Vyborg (English pronunciation: /ˈviːbɔrɡ/;Russian: Выборг; IPA: [ˈvɨbərk];Finnish: Viipuri [ˈʋiːpuri]; Swedish: Viborg; German: Wiborg; Estonian: Viiburi) is a town in Leningrad Oblast, Russia, situated on the Karelian Isthmus near the head of the Bay of Vyborg, 130 kilometers (81 mi) to the northwest of St. Petersburg and 38 kilometers (24 mi) south from Russia’s border with Finland, where the Saimaa Canal enters the Gulf of Finland. Population: 79,962 (2010 Census); 79,224 (2002 Census); 80,924 (1989 Census).
The Hanseatic city lies in the boundary zone between the East Slavic/Russian and Finnish/Scandinavian worlds and has changed hands several times in history, most recently in 1944 when it was taken by the Soviet Union from Finland during World War II.
The area where Vyborg is located used to be a trading center on the Vuoksi River’s western branch, which has dried up. The area was inhabited by the Karelians, a Balto-Finnic tribe which gradually came under the domination of Novgorod and Sweden.
The first castle of Vyborg was founded during the so-called «Third Swedish Crusade» in 1293 by marshal Torkel Knutsson. The castle was fought over for decades between Sweden and the Republic of Novgorod. By the Treaty of Nöteborg in 1323, Vyborg was finally recognized as a part of Sweden. It withstood a prolonged siege by Daniil Shchenya during the Russo–Swedish War of 1496–1499.
The town’s trade privileges were chartered by the Pan-Scandinavian King Eric of Pomerania in 1403.
Under Swedish rule, Vyborg was closely associated with the noble family of Bååt, originally from Småland. The late-medieval commanders and fief holders of Vyborg were (almost always) descended from or married to the Bååt Family; in practice they functioned as Margraves (though not having this as their formal title), having feudal privileges and keeping all the crown’s incomes from the fief to use for the defense of the realm’s eastern border.
Vyborg remained in Swedish hands until its capture after the Siege of Vyborg by Emperor Peter the Great in the Great Northern War (1710). The Treaty of Nystad (1721), which concluded the war, assigned the town and a part of Old Finland to Russia.
One of the largest naval battles in history, the Battle of Vyborg Bay in 1790, was fought off shore in the Vyborg Bay on July 4, 1790.
After the rest of Finland was ceded to Russia in 1809, Emperor Alexander I of Russia incorporated the town and its province into the newly-created Grand Duchy of Finland in 1812.
In the course of the 19th century, the town developed as the center of administration and trade for the eastern part of Finland. The inauguration of the Saimaa Canal in 1856 benefited the local economy as it opened the vast waterways of Eastern Finland to the sea. Vyborg was never a major industrial center, and lacked large production facilities, but due to its location it served as a focal point of transports of all industries on the Karelian Isthmus, Ladoga Karelia and South-Eastern Finland.
Following the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the fall of the Russian Empire, Finland declared itself independent. During the Finnish Civil War Vyborg was in the hands of the Finnish Red Guards until it was captured by the White Guard on 29 April 1918.
In the inter-war decades, the town, then officially known as Viipuri, was the second biggest city in Finland and center of Viipuri province. In 1939 Vyborg had some 80,000 inhabitants, including sizable minorities of Swedes, Germans, Russians, Gypsies, Tatars and Jews. During this time, Alvar Aalto built a masterpiece of modernist architecture — the Vyborg Library.
Town Hall Tower (Stadshus- or Rådhustornet) in Vyborg (ca. 1500)
During the Winter War between the Soviet Union and Finland (1939–1940), more than 70,000 people were evacuated from Vyborg to western Finland. The Winter War was concluded by the Peace of Moscow, which stipulated the transfer of Vyborg and the whole Karelian Isthmus– emptied of their residents– to Soviet control, where it was incorporated in to the Karelo-Finnish SSR on March 31, 1940. As the town was still held by the Finns, the remaining Finnish population, some 10,000 people, had to be evacuated in haste before the handover. Thus, practically the whole population of Finnish Vyborg was resettled elsewhere in Finland.
The evacuees from Finnish Karelia came to be a vociferous political force and their wish to return to their homes was an important motive when Finland sought support from Nazi Germany against the Soviet threat. As a result, Finland and Nazi Germany fought on the same side in the Continuation War.
On August 29, 1941, Vyborg was recaptured by Finnish troops and, soon after, the Government of Finland formally annexed it along with the other areas lost in the Moscow Peace Treaty. At first the Finnish Army did not allow civilians into the town. Of the 6,287 buildings, 3,807 had been destroyed. The first civilians started to arrive at the end of September and by the end of the year Vyborg had a population of about 9,700. By 1942, it had risen to 16,000. About 70% of the evacuees from Finnish Karelia returned after the re-conquest to rebuild their looted homes, but were again evacuated after the Red Army’s Fourth strategic offensive, timed to coincide with the Battle of Normandy. By the time of the Soviet offensive, the town had a population of nearly 28,000. The town was evacuated by June 19 and the defence of Vyborg was entrusted to the 20th Brigade. The town fell to the Red Army on 20 June 1944, but the Finns managed to halt the Soviet offensive at the Battle of Tali-Ihantala, the largest battle fought by any of the Nordic countries, in Viipuri rural municipality which surrounded the city.
In the subsequent Moscow Armistice of September 19, 1944, Finland returned to the borders set by the Moscow Peace treaty and ceded more land than the treaty originally demanded. In the 1947 Paris Peace treaties, Finland relinquished all claims to Viipuri.
After the Winter War, Leningrad had wanted to incorporate the area of Vyborg, but it took until September 1944 for it to be finally transferred from the Karelo-Finnish SSR to Leningrad Oblast. During the Soviet era, the town was settled by people from all over the Soviet Union. The naval air bases of Pribilovo and Veshchevo were built nearby.