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A City of Two Tales, a City in Two Time Zones

Article by: Stella Cowey

A Worthwhile Journey

Imagine yourself setting off on an amazing 15-hour train journey north from Stockholm through some of the world’s most picturesque countryside. The train winds its way peacefully up through Sweden, following the coast along the Gulf of Bothnia, passing through the isolated landscapes and the vast, verdant expanses of Västerbotten and Västernorrland. Then you reach your destination: HaparandaTornio, a city comprising two parts, one part Swedish, the other Finnish. This city straddles the Swedish-Finnish border and sits just south of the Arctic Circle. While this in itself makes HaparandaTornio a pretty unique place, there are other factors which make this a city like no other. For instance, it exists in two different time zones, with Haparanda in Central European Time and Tornio in Eastern European Time. Let’s learn more about HaparandaTornio, a place that has undergone many changes over the centuries.

History: How HaparandaTornio Came to be

Initially, Haparanda and Tornio existed as two separate centres of civilisation. Tornio was created as a city in the seventeenth century by the King of Sweden, Gustav II Adolf, when Finland was part of the Swedish Empire. At the time, Tornio was the world’s northernmost city, and, thanks to it being integral to northern trading routes, it was one of the wealthiest cities in the Swedish Empire. In 1809, Sweden ceded Finland to Russia because of Sweden’s defeat in the War of Finland. Upon this shift of control, new borders were drawn along the Muonio and Torne rivers, dividing Sweden and Finland. Based on its proximity to Tornio, Haparanda, on the Swedish side of the new border, became a borough in the 1820s and was raised to the status of a town a few decades later. Thus, Haparanda was officially a significant settlement in Meänmaa (the Torne Valley), along with Tornio. The population of Meänmaa will mostly have ancestors in western and eastern Finland, northern Sweden and Finland, but also in Sámi people. Meänmaa has its own flag and celebrates its national day On July 15th. There is a strong sense of cultural unity in the area, with the language an essential factor of this togetherness.

Exploring Culture Through Language

The towns of Haparanda and Tornio share a connection that surpasses just the name of HaparandaTornio. Friendly cross-border relations may be why HaparandaTornio has been so successful as a joint city. These warm relations have been created, it appears, reasonably naturally. The population of HaparandaTornio is mainly multilingual, with most inhabitants speaking both Swedish and Finnish at the very least. Though often, other languages are spoken too, such as Meänkieli, or other international languages, such as English. Meänkieli is a specifically significant language here. But why?

A Unique Language

Meänkieli, literally meaning ‘our language’, is a Finnic language unique to Meänmaa. There have been contentions over the status of Meänkieli as a language rather than a dialect. Some say that Meänkieli is simply a group of Finnish dialects. However, those that say Meänkieli is a language argue that since Meänkieli is only partially intelligible with Finnish, it is entirely unintelligible with Swedish and has the status as a minority language in Sweden. It has been estimated by Ethnologue that there are roughly 20,000 speakers of Meänkieli, this population being split fairly evenly over the Swedish-Finnish border. Meänkieli is typically spoken by the older people of Meänmaa. However, the language continues to be taught at some universities, and it is not unusual for Meänkieli to be used in books, TV, film, or radio.

Unique Seasons

The nature of this region is striking. Since HaparandaTornio sits at a latitude of 65° north, the region of Meänmaa boasts the world-famous midnight sun and long summer nights typical of the far north. This midnight sun could be enjoyed from the idyllic Haparanda archipelago or even the remote Haparanda Archipelago National Park. Moving from summer into winter, the position of HaparandaTornio means that the city and region will most likely be covered in snow for months on end, giving that cosy Nordic feeling that has become so popular with visitors from around the world. But what sets HaparandaTornio apart from any other northern city across the globe?

A Unique Experience

A magical, wintery experience in this city can be enjoyed on the final day of the year. Since there is a one-hour time difference between Haparanda and Tornio, it is possible to ring in the New Year twice in one night. For this reason, HaparandaTornio is known to be one of the best places to kick off a new year. Another unique experience in HaparandaTornio is a particularly Swedish one, as there is the chance to visit the world’s northernmost IKEA in the heart of Haparanda. Now brace yourself: IKEA Haparanda is purported to bring in a staggering 2 million visitors annually.

The City in a Nutshell

HaparandaTornio is a fascinating city with a colourful past and no shortage of geographic quirks. It has undergone a change of political power several times in the past centuries, between Sweden, Finland, and Russia. This makes for an interesting dynamic. When visiting this city, tourists should make the most of what HaparandaTornio offers. There is much to see and do. It serves as a gateway to the far north of both Sweden and Finland but also offers experiences no other place in the world can boast.

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