Land and People
Finland falls into three main geographical zones. In the south and west is a low-lying coastal strip (20–80 mi/30–130 km wide) that includes most of the country's major cities and much of its arable land. The coastal strip rises slightly to a vast forested interior plateau (average elevation: 300–600 ft/90–180 m) that includes about 60,000 lakes, many of which are linked by short rivers, sounds, or canals to form busy commercial waterways. The largest lakes are Saimaa, Inari, and Päijänne. The Kemijoki and Oulujoki are the longest rivers of the region and, with the Torniojoki, are important logging waterways. The country's third zone lies north of the Arctic Circle and is part of Lapland (Finnish, Lappi ). The region is thinly wooded or barren and has an average elevation of about 1,100 ft (340 m); it is somewhat higher in the northwest, where Haltiatunturi (4,344 ft/1,324 m), Finland's loftiest point, is located. Altogether, Finland is made up of about three-quarters forest and woodland; around 10% of the country is water surface and 7% is arable land.
In addition to Helsinki, other important cities include Espoo, Hämeenlinna, Joensuu, Jyväskylä, Kemi, Kotka, Kuopio, Lahti, Lappeenranta, Oulu, Pori, Tampere, Turku, Vaasa, and Vantaa. Finnish and Swedish are both official languages, and about 6% of the population speaks Swedish as a first language; nearly all Swedish speakers are bilingual. In addition, there are about 3,000 Sami (Lapps) living in Finnish Lapland. About 85% of Finland's inhabitants belong to the established Evangelical Lutheran Church.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.