Geographically, the city lies on a narrow isthmus between Lake Näsijärvi, which reaches far to the north, and Lake Pyhäjärvi in the south. In addition, there are 200 lakes and ponds in Tampere, and a total of 450 in the entire region. Despite being predominantly a former heavy industry centre, today Tampere is a major hub for information technology, research, education, culture, sports and business. In 2010, the City of Tampere came in first in an image survey comparing the largest cities in Finland. Leaving Helsinki behind, it was also found the most attractive city among Finns who plan on moving.
Tammerkoski rapids that now run in a canal through downtown Tampere connected the two major lakes with an elevation drop of 18 metres. As early as the 7th century people started to gather at the banks of the lakes, and in the 18th century the utilization of the rapids as a source of hydropower resulted in a population boom. Tampere was officially founded on the banks of Tammerkoski in 1775 by Gustav III of Sweden. Four years later, 1 October 1779, Tampere was granted full city rights. The newly founded city was soon after established as a proving ground of revolutionary economical theories by declaring a freedom of trade to the city dwellers. The status of free town enabled import and export of foreign goods without customs. In addition, it was ordered that the citizens were allowed to freely practice any Christian faith. Due to the uncommon liberties, Tampere grew as a major market town and industrial centre in the 19th century. During the latter half of 19th century almost half of Finland‘s industrial labour force was in Tampere. The town’s industrial inclination in the 19th and 20th centuries gave it the nickname “Manchester of the North”, “Manse” for short (in Finnish) that sticks to this day.
Tampere has been an industrial pioneer in Finland since the very beginning. Country’s first paper mill started operation in 1783, and the first paper machine was engaged at the J.C. Frenckell & Son’s factory in 1842. The cotton factory established in 1820 by James Finlayson grew to become the country’s first large-scale industrial establishment. The first electric light in the Nordic countries was also lit in Finlayson’s modern production facilities in 1882. Finlayson grew aggressively and eventually became the large industrial complex in the Nordic countries. The city’s engineering industry was bolstered by the manufacturer of grinding machines and water turbines Tampella, which was established on the upper reaches of the Tammerkoski rapids in 1861.
By the time of the Finnish declaration of independence in 1917, Tampere had already grown into a major industrial hub that was predominantly inhabited by factory workers. Because of the unusually large working class, Tampere was also the worker’s union stronghold. The workers’ living conditions were terrible which was increasingly generating social tension in the society. The First World War was initially profitable for industrial Tampere, but after the October Revolution in Russia, the vital eastern trade was severed. Now the Finnish society was deeply divided, and the socialists seized control of Tampere 1918. During the Finnish Civil War in 1918 Tampere became the Red (Social Democratic Party of Finland) stronghold. However, in April 1918 the eventually victorious White forces led by C. G. E. Mannerheim captured the town after the Battle of Tampere. It was the largest battle in Nordic war history. Whites seized 11,000 prisoners, summarily executing actual and suspected leaders and locking the remaining prisoners into camps. The decisive victory quickly led to the end one of the bloodiest civil wars in Europe.
After the war, both the city and the national consensus were rebuilt, and Tampere grew rapidly. In 1927 the first of the factories stopped industrial operations, and city offices later moved into the empty buildings. Even though the structural changes were already on their way, by the time of the Second World War, Tampere was centre of the Finnish war industry. In addition to uniforms made in textile mills, Tampella factories were manufacturing mortars and artillery. Tampere was bombarded during 1939-40 by the Soviet air force, but the damages were not extensive. After 1960 most factories started to grind to a halt, but the buildings were kept. Nowadays the cityscape of Tampere is characterized by charming old red-brick industrial buildings, most of them reinstated as offices, restaurants, and places of culture. Modern Tampere has come a long way from its heavy industry roots, and transformed into a hi-tech research and development powerhouse.
- Visit Tampere Tourist Information, Rautatienkatu 25A (The office is located within the main railway station), ☎ +358 3 5656 6800. Opening hours vary according to season. The office hands out travel tips, brochures, and free maps of the city.