The archipelago’s islands, climate and location make Åland unique. The Ålanders have always travelled by sea and used the sea to support themselves. The sea has also set the conditions for island life. The islands’ position in the middle of the Baltic Sea has always made Åland a natural meeting place for people in power, entrepreneurs and travellers.
In antiquity from 5500 BC people came from a long way away to hunt seal and to fish. The Vikings were here before Åland first came under Swedish rule in the 1100s and Russian rule in the 1800s. The best-known historical sights worth a visit are Kastelholm Castle, the Bomarsund fortress and the museum ship Pommern.
The situation between the superpowers Sweden and Russia was central in the epoch of the sailing ship. Nowadays modern ferries take care of traffic around Åland – there is at least one departure per hour. Journeys by air take under an hour from Helsinki, Turku and Stockholm.
Åland has been an autonomous island realm within the republic of Finland since 1921. Ålanders have their own government and parliament, their own budget and the right to legislate within education and training, healthcare, trade and industry, municipal administration and traffic and transport. They also have their own flag, their own stamps and car registration plates, not to mention the top domain “ax”.
Åland has been a member of the EU since 1995 but remains outside the fiscal union, which means it has a customs frontier with other countries, including Finland. It also has its own representation in Nordic co-operation. The currency is the euro.
The island realm has a mere 29,000 inhabitants. The town of Mariehamn, founded in 1861 and named after the Empress Maria Aleksandrovna, has about 11,000 inhabitants. In addition there are 15 rural and archipelago municipalities. One third of the inhabitants were born outside Åland in 92 countries, representing over 55 different languages.
According to its basic law, Åland is monolingual Swedish and its inhabitants are entitled to right of domicile (citizenship) either from birth or after they have lived in Åland for five years. A dispensation may be granted as regards the owning of land and carrying on a trade. Ownership of shares in a housing association does not require citizenship.
In 2011 employment divided up as follows: 40% carrying out public services, 30% in commerce and transport, 10% in finance, 8% in industry, 7% in the building trade, 4% in farming and 1% not known. Open employment was at 3.1%.
The greatest number of hours of sunshine in the Nordic area, a mild coastal climate and a myriad small islands have given Åland a species-rich and varied landscape to be discovered by boat, kayak, bicycle, motorcycle, car, on foot or by zoom. There is always a sunny side on an island, wherever and however you live. You can see both the red light of dawn and the fiery setting of the sun on the horizon.
Åland has 20,000 islands and skerries, of which about 6,700 have names and 60 are inhabited. The total area is 13,517 km2, of which only 1,527 km2 is land area. The longest distance on the main island is 50 km. The average temperature in July is +19C and in January it is -2C. The time zone is +2 GMT.