BOREd In Turku, Again: The Forum Marinum Maritime Museum

BOREd in Turku, again: The Forum Marinum Maritime Museum
by Kalle Id

The Forum Marinum Maritime Museum is one of the two major attractions Finland’s oldest city Turku had to offer to ship-buffs. As I covered the other major attraction, the preserved pocket liner/cruise ship BORE in my last contribution to Maritime Matters, I thought it would be prudent to also give your a quick critical tour of Forum Marinum.

Unless otherwise noted, all images are copyright 2011 Kalle Id.

The Forum Marinum’s main buildings are located adjacent to the BORE by the mouth of the River Aura, just a stone’s throw away from the passenger harbour and the Turku Castle. The Forum Marinum is one of two major maritime museums in Finland (the other one being Maritime Center Vellamo in Kotka on the southern coast). Forum Marinum concentrates on preserving the maritime history of the Turku region, which for many years was Finland’s most important passenger shipping hub. It is also the official museum of the Finnish navy.

The main entrance of Forum Marinum, as seen from the direction of the BORE. Maritime Center Vellamo in Kotka is housed at an imposing Wow-architecture building, but Forum Marinum makes use of more humble repurposed harbour buildings.

In addition to the exhibitions housed in the two museum buildings, no less than eleven preserved ships and smaller craft are moored at the riverside near the museum, forming an annex to the museum, some of the ships housing further separate exhibitions. The preserved ships include the full-rigged frigate SUOMEN JOUTSEN (literally ”Swan of Finland”, a former training ship of the Finnish navy), the 1887-built barque SIGYN (which was the first ship in Finland to be preserved), the corvette KARJALA, the mine-layer KEIHÄSSALMI and, of course, the pocket liner BORE.

The full-rigger SUOMEN JOUTSEN in her moorings outside the museum. She was built in 1902 as the French cargo ship LAËNNEC and spent a decade as the German OLDENBURG before acquired by the Finnish Navy in 1930. She served as a training ship until the early 1960s. The red brick building on the left is also a part of Forum Marinum. Photo copyright 2011 Lassi Liikanen.

I visited the Forum Marinum last August. Having just spent an entire day onboard the delicious BORE, I was not perhaps as alert as I should have been to enjoy the museum fully, but as this was my last day in Turku and the admission was cheap (especially as I got both a student discount and a discount for having the loyalty card of Finnish S-chain of shops) I decided to go anyway.

A part of the exhibition on seafaring history of the Åland Islands. Sailings ships survived in commercial under alandian ownership longer than anywhere else in the world. Primarily this was thanks to the ship owner Gustaf Erikson, who operated cargo ships under sail between Europe and Australia still after World War II.

The layout of the museum is somewhat impractical, as it comprises of two unconnected buildings. Adjacent to the main entrance and the museums’ shop is the smaller exhibition area, from where I begun my visit. At the time of my visit this area housed a temporary exhibition ”The Sea is Our Way”, a comprehensive look into the seafaring history of the Åland Islands (an autonomous province of Finland) realised in collaboration with the Åland Maritime Museum. The Åland islands have been and are an important hub of Finnish shipping, to the extent that two of the three main Finnish passenger shipping companies are based on the Åland Islands and owned by Alandian interests.

The passenger ferry trade had been of utmost importance to the Alandians. Here are models of the Viking Line ferries MARELLA (1970) and AURELLA (1973). The latter is still in service in Canada as the CTMA VANCANCIER. The growth of the ferry trade between Sweden and Finland has been such that Viking Line’s ships currently sailing from Turku, the AMORELLA (1988) and ISABELLA (1989), are nearly ten times the size of the MARELLA.

On a balcony level above there is a small section dedicated to shipbuilding in Turku, with a model of the MARINER OF THE SEAS and a cabin module from one of the cruise ships built in Turku (which I think was the CRYSTAL SYMPHONY, but don’t quote me on that as I neglected to take notes). The balcony also offers nice views of the rest of the exhibits in this building, an impressive collection of pleasure-boats.

A full-scale cabin module from what is today STX Europe’s cabin production site near Turku.
For those interested in pleasure boats, there is a large collection in the Forum Marinum that you can see on close quarters.

Having looked through the first part of the museum, I made my way across the parking space-cum-quayside to the museum’s second building, the Kruununmakasiini (lit. ”The Crown’s Magazine”, a former granary). Here the entrance to the actual museum area was very poorly marked, with further confusion caused by the fact that the museum’s restaurant is adjacent to the museum entrance. A nice, big sign reading ”Museum entrance here” would have been a good addition.

A view down from the mezzanine level of Kruununmakasiini to one of the exhibit rooms. The large photograph on the back wall shows Steamship Company Bore’s first ship BORE I in Turku harbour, probably sometime during the early 20th century.

Complaints aside, the Kruununmakasiini houses the Forum Marinum’s permanent main exhibition, ”From Hoy to Ro-Ro, from Galley to Hovercraft” which tells the history of both commercial and military seafaring in south-western Finland. There is a section dedicated to the history of the Finnish Navy (which I admit I largely skipped, not being interested military ships), another section about maritime administration, the coast guard and the customs, with a fascination room built to resemble an old customs house, displaying amongst other things various methods of smuggling.

The Forum Marinum has an impressive collection of models, including ones of all Steamship Company Bore passenger ships, scattered through-out the two buildings. Here is the BORE I, the company’s very first ship from 1898. She served with Bore until 1916 and again from 1927 until 1961, when she was scrapped.

This part of the museum also pays attention to the development of merchant ships (as implied by the name of the exhibition). Turku was for many years the centre of Finnish shipping, particularly passenger shipping, and for even longer the city in which ships for various operators sailing to and from Finland were built. Specific notice is given to the development of roll-on roll-off ships that have grown to dominate both the freight and passenger services to and from Finland. As the forerunner in ro-ro technology was the Turku-based Steamship Company Bore, it’s no surprise both the subject and the company receive special attention.

The BORE STAR of 1975 was the last passenger ship delivered to Steamship Company Bore. The company gave up on passenger traffic in 1980 but it still exists as a cargo operator with a fleet of 21 ships. The BORE STAR meanwhile sails in Indian waters as the cruise ship AMET MAJESTY.

Another permanent exhibition in the same building is titled ”Help at Sea!” and deals with the history of sea rescue and salvage. Accessible from that part of the building is an outdoors boathall, which houses amongst others a motor torpedo boat from the Second World War.

Until the early 1980s ships were being built right in the heart of Turku at the mouth of the Aura River. Here is a model of the Wärtsilä shipyard area in it’s heyday in the 1970s. The present-day Forum Marinum buildings are located in the empty part of the model on the left-hand side of the photo.

When visiting the Kruununmakasiini part of the museum it’s worth noticing the building has a mezzanine level with walkways circling most of the rooms, offering interesting views to many of exhibits, as well as displaying additional artifacts that are well worth of seeing.

Museum ship line-up: the barque SIGYN (1887) on the left, the pocket liner BORE (1960) on the right. In this photo from late 2010 the BORE is still in a temporary mooring on the other side of the river from the Forum Marinum. Photo copyright 2010 Lassi Liikanen.

After the Kruununmakasiini the full tour of the museum would also include visiting the various preserved ships moored outside (accessible for an extra charge). Personally as I had already seen what I think is the most interesting of the ships (the BORE) and it was getting quite late, I decided to pass the joys of the further museum ships. And besides, I had to save something for my next visit to Turku.

Special thanks to Martin Cox and Lassi Liikanen.

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For more information on the Forum Marinum, visit

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