The second stop on our very, very rainy day in Helsinki was at Temppeliaukion Kirkko, known widely as The Rock Church.
Our coach parked up along Runeberginkatu which left a fairly straightforward walk of a few hundred metres before crossing the road and heading up a short sloped road on the left to the church. Why am I telling you this? Well, partly because it might help to know that there’s a short walk with a bit of an incline if you’re on the same sort of excursion we were on, and partly because… well, that will become clear at the end of this account of our visit. I grabbed a few photos on the way but the weather and general architecture were both pretty miserable.
Temppeliaukion is a Lutheran church built in the late 60s by architect brothers and, as its name suggests, is a church built into solid rock. The original plans called for a church around four times larger. The entrance to the church was tightly packed with visitors purchasing tickets and we needed to group together while our tour guide did the purchasing for us and sticking tour stickers on us so we could enter. Our main concern at this point was getting under some cover so that coupled with the lack of much light in that entrance area meant I skipped taking pictures here too. Once inside, however, there was plenty of space to walk around and admire the architecture and design and material choices of the building.
The original design did not have exposed walls but it was discovered that the acoustics were superb in this raw state so they were left that way deliberately. A curved copper dome supported by delightfully brutalist concrete beams channelled natural light into the church although there wasn’t a great deal of that on this particular day.
The organ looked quite impressive and it was nice to be up close to the various pipes that made it up. To one side of the organ a woman played on a piano so that we could all hear how well the sound was picked up throughout the church’s interior. Around her were a number of signs telling people not to photograph or film her. You’ll never guess what some people were doing. Quite why she didn’t hit them over the head with the sign is beyond me because I would have.
There was an upper balcony with some more seating and it would have been remiss of us to not take the opportunity to climb the steps and take a look once more at the church from another angle.
We gathered outside and headed back to the coach; there were a number of places nearby where people had discarded their tour stickers over the years (something we’ve seen in other places too) so I got rid of mine in the same way.
Now… remember me mentioning how getting to the church from the coach involved a straight walk, a turn to the left, and a short walk up a hill to the church? How would you get back to where you started from there? You would walk down the hill, turn right, then walk in a straight line. In fact, you might walk down the hill and get confused but when you looked left and right at the bottom you’d realise that in one direction was nothing of interest and in the other were a line of coaches much like (and including) the one you arrived on.
We got back on the coach and our guide did a head count but we could already tell we were short by about six as a large group of Asian people had been seated in front of us and were clearly no longer present. The guide walked back to the church, then came back, then looked up and down the road, and was getting a little bit frantic. At this point we were running 15 minutes late which was the point at which the guide could officially leave them to find their own way. He had already started phoning back to the ship when we spotted the group coming towards us. What really annoyed us was that only one person who got on late sheepishly apologised with the others not saying anything or, in one case, looking around angry and shouting at the guide for allowing them to get lost. Apparently, they’d not stayed long in the church and decided to get a coffee but nobody had a clue where they actually ended up. People!
Anyway, I’m fond of architecture and very fond of visiting churches the world over especially when they’re as uniquely designed as this one was. We remarked that it had the feeling of a James Bond villain’s lair about it and we very much approved. There’s not a massive amount to do there because it’s just a church and it isn’t lined with historical artefacts as some much older churches are but I think it is definitely worth a visit.
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