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Finland - Expo Paris 1900

Finland at the Exhibition Expo Paris 1900
Architect(s) : Saarinen

It was an elegant pavilion that stood on the other side of the Rue des Nations. The Tsar had allowed this Russian province to have its own exhibition and it had made very clever use of this permission.
The Finnish architect, who had been commissioned to erect the pavilion, had taken as his model a Finnish church of archaic type and had derived a very original construction from it.
It was a long, low-walled building with an acute roof, ending in an apse and surmounted in the centre by an octagonal bell tower crowned with a sort of tiara pierced by mansards with flamboyant rays. On the face of the tower, whose base was supported by four bears with grimacing mouths, was the golden eagle of Russia, while the triangular pediment of the main entrance was stamped with the arms of Finland. The three doors leading to the entrance were decorated with a circular cordon of wolves' heads on two of the doors, and squirrels frolicking on the third. To complete this ornamentation of a very barbaric flavour, between the brackets which supported the projection of the roof were placed enormous crouching frogs, and at the corners stood out pine cones supporting light bells.
The interior similarly reproduced the ordinary layout of country churches: in the middle the nave, at each end the choir and the rood screen; but the roof, cut with large windows, and the walls painted in light colours, flooded the vast hall with light and removed all severity of appearance. The aisles were divided into small bays, very coquettishly decorated, which housed the various sections.
The exhibition, although of modest proportions, was very interesting. Entering through the Squirrel Gate at the western end, one entered what was the church porch, a small room decorated with carpets, brightly coloured blankets on which were arranged in panoplies the small items made by the Finnish peasants: pretty leather purses, woven shoes and sandals, knives of all sizes, wooden spoons. Above the porch was a small gallery with a small staircase leading up to it, the walls of which were covered with a trophy of skis, the wooden skates, sometimes three metres long, which were used to run on the snow in all the countries of the far north.
The bright and cheerful nave, which we then entered, presented the main products of the country's industry and agriculture. Among these was a display of sheaves of rye, barley, and oats, the stalks of which exceeded the height of a man; this was a matter of surprise to those who considered this country to be naturally disinherited; the soil, it is true, is scarce, running water, lakes, and marshes covering two-thirds of Finland, but wherever it can be cultivated it proves to be singularly fertile. Statistics in French, made available to the visitors, showed that the yield of barley and rye reached, and even exceeded, that of the most favoured countries; it should be added that cultivation in Finland, generally in the hands of large landowners, was conducted according to the most modern procedures. Another product of the Finnish soil to be mentioned was flax, of which cloth has been made since the eleventh century and is renowned throughout the northern countries.
Above the display cabinets was a frieze of canvases depicting scenes of Finnish life and landscapes.
From the nave we passed into the choir, whose high domed ceiling was also decorated with modern frescoes depicting scenes from the Finnish legend Kalevala.
In the centre of the hall, in a small glass pavilion built on a base of superb polished granite of various shades, was a huge meteorite that had fallen in the village of Bjurböle in March 1899.
The apse at the end of the building was reserved for the maritime exhibition. On the walls were large-scale maps showing the extraordinary ramification of the great Finnish lakes, including the Saimas, which is cut into by an infinite number of islands. In this room we also saw a curious Finnish interior, whose massive wooden furniture, glazed earthenware stove, shelves lined with copper vases, and painted canvas hangings will delight lovers of exotic furnishings.
It was clear from the visit to this charming exhibition that the little Finnish people were full of life and energy and deserved to be treated gently by the Russian colossus who had become their master and preserved the autonomy to which they were so deeply attached.

©Louis Rousselet - L'Exposition Universelle de 1900