Mariehamn was founded in 1861 by Tzar Alexander II at a time when Åland and Finland were a part of the Russian Empire. Mariehamn is named after Tzar Alexander’s wife, Maria Alexandrovna.
Birth of a town
Mariehamn came into being as an economical and cultural center after Åland’s first town, Skarpans, which had been built near the Russian fortress in Bomarsund 1832-1854. Skarpans was incinerated in the Crimean War when the fortress was destroyed.
The new town, Mariehamn, continued to grow around the farm village Övernäs, which was located in the centre of the isthmus which today forms Mariehamn. “Övernässtugan” (the Övernäs cottage), in the eastern part of Skillnadsgatan, is today the only remaining building from the village Övernäs.
Mariehamn is strategically placed near the main fairway in between Stockholm and Turku. The placement in combination with the harbours played a great part in the growth of Mariehamn. The Åland shipping business began after 1850. Many ålanders have set sail and thrown themselves out in the big world.
Several great shipowners chose to live in Mariehamn. For example Nikolai Sittkoff, who lent his name to the modern galleria in the town centre.
One of the most reputable shipowners of Mariehamn was Gustaf Erikson. In the 1920’s his fleet sailed the whole world. In the fleet was also the four masted steel bark Pommern, which nowadays is moored in the western harbour.
It is from times like these that the maritime town Mariehamn got its name. The heritage from sail shipping is today still quite appearant thanks to the museum-ship Pommern, The Åland Maritime Museum, the Sea Quarter and the preserved captain villas.
The era of the spa establishment
Tourism in Mariehamn emerged at the end of the 1800’s when the town became a popular spa resort. The spa life flourished in Mariehamn at the turn of the century and continued until 1913 when WW1 put an end to such activities. The spa era came to a definitive end when the spa hotel was destroyed in a fire in 1916. It took 20 years before Mariehamn was back in the tourist business again.
Today Mariehamn can once again boast a swimming centre, Mariebad. The 3300 m2 large bathing establishment is situated by the water’s edge in Österhamn at walking distance from the town centre.