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Perhaps their country's harsh climate encouraged the Finns' love and respect for design and the arts. Whatever the cause, there's no denying that Helsinki is one of the most vibrant and beautiful cities in Scandinavia. Hailed as the "Daughter of the Baltic," Finland's capital is a city of graceful neoclassical buildings, striking modern architecture and spacious boulevards dotted with squares and parks. In the past century, Finland has nurtured some of the major creative talents of Western culture, from the composer Sibelius to architects Eliel & Eero Saarinen and Alvar Aalto.
The center of Finnish commerce and culture, Helsinki is home to some 616.000 people. Much of the city's neoclassical architecture dates from the period of Tsarist rule, which began in 1809 after political control of Finland passed from Sweden to Russia, Finland gained its independence in 1917.