Imperial holidays in Virolahti
During 1906-1914, the Russian emperor Nicholas II spent holidays with his family every summer in the Virolahti archipelago. It was their paradise for several months – a total of 85 days in 1908 alone.
The imperial family felt safe in Virolahti. They had no need to fear terrorists or anarchists here, which was the case in Saint Petersburg all the time. Virolahti was also at a suitable distance from Saint Petersburg, a journey by sea only taking five hours. While spending a holiday in his favourite archipelago, the emperor ruled the entire Russian empire from Virolahti. Torpedo boats were speedy to deliver mail between the capital and Virolahti, and there were three telegraph stations built in the archipelago for instant messages.
Nicholas II liked to exercise during his holidays in Virolahti. He went swimming and hunting, played tennis, and went for long walks into the small villages of the archipelago. The emperor was often seen paddling and eating lunch outdoors with his wife and children. Nicholas never considered it necessary to have a villa built for himself in Virolahti. Instead, he planned an amusement park here.
In 1908, a wooden pitch was built at this location, a former pastureland, for the court to enjoy in the summer. In 1912, the court officially rented the Vatimenpohja amusement pitch from the municipality of Virolahti. The contract was signed by the general aide-de-camp Nilov, a good friend of Nicholas II. The original text of the contract was as follows:
In the year nineteen hundred and twelve, on the 26th of August, we the signatories, His Majesty’s Naval Captain General Aide-de-Camp Nilov as well as Antti Parkkola, the superior for the municipality of Wirolahti, together with the members of the municipality, shall conclude the following contract:
I, General Aide-de-Camp Nilov, have rented from the municipality of Wirolahti for the duration of ten years, counted from this day, a portion of land located on the spit called the Huovar-saari island belonging to the estate N 4 in the village of Wilkkilä and owned by the municipality of Wirolahti, the rented site being bordered by: the seashore beginning from Konsta Tilli’s land continuing to the drainage with a small bridge on the border between the lands owned by Aleksanteri Wilkki and Otto Mantere; accompanied by the fences from the sea up separating the municipality’s land from the grounds owned by Konsta Tilli and Otto Mantere, for the rent of one hundred marks. I, General Aide-de-Camp Nilov, shall be given the right to clean, plant, and build whatever I desire on this land. Ten years from the signing of this contract, I shall have the right, if I so want, to renew this contract for another period of ten years without having to be subject to a higher rent. When the renting contract has expired, I, Admiral Nilov, shall continue to possess all the buildings that I have constructed, and I shall also be in charge of deciding whether they are moved away or transferred to the possession of the municipality of Wirolahti.
The location of the amusement park was selected with consideration to safety. The pitch was on the shore, and it was surrounded on the land by a treeless and watery wasteland in low-lying areas. Outsiders had no chance of getting close to the emperor without being confronted by the guards.
The court had even before the signing of the contract gathered here to celebrate and spend holidays in the peaceful countryside close to the open waters of Halssi by the sea. A jetty was built every summer on the shore to allow the emperor to go ashore with a yacht. The amusement park was surrounded by a pole fence, and the entrance was through a grand iron gate. There was an open-air dance floor in the middle, also used as a tennis court, tennis being Nicholas II’s favourite game after all. A red carpet would lead this place from the jetty. The amusement park had gravel paths, children’s swings hanging from the tree branches, and net swings for the adults. A merry-go-round had been built for the grand duchess. At the back of the amusement park, there was a minigolf course for the gentlemen of the court. In addition, there was a place for cooking and a well to provide water.
This object has been supported by the Rural Development Programme for Mainland Finland. The emperor’s amusement park has been renovated for tourism and camping, open to all, with the rural funding granted by the Southeast Finland ELY Center. Project: Quarry and amusement park. Implementation period 2019-2022. Implemented by: Virolahti municipality.
- Info texts: compiled by Siru Ahopelto on the basis of Jorma and Päivi Tuomi-Nikula’s exhibition ”Keisarillista lomanviettoa Virolahdella” (2004) and texts compiled by Leena Niskanen
- Photos: Yale University Library, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, General Collection of Rare Books and Manuscripts, Romanov Collection
- Design: Maisemasuunnittelu Harju-Soini Oy
- Execution: A.M.A. Cons Oy, Vaalimaa Asunnot Oy, EM Shaft Engineering Oy
- Graphic design and layout of the info signs: RiimuRaami