Helsinki (hĕlˈsĭngkē) [key], Swed. Helsingfors, city (1998 pop. 546,317), capital of Finland, located in Southern Finland prov., S Finland, on the Gulf of Finland. Situated on a peninsula, sheltered by islands, and protected by the island fortress of Suomenlinna, the city is a natural seaport (blocked by ice from January to May) and the commercial, administrative, and intellectual center of Finland. It has machine shops, shipyards, food-processing plants, textile mills, clothing and china factories, and printing plants.
The city, founded (1550) by Gustavus I of Sweden, was devastated by a great fire in 1808; it was rebuilt as a well-planned, spacious metropolis. Helsinki grew rapidly after Alexander I of Russia moved (1812) the capital there from Turku. When the Univ. of Helsinki (founded 1640) was moved from Turku in 1828, Helsinki became the center of Finnish nationalism. The construction of the first Finnish railway (1860), connecting Helsinki and Hämeenlinna, led to renewed prosperity for the capital.
In the city's older part are the state council building, the president's residence, the Univ. of Helsinki, the Church of St. Nicholas, the national art gallery, and the impressive railway station (designed by Eliel Saarinen). Other landmarks include Finlandia Hall (1971) and the Finnish National Opera House (1993); the House of Representatives building; the technical university (1879); the sports stadium (scene of the 1952 Olympic games); Kiasma, a contemporary art museum (1998); Seurasaari, a folk life museum housed in pre-20th-century wooden buildings; and Temppeliaukio Church, excavated out of solid rock.