The City of Turku can provide international conferences with an international style Welcome Reception event. The reception must be applied for in good time in advance and the event is usually held at Turku City Hall, in the city centre by the shore of the River Aura.

 The event consists of a buffet dinner party at the City Hall for up to 200 participants and an opening speech by a City of Turku representative, welcom-ing the guests to Turku. Turku City Hall features a Chaîne des Rôtisseurs restaurant. The building is the former Turun Seurahuone restaurant, the fascinating history of which stretches back to when Finland was ruled by the Russian Empire.

The international Turun Seurahuone

In the 1810s, the consolidation of the newly-formed Grand Duchy of Finland was driven by the high society of Turku, with both the city’s gentry and resident Russians working together to build suitable venues for social functions and gatherings. By the beginning of the 19th century, Turku was already a multicultural and international city whose residents had strong ties to the rest of Europe. This connection could be seen both on the streets of Turku and in the balls held at the Seurahuone restaurant.

With the establishment of the Grand Duchy of Finland in 1809, Russia began placing Finland’s central government and institutions in Turku, including the civilian government led by the Russian Governor-General, accompanying central government agencies, the local Russian military leadership and the Senate of Finland. This served to further boost the notability of Turku, which already housed a university, a cathedral chapter and a court of appeal. The new institutions naturally required large numbers of civil servants, in response to which aristocrats and other gentry from the rest of Finland began moving to Turku, along with large numbers of Russian officers and their families.

The establishment of Turun Seurahuone was a major change for the high society of Turku, expanding and stabilising their social functions. The building’s opening and inauguration was celebrated in November 1812 with a masquerade. The event was announced in the city’s only newspaper, Åbo Allmänna Tidning, and all well-dressed residents of Turku were bid welcome to attend. In practice, the invitation was for the gentry of Turku and neighbouring municipalities, who arrived in large numbers – the event was attended by over 500 paying guests.

While masquerades continued to be held even after the opening, usually a couple of times in the spring and autumn, the large assembly hall of Turun Seurahuone came to be primarily used for Sunday assem-blé dances. Assemblés were held on a total of 18 Sundays in the winter and autumn season, usually every two weeks, with the aim of providing high society with an opportunity to dance, converse, play parlour games and enjoy refreshments. At the time, assemblés were an international high society phenomenon, which had spread to Turku in the 1770s.

There were also accompanying wooden buildings next to the stone Turun Seurahuone building that were used as the first hotel in Finland. That is not to say that the Seurahuone hotel was the first building to offer accommodation, as various types of inns and other lodgings had of course existed before. After all, Turku had been offering accommodation to a range of international guests since the city’s establishment.

Source: Topi Artukka, Kansainvälinen Turun Seurahuone (‘The international Turun Seurahuone’), City of Turku, Urban Research Programme, Research Briefings 3/2018