Located in southeastern Finland, Olavinlinna Castle is a medieval fortress that stands on the waters of Lake Saimaa. Built in 1495 during Swedish rule of Finland, the castle was constructed to defend against Russian invasions. It is also known for inspiring the Dragonlord’s Castle in the iconic Japanese RPG, Dragon Quest. In this article, I’ll explore the enchanting Olavinlinna Castle, which attracts opera fans and Dragon Quest enthusiasts alike.
One of Finland’s Three Great Ancient Castles
Olavinlinna Castle is situated in the southeastern Finnish town of Savonlinna. Built on what appears to be a floating island on Lake Saimaa, the castle is known as one of Finland’s three great ancient castles, alongside Turku Castle and Häme Castle. It is also one of the northernmost stone-built castles in the world. In Finnish, the castle is called “Olavinlinna,” named after Olaf II of Norway, the patron saint of Norway. As a result, it is also known as “Saint Olaf’s Castle.”
A Military Fortress Built in 1495
Olavinlinna Castle was constructed as a military fortress in 1495 when Finland was under Swedish rule, built to defend against Russian invasions.
While it bears the name “castle,” the structure was originally built as a fortress, so it lacks the elegant decorations commonly found in castles. Instead, its distinctive features include solid walls and robust stone construction.
Olavinlinna Castle is built on an island in Lake Saimaa, surrounded by water. In fact, a bridge connecting the castle to the mainland was not built until 1974. Before that, everyone traveled to the castle by rowboat.
The interior of the castle is marked by cannons and winding stone passageways, preserving its fortress-like atmosphere. Guided tours of the castle’s interior are available.
The History of Olavinlinna Castle
The castle was built under the guidance of Erik Axelsson Tott, a Danish knight who was also the regent of Sweden, which occupied Finland at the time. As a strong fortress to defend the strategically important Savonlinna region (Savo) during wars with Russia, construction began in 1475, and the castle took its current form in 1495.
The same year the castle was completed, it was promptly attacked by the then-Grand Duchy of Moscow but successfully repelled the invaders, proving its worth as a fortress. Over the centuries from the 15th to the 18th, Olavinlinna Castle withstood numerous battles and experienced various war-related events.
For hundreds of years, the castle served as a stronghold against Russian invasions. However, it finally fell to the Russians during the Great Northern War in 1714.
After the war, the Treaty of Nystad returned the castle to Sweden, but the struggle between Sweden and Russia continued, and the castle was placed under Russian control again in 1743. Ultimately, in 1809, Finland’s rule shifted from Sweden to Russia, and with the change in national borders, the castle’s role as a defensive fortress against Russian invasions came to an end.
Annual Summer Opera Performances
Once a military fortress, Olavinlinna Castle now serves as the venue for the annual Savonlinna Opera Festival held in Finland every summer. The festival began when Finnish opera singer Aino Ackté performed at the castle in 1912. Today, the festival is a major event that attracts opera fans from around the world during its month-long run. It is said that the total number of attendees reaches around 60,000 people.
Operas are performed on a stage set up inside Olavinlinna Castle, with different productions showcased daily. From classic operas like “Iolanta” and “Faust” to niche themes based on Finnish folklore, a wide variety of operas are performed during the festival.
The Castle that Inspired Dragon Quest’s “Dragonlord’s Castle”
Did you know that Olavinlinna Castle served as the inspiration for the “Dragonlord’s Castle” in the iconic Japanese RPG, Dragon Quest? The “Dragonlord’s Castle” is a dungeon in the first installment of the Dragon Quest series, released in 1986 during the heyday of the Famicom. The castle is a famous final destination where the protagonists arrive after their long adventure.
Built in the 15th-century medieval period, Olavinlinna Castle perfectly matches the atmosphere of the Dragon Quest world. In the original Dragon Quest game, the last dungeon featured the final boss “Dragonlord,” captivating many players. Thus, there is a surprising connection between Japan and Olavinlinna Castle.
Olavinlinna Castle was once a 15th-century military stronghold, built to defend against Russian invasions. Today, it serves as the venue for the annual “Savonlinna Opera Festival” held in Finland every summer and as the model for the “Dragonlord’s Castle” in the Japanese RPG, Dragon Quest. With these unique attractions, the castle draws numerous tourists from both Finland and abroad.