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Release peace: the magazine

Release peace: the magazine

Analysis & Background Stories on International Affairs

Shining a Spotlight on Finland’s Most Luminous Cultural Treasure

Article by: Tatiana Sondej

Finland’s Lighthouses

Finland’s western coast is home to an assortment of lighthouses, with Bengtskär and Söderskär being some of the most famous. Sitting 15km from shore, Tankar Island holds one of the most significant lighthouses in Finland’s coastal and maritime history, which is aptly named, ‘Tankar Lighthouse’. With its traditional red and white stripes juxtaposing against the lush green surrounding grass, the lighthouse has a rather colourful past.

The History of Tankar

During the 13th century, Tankar Island, which is located in the Kokkola municipality, was formed by being elevated out of the sea as a result of geological uplift. The name ‘Tankar’ comes from the word ‘Tankokari’ which refers to a stone landmark previously found on the island. And from as early as the 16th century, Tankar has been home to seal hunters, pilots and fishermen. During the 19th century, as shipping increased in the Bay of Bothnia, the need for a lighthouse was recognised. In 1889, Tankar Lighthouse was built. Over many decades, the lighthouse has provided protection to coastal fishermen and has acted as a guiding light for seafarers to Kokkola’s port. Tankar was known as the hub for the herring fishermen of Kaarlela. At its peak, the island was home to over one hundred fishermen.

The Shining Light

Tankar’s community revolved around the lighthouse due to its integral role on the island when it came to shipping or travelling from shore to shore. The beacon was first lit on the 15th of October the same year it was built. Tankar’s lighthouse held the most powerful beacon for its time of manufacture, with a beam that carried for 25 kilometres (13 nautical miles). Around the 1970s, the lighthouse became electrically powered – this technological advance increased the beams carrying distance to an impressive 50 kilometres. The lighthouse remains one of Finland’s brightest.

A Duty of Care

Due to the great importance of Tankar Lighthouse, the role of the lighthouse keeper became equally essential. There was an utmost need for someone to ensure that the structure was well-preserved. The keeper was responsible for preserving the beacon and upkeeping its condition, as well as running errands for the Master of the island, and minor repair work. As a result of this preservation, the lighthouse is still in use today and can be visited by tour, with the upper portion (containing the beacon) sealed off and accessed only by the keeper to ensure it can remain optimally intact. But what else could a visit to Tankar Island entail?

Past and Present Life on Tankar

Much as it did in the 19th century, the lighthouse still stands as the central point of the island. It is surrounded by the Tankar’s famous painted cabins which originally housed the lighthouse guards, pilots and fishermen. Upon visiting Tankar island, one can take a look inside the cabins and uncover the stories of families who once inhabited them. However, one of the most renowned buildings on Tankar is the wooden church. Built in 1754, the church enabled the inhabitants of Tankar to attend Sunday service on-site, rather than making a long journey to the nearest church on the mainland. The building bears resemblance to a fishing cabin on the outside, adorned with pews and decorations on the inside. It is marked with a small white cross above the entrance. In the present day, the church is still extremely popular and is utilised for a wide number of events, namely concerts, weddings and worship. In fact, much of the island has been preserved.

Preservation from the Early Days

The southern section of the island is owned by the City of Kokkola, and it is run on the terms of the old Ostrobothnian village. The Islet council meets on a yearly basis and ensures that all matters on the island run smoothly. These meetings are open for all to attend, with the locals of Kokkola able to have a say in matters of the island. Though the Tankar is relatively small, the sheer amount of fishing and trading that took place in the 1800s needed regulations to operate properly. The first harbour regulations were drawn up and approved by the King of Sweden in 1726.

Present Preservation

The present-day regulations were renewed in 2021. The City of Kokkola places importance on the preservation and protection of Tankar’s thriving natural environment. The Finnish Heritage Agency has defined the area as a nationally significant built cultural environment. Tankar Island also belongs to the Luoto Archipelago Natura 2000 nature protection area and a landscape management plan has been drawn up for it. Tankar boasts spectacular nature, with a hiking trail encircling the island and bird stations to observe the rare and wonderful species native to the area. Nature on the island, as well as the bird-nest season, demands respect. And the Tankar Lighthouse community is one of the best-preserved shipping societies in Finland.

A Traditional Cabin Experience

For those who would like to experience the full Finnish coastal life, the island has many visiting opportunities. Tankar has an array of places where visitors can spend the night, including the infamous fishing cabins. Visitors are transported to the island of the M/S Jenny – a ticket for the ship includes a guided tour of the island, which is available in English and Finnish. The church and the lighthouse itself are open for visits between the months of June and August. There are also many more wonderful attractions to complete your stay. The island has a homely cafe, a seal-hunting museum, and even a sauna to top off the Finnish traditional experience. Kokkola’s emphasis on sustainability requires visitors to be mindful of the wonderful greenery and wildlife that Tankar has to offer – perfect for those looking for a peaceful retreat.

A Quiet Sanctuary: Step onto the Island

The picturesque island of Tankar is a great example of natural preservation and a taste of the past. With a rich historical past, the lighthouse has been carefully preserved by the keeper and the City of Kokkola. Dotted with traditional Finnish summer cottages, a daily boat service allows visitors to experience a homely atmosphere. Indulge in a bowl of salmon soup in the family-run café restaurant or pay a visit to the 18th-century wooden church. With plenty of attractions and activities to offer, a visit here can provide the perfect mixture of nature and history.


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