Rauno Lahtinen: Writing Turku’s History

Words by Lauren Cook; Photos by Joonas Mäkivirta

Turku is a vibrant city with many attractive venues to visit and places to see. But it is people that drive this city’s special cultural life. CC:TKU gets to know some of the people who live and work here.


Turun Kaupunkiopas can be purchased from Sammakon Kirjakauppa, found at Kauppiaskatu 3, and other local stores.

Sammakon Kirjakauppa also stocks other titles written by Rauno Lahtinen.

Rauno Lahtinen knows Turku. As a historian and prolific author of roughly 40 books focusing on the city, you could say that he is a Turku expert. He also holds a docent post at the University of Turku, giving an annual lecture series about the history of cultural environment.
Rauno’s latest book, Turku Kaupunkiopas (Turku City Guide)- created in cooperation with Helena Kulmala and Aleks Talve- explores Turku’s cultural side with a fresh perspective. The book is great for both tourists and locals alike, as it beautifully presents the city’s most important sights and museums, most interesting bars and eateries, and other cultural attractions.

How did you find yourself in this job?

Well, I never planned this career and now it usually feels more like a way of life than work. I came to study here at the university in 1987- first archeology and ethnology and then history, later. I was very interested in the history of Turku from the beginning. I’d always had such positive feelings towards Turku- I don’t know why, but somehow in my mind it was just the best place in Finland. Soon I noticed that everything I was writing- my Master’s thesis, for example, and my Doctoral thesis- was about Turku and it’s history.

So later, about 20 years ago, I also started writing articles for local newspapers and magazines, and then somebody suggested, ‘Why don’t you write a book?’ That was really a big step, at first, but I liked it so I just continued writing more and more. First I did some other books, about the history of tobacco, history of soap- these kind of books- but when I wrote books about the history of Turku I obviously soon noticed that people are so interested- when I give a lecture there are tens or hundreds of people who attend. So it was much more interesting for me, and for the readers, to write about the history of Turku.

Then I started to get commissions, for example from people who owned these old buildings or housing cooperatives and wanted books about their own buildings. I didn’t want to say no, obviously, because they were so interesting, so all of a sudden I noticed that I’m writing two or three books a year. Which is a lot, but I just can’t say no when somebody contacts me and they have these great ideas for a book- then yes! Absolutely I say yes. And now I have so much material already at home or on my laptop- old pictures and articles and everything- that it’s really easy to start writing a new book. I don’t have to start from scratch, because there’s always something to base the new book on.

In a way the job is getting easier, but when a new book comes out I’m always really nervous, because… are there some mistakes, or do people like this? So maybe it’s not getting easier.

What do you enjoy about your work?

I really enjoy that, for the last 15-20 years, I’ve been able to do the kind of research that interests me. I haven’t really written anything that I just have to, I can choose the sort of topics that I want to write about. I try to do the sort of books that I would like to read, also, so that they would be interesting for both me and the reader. I feel that’s quite a privilege, that I can do such interesting things.

I also have my own timetables. I don’t have to go somewhere every morning at 8 to work, I can just write at home. Usually it means that I don’t start at 7 or 8 in the morning, but often I continue until 10 or 11 in the evening because I just can’t stop. When you don’t have working hours then it means that you work all the time.

Then again, if I want to take a holiday or travel somewhere then I can just do that. I don’t have to ask permission or wait for a vacation. And I can write wherever, really. I often just take my work with me when I travel and I can just as well work abroad when I have my laptop.

It sounds really amazing when I say it now. I could not have imagined anything like this 20 years ago.

What makes Turku your place to live and work?

Ah, there was this strange fascination already before I moved here. I really don’t know why. It’s the history, and the river, and the old trees, and everything. It just must be that magic of the history somehow…

And the climate, of course. This is more like central Europe than any other place in Finland, so that was a part of it too. But yeah, it’s the history, starting from the Middle Ages, that you can see here.

If you could travel in time, what era would you choose to live in Turku?

Well… I really like the 1920s and 30s, so I suppose I have to answer that. The modern era, when so many new things came here all of a sudden- new, modern architecture, cars, radio, movies, jazz music. All sorts of international new things. That would be really interesting to live then. I’ve been reading the newspapers of that time and you can really sense the wonder of all these new things and the modern feeling. For example, in 1929 there was this big Turun Messut in Samppalinna. There was this whole new architecturally modern fair area- the Turku fair- and the amazement of people who came from the surrounding countryside when they saw these new buildings. That, ‘what’s happening? Everything’s so new and modern!’ The town was full of cars and everything, so it was just amazing.

What are you reading this summer?

I had a lot of work this Spring, so now I decided to have a vacation and I’m not going to write much this Summer. Instead, I’m going to read novels. New Finnish novels. I haven’t had time to read for a long time. So now I’m reading Juurihoito by Miika Nousianen. And other big Finnish novels from the last year. That’s been really interesting, and I just sit on the balcony and read all the time. I love it, because normally I just write. So this is great, and I don’t mind about the weather, rain or shine who cares?

The next book I’ll read is The Girl on the Train, which is a big thing I suppose everywhere. My friend told me that, ‘it’s so good, you have to read it!’

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