Åland Islands

The Åland Islands are an archipelago located in the Baltic Sea, at the southern end of the Gulf of Bothnia in southwestern Finland. Since 1921, the Åland Islands are a self-governing and demilitarized region under the Republic of Finland. The Åland islands are bordered by the Sea of Åland and the Archipelago Sea and are geographically positioned between southwestern Finland and eastern Sweden.

Geography

Map of Sweden with the Åland Islands visible in the Gulf of Bothnia.

The Åland archipelago covers a total area of 1,551 km2 and comprises approximately 300 islands and over 6,200 small rocky islands. Out of these 300 islands, only 80 islands are inhabited. The archipelago occupies just 0.51% of Finland’s total land area and is therefore considered its smallest region. Fasta Åland is the biggest and most populated island in the archipelago. The archipelago’s administrative capital, its principal town and major seaport, Mariehamn, is located on Fasta Åland.

The Åland Islands have a rocky terrain that is mainly composed of granite rocks and covered by a thin layer of agricultural soil. Located on Fasta Åland is Orrdals Hill, which rises to an elevation of 129 m and is the archipelago’s highest point.

According to the Köppen climate classification system, the Åland Islands experience a humid continental climate with short summers and relatively mild and cool winters. The climate of the Åland Islands is also influenced by its maritime position between the large water bodies of the Baltic Sea and the Gulf of Bothnia. The continental climate of the island is mainly because of its position on the Leeward side of the Scandinavian Peninsula.

Wildlife

A sheep on the Åland Islands, Finland.

The vegetation of the Åland Islands is a combination of conifers (pine, fir, and spruce) and deciduous forests (birch, aspen, maple) as well as many meadows and cultivated farmlands. Barley, cucumbers, oats, onions, potatoes, rye, sugar beets, and wheat are produced in the farms of the island. The Åland Island archipelago has the highest crop yield per unit area in the entire Finland, which is greatly favored by its fertile soils and mild climate. The meadows on the island host several species of insects including the notable Glanville fritillary butterfly. Ayrshire cattle and sheep are also found on the farms of the Åland Islands.

Brief History

Bomarsund Fortress ruins in Sund, Åland Islands, Finland.

The Åland Islands were initially settled by some hunters and fishermen from the East, who came to the island around 5000 BCE and belonged to the Neolithic Comb Ceramic culture. In 3300 BCE, immigrants belonging to the Pitted Ware culture migrated to the islands from the West. With the rapid increase in population, the settlements quickly spread over the main island (Fasta Åland) around 500 to 800 CE. During the 12th century, the islands were converted to Christianity by missionaries from Sweden. The islands were conquered by the Russian Tsar Peter I the Great in 1714 During the Great Wrath, and once again in 1741 during the Lesser Wrath.

Under the Treaty of Fredrikshamn in 1809, the Åland Islands and the Grand Duchy of Finland were formally ceded to Russia by Sweden. In 1830, the Russians began to fortify the island and constructed the Bomarsund Fortress. However, the fortress was destroyed by the Anglo-French troops during the Crimean War in 1854. In 1917, when Finland became independent, the Ålanders voted to become a part of Sweden, due to their long history of association with Swedish culture. Finland refused to cede the islands to Sweden and therefore their fate was to be decided by the newly-formed League of Nations. In 1921, as per the Åland Convention, the League of Nations allowed the Åland Islands to become an autonomous and demilitarized region under the sovereignty of the Republic of Finland.

The economy of the Åland Islands is mainly dominated by commercial trade, banking services, shipping, and tourism. In addition to these fishing and agriculture are also important for the island’s economy. There are several harbors on the Åland Islands including Berghamn, Långnäs, and the Western Harbor. Located in the center of Mariehamn is Arkipelag Hotel, the most important tourist resort of the archipelago. The Åland Islands serve as one of the most popular vacation destinations for both the residents of Sweden and Finland, and the islands are well connected with the mainland by ferry services.

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