought twice against Russia. The first one of those wars was called the Winter War (1939-1940) and Oulu was an important place for accommodating and maintaining the forces because of its ideal location. In the Continuation War (1941-1944) Oulu became a vital base to the German troops. After the Continuation War they were forced out of Finland in the Lapland War (1944-1945).

After the wars Oulu was partly in ruins because of the bombings but was spared by the Germans who didn't use the scorched earth warfare on it unlike to many towns in Lapland. The barracks are still in Oulu and nowadays the staff of the Northern Defense area is located there.

avain Keywords: Oulu, history
You can find specific information and how to apply from the Studies and Applying section of Oulu UAS website.
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