FARAVID 35/2011


Janne Ikäheimo, Reconstructions as tourist magnets on the eastern shore of the Gulf of Bothnia – stone maze, medieval church or transatlantic cruiser?

The article discusses two projects completed on the eastern shore of the Gulf of Bothnia during the summer of 2010 that resulted in a reconstruction – a structure executed with modern construction methods and equipment, but borrowing its appearance from an ancient monument. One is the reconstruction of the medieval wood church once located at Valmarinniemi in Keminmaa parish; the other is a stone maze – also known as Troy Town – built in the municipality center of Vihanti. Both have been proclaimed as potential future tourist attractions of their area. While the basic concept of enhancing tourism through the reproduction local cultural heritage is reviewed here positively, the execution of these projects and their appeal to the general public are questioned.

As practically nothing had been preserved of the original wooden church at Valmarinniemi, where archaeological excavations took place in 1980s, two photographs depicting presumably comparable church in Södra Roda (Sweden) – burned by an arsonist in 2001 – were used as a guidance. The result is a pretentious reference to local past; a barely credible building equipped with modern amenities to enhance user comfort. As the primus motor for the building of this neo-medieval church happened to be Mr. Paavo Väyrynen, possibly the most controversial figure in contemporary Finnish politics and the Minister for Foreign Trade and Development at the time, the project and, in particular, the use of public funds to finance it through local Centre for Economic Development was heavily criticized. On the other hand, the church can be seen as a prime example of determined entrepreneurship that seeks to enrich local business in every imaginable way.

The Vihanti stone maze is even more haphazard reproduction of the original with its nearly a meter high dry wall and circa twenty meter long straight as an arrow section, while ancient stone mazes in Scandinavia often resemble a kidney in shape and are outlined with simple stone rows. Although the stone maze was designed by an architect just as the first phase of larger environmental production exhibiting the history and topography of municipality, the hard labor was carried out by a local village society. Thus, the resulting monument celebrates community effort, while the built-in interactive character of a stone maze may predict use as a retreat for meditation or play.

As both projects are shown to possess hardly any appeal to the general public due to lack of specific content that would turn the planned attraction truly interesting, the discussion is concluded with a brief remarks on the proposition of a notorious business mogul, Mr. Toivo Sukari to build a full-scale reproduction of HMS Titanic next to a gigantic shipping mall in Kiiminki, near the city of Oulu. While the pompous idea meets superbly the expectations of today’s attention-based economy, the context – characterized by a rather limited subsistence base and hardly more than moderate projected tourist influx – as well as the initial expense of no less than 30 million euros were sufficiently large icebergs to wreck the plan.  

Faravid 35/2011