We Can Give You The World

At Cultural Roots of Kemijärvi and Soppela Village

Translated excerpts from Kemijärvi Cultural Program

Images and tracks of cultural landscape are often connected to history. Spirit of the landscape arises with awareness of the related history, past times and its traditions. Landscape’s historical dimension is also associated with nostalgia, longing for the past, lost already.

Memories of Landscape Inscribed in Mind

Traditional landscape is linked with traditional livelihoods, in Lapland reindeer herding and forestry. Landscapes serve as important evidence of interaction between man and nature, and store a unique cultural heritage.

In Kemijärvi landscape consists of hill slopes with pine forests, water systems and swamps. In north mountains loom in the background. The hills are sometimes steep, sometimes rounded peaks. Central body of water is Lake Kemijärvi.

Kemijoki River falls to Lake Kemijärvi from north with waters of Luiro and Kitinen Rivers. Kemijärvi waters eventually fall into the Bothnian Bay. Kemijärvi is Kemijoki river basin's largest natural lake. It covers an area of 230 km² and the average depth is about 5 meters. Kemijärvi is regulated and harnessed for water power and partly also for flood protection.

Visual landscape is viewer's own individual experience. In particular, for local residents the landscape is cultural history. Changes in the landscape are perceived many ways, not just aesthetically. A person coming from elsewhere sees the landscape characteristics in a different way than inhabitants of the area, since he does not have any personal memories or familiarity causing numbness in mind.

Memories of one’s surroundings are stored in depths of mind. Most people are able to describe familiar places and buildings, even though they no longer exist. Environment is not always kept in mind through its beauty or coziness, but through related events or encounters. Also, beauty of the landscape effects as an assessment of memories: most people remember their childhood landscape view as beautiful.

Lapland’s archaeological heritage is an integral part of its current housing and living environment. Residential areas at riverbanks and lake shores as well as fishing areas and access routes have remained in the same place even thousands of years.

Relics have in many cases survived in better condition here than in the rest of the country. Archeologically significant areas can form large, homogeneous and relatively undamaged entities.

Generally when speaking of tradition we refer to a natural or cultural value, which is preserved or stored from past to present, and which we desire to maintain in future also. Landscape is continuously subject to increasing pressure for change. Therefore conservation of landscape and its nature values has become more of a challenge. Construction, agriculture and forestry, as well as exploitation of natural resources, in Lapland especially water rationing and mining, affect survival of ancient relics and antiquities.


At Border between Lapland and Rest of Finland

Kemijärvi’s central location with good connections is reflected in its archaeological cultural heritage. Bay of Bothnia has been an entrance to Kemijärvi long time in the past. From Kemijärvi Kola Peninsula and Arctic Ocean as well as White Sea and Karelia are reached along the waterways. The best-known technical innovations of the ancient Kemijärvi people include pottery and iron manufacturing.

Lapland began during the 16 th century divide into Finnish peasant population inhabiting Lanta / Landbo area, and the Sami people inhabiting Lapland. Regions differed culturally, linguistically, in terms of livelihood as well as fiscally.

The coast was occupied by Lanta people and inland by Sami people. For example, Soppela residence is an example of Sami way of life prior to actual winter villages of the time. Strong Sami cultural heritage is also reflected in place names and medieval archaeological material.

New settlements began to penetrate Lapland, to areas where hunting and fishing lands were owned by Sami people. As early as in Middle Ages peasants, who fished at lakes connected to Kemi River, wanted to expand their area by pushing the border of Lapland deeper and deeper to north. Competition of fishing areas, of places for hunting deer, and of waters occupied by beavers was in full swing in early 1600’s. Kemijärvi belonged to Kemi Lapland until late 1600’s, and border disputes between Lanta and Lapland were numerous until 18 th century.

A number of views about the border were presented during 1670−1680. Most of all the views differed at Kemijärvi, where some settlers had already settled in the Sami area. The border was established in 1796 along southern border of current Sodankylä, Pelkosenniemi and Savukoski.

Lapland known to historical sources has been much more extensive than the current Sami Homeland (Enontekiö, Inari, northern Sodankylä and Utsjoki). Lapland, as it was known since Middle Ages, consisted of five regionally circumscribed Lapland areas (Piteå, Umeå, Luleå, Tornio and Kemi Lapland).

Lapland areas reached current Norwegian and Russian side and divided into Lapp villages called siita. They were areas inhabited by the Sami people, whose lands and waters were either common property of each village, or owned by families. Sami livelihoods in different parts of Lapland had different lifestyles and languages from each other.

In Lapp villages only Sami people had right to live, fish and hunt. Fishing was an important source of livelihood. Most important game animals were deer and beavers, but because of fur smaller animals, such as squirrels and pine martens, were also hunted.

Crown secured rights of the Sami in 1602 and 1673 by regulations, but it had already since Middle Ages contributed to the spread of settlers. Sami people defended their rights in court during 1600’s and 1700's. Dispute took place about hunting beavers and Kemijärvi fishing, in particular.

So called Lapland Earth Plaque 1673 was an impetus for settling in Lapland. By virtue of it Finns were able to settle down in the area of Lapp villages after authorization by the Sami people, and prepare land for farming there. Agriculture and animal husbandry ousted quickly traditional Sami fishing culture in the early 1600's onwards. Some of the Sami people from Kemi Lapland moved elsewhere, but many were left in place, and they adopted peasant way of life in the early 1700's. Reindeer herding spread in the late 1700’s also to Kemi Lapland.


Disputes about rights to use land continued throughout 18 th century, especially on both sides of border Lake Kemijärvi, where locals had fished since the Middle Ages, and where the settlers had come as early as in the beginning of 17 th century. The king gave an order in 1794 to settle the border of Lapland permanently. Old border locations Porkkavaara and Nuorttitunturi were recognized, and after discussion a compromise was reached.


Holy Places and Wooden Sculptures (pattaha)

There are at least a couple of dozen areas relating to Sami people at Kemijärvi. They may have been nomadic residences.

Beautiful hills of Kemijärvi have been sacred places of worship and sacrifice for the Sami, especially Ämmänvaara Hill and Juuvaara Hill. Kemijärvi’s chaplain Nils Fellman has said that the Sami used the name "Bessousing" or "holy dwelling place" for Hill Ämmänvaara. On top of the hill, in pine trees, carvings and annual figures have been found, the oldest of which are from 18 th century. On top of Juuvaara there are also pines with carvings, the oldest of them has the annual number 1783.

Concentration of Seita names in Luusua indicates that water and in particular rapids, are of importance in Sami mythology. According to traditional stories there is a spring where offerings were made at Rovajärvi Lake. Kattilavaara Hill is also mentioned as a place of worship or sacrifice. One possible place is considered to be Keiterinsaari Island, located at southern end of the Gulf Termuslahti, where "Sami people were baptized while a stone was used as table for wine and bread". At Peltosaari Island, formerly known as Termussaari Island, there was old Lappish cemetery area according to oral tradition.

At the eastern shore of the gulf there is Termusniemi i.e. Termusvaara Hill connected to Sami main deity Tiermes or Ukko (thunder). In the 1880’s it was recorded that 50 years earlier a number of silver objects were found there. It seems they were a cache or treasure deriving from late Iron Age.

Beliefs are connected to wooden sculptures called pattaha. The statues’ head is carved, which is why they are also said to be bald. These statues are part of an ancient fishing culture, and they are seen to have something in common with the Sami worship of seitas. Some of them are clearly in human form, and they have been used for praying success in fishing. Statues may also have been used as indicators of good fishing areas or marks of ownership. Statues have been found at areas especially suitable for fishing, such as small lakes and rivers or on islands, but they are also known to have existed on deer hunting lands.

Many of these wooden sculptures of Kemijärvi and the rest of Eastern Lapland appear to be associated to fishermen at Kemijoki River. Early on statues were found by shores famous for freshwater pearl mussel. Pearl hunters from Russian or Viena Karelia also used statues, as in the vicinity of statues of Ailankajoki and Jumiskonjoki Rivers there were huge piles of mussel shells in 1879 and statues of Suuköngäs had Russian markings and annual figures dating back to 1763 and 1789.

Plenty of fishing statues have been found at Kemijärvi, but most of them are rotted or otherwise destroyed decades ago. According to archives statues were still numerous in 1880’s at Ailankajoki and Jumiskonjoki river banks near rapids, as well as at Naarmankaira water system. Lapaliojärvi and Enijärvi Lakes are known to have had dozens of statues left in 1950’s. Almost all the statues have been lost by now, and the Naarmankaira inventory in 2002 found only one old statue at Enijärvi.

In the eastern side of Kemijärvi Lake one of the last fishing statues has remained by small Jupuralampi Pond. On Rovaniemi’s side the statues used to be plenty by Pyhäjärvi and Syvälampi beaches, but most of them have rotted away or been destroyed. Some of the statues at Pyhäjärvi Lake were destroyed or moved away recently despite of them being protected. On the other hand in Naarmankaira the tradition has been revived by carving new statues.

Old residential places of nomads were in many cases replaced by cultural environment of peasant way of life. Especially Juujärvi, Luusua, Lapinselkä and Ämmänselkä coastal lands include number of traces of the older settlement.


Archaeological Heritage

In Kemijärvi forests one can find many signs of their use. The oldest of these may be from the 18 th century, but for the most part they are from 19th and from early 20 th century.

Tar pits and coal kilns are a reminiscent of the traditional forest culture. Most important monuments of more recent times include cabin bases and floating structures, used for timber rafting. Usage of watercourses and coastal meadows is shown by mill sites, dams and ruins of small cottages, too.

Old deer hunting lands have over the past centuries turned into reindeer pastures. For example, in 1879 about twenty trapping pits were mapped from northern side of Kangaslampi reindeer roundup place, which is one of the oldest herding co-operatives of Hirvasniemi, in a pass between Outvaara hill, Kummunjärvi Lake and Kangaslampi Pond. The age of Outovaara pits is unknown, but they may be already pre-historic and certainly older than the reindeer roundup site from year 1750. Also in the vicinity of chains of trapping pits near Kaisankangas at Soppela there is a more recent reindeer roundup site.

Perhaps most characteristic industrial history of Kemijärvi is ancient lake and river fishing tradition going back thousands of years. Naarmankaira is a unique example of a centuries-long use of wilderness. This tradition continues.

Kemijärvi had long distances to Church and the islands were temporary burial sites. The best known include Morkkasaari island of Javarusjärvi lake, which was still in use in late 1800’s.

Historical memories of war are found in abundance at Kemijärvi. Solid military structures are part of the landscape and archaeological heritage of the 20 th century. The most important and best preserved of them should be protected as relics from Lapland wars.


Archaeological Heritage Status

Kemijärvi antiquities are most strongly influenced by Kemijoki rationing. Lapland Regional Environment Centre reports that Kemijärvi is Finland’s most regulated lake, its water level may vary up to seven meters. Consistently higher than natural, the water level has a permanent impact on beaches, and as a result, also on the seashore archaeological heritage. Erosion caused by wear and tear was particularly strong in the early stages of regulation during 1960's and it’s still continuing.

Provincial Museum of Lapland carried out an archaeological inventory during 1989−1990, and found that most of the relics at beaches were badly damaged; some had even collapsed completely in water. The damage caused by Kemijoki water level variations is significant as a whole, since nearly half of the region's archeological treasures are located on areas immediately affected by regulation.

To ensure protection the archaeological heritage should be taken better into account in the monitoring system of Kemijoki regulation. To determine the impact of the regulation at river basin an investigation should be made, and on the basis of the results necessary management and restoration plans drawn and put into effect as soon as possible. Rehabilitation also protects archaeological sites, as long as they are taken into account at design stage by making the necessary studies prior to construction of hedges.

After investigation permanent signs should be created in cooperation with Provincial Museum of Lapland and the National Board of Antiquities. Kemijärvi’s archaeological heritage is exceptionally rich and varied, but it has not been properly recognized. An interesting and unique history of the locality enhances attractiveness of the region in a concrete way.



The Act of Antiquities (295/1963) protects all solid relics as reminders of Finland's past settlements and history, without any other specific decision or measure needed. National Board of Antiquities monitors adhering to law. It examines, cares for and marks archaeological sites, as well as determines necessary protection areas for them. Excavation of antiquities, covering them and other related measures without permission are prohibited.

Revised law on the protection of architectural heritage came into force July 1 st, 2010. The law's purpose is to safeguard cultural environment’s diversity in space and time, to cherish its identity and special features, as well as to promote its culturally sustainable management and use.

To preserve architectural heritage buildings, structures, groups of buildings or built-up areas can be protected, if they are relevant to construction history, architecture, or have specific environmental values.

The law lists following items as solid relics:

1) land and stone mounds, stone circles and other pavings or formations made by man in ancient times;

2) pagan graves and cemeteries, including those of which on the surface of earth there are no signs;

3) stones and rock surfaces with writings, images, paintings or illustrations from ancient times, as well as polished tracks or other grinding marks and offering pits;

4) sacrificial water sources, trees, stones and other places of worship, as well as the ancient court places;

5) ancient remains of dwelling and work;

6) abandoned castles, castle hills, forts, bastions, ramparts and moats, as well as remains of churches, chapels, monasteries and other major buildings, ruins of them and ancient burial sites, which are not taken care by the church;

7) stones, crosses and statues erected in the past in memory of some person or event, as well as all other monuments of the kind;

8) ancient major roads, road signs and bridges, residues of guarding fires and other equipment; together with

9) fixed natural objects, which are associated with old customs, stories or significant historical memories.

The law does not set an age limit for archaeological sites. In practice sites younger than from the 18 th century are usually assessed case by case. Majority of Lapland’s approx. 4000 archaeological sites are located in the state-owned land. Inventories of cultural heritage sites on those lands were started in the 21 st century and the information about for example deer hunting pits is to be utilized in land management and use. Inventory can also focus for example on iron manufacturing sites or tomb islands. Inventories may also relate to caring for cultural environment or cultural tourism.


Soppela’s Sami Village

So far the studies have shown that the spot has been inhabited in at least two stages, during the 13 th and 14 th century and again during the 17 th and 18 th century.

Dwellings of the older phase have been light-framed traditional Sami tipi-like dwellings. In 2005 during the excavations rectangular stove pavement of a burnt hut was studied. From the pavement lots of fish scales and burnt bones were recovered. Of the identified bones vast majority was fish species, such as pike, perch, whitefish and possibly burbot. Of large mammals deer and elk were determined, of small animals squirrel and of birds grouse. At the scene goat or sheep bones have also been found, which may be from more recent times.

At tipi area parts of a woman's costume jewelry have been recovered, such as a bronze chain splitter, ear spoon and bronze bell chips of brass kettle, knife blade, fire making tools and a fragment of bone pearl. The jewelry is from around 1200's, and similar artefacts are known particularly from discoveries in Savo and Karelia areas. Previously three iron axes were found at same site, they can be dated to 11 th and 13 th centuries. From the field east to the place of residence two pre-historic-type skis were also found, but they are not preserved.

Around year 1700 three log houses (4 x 4 m) with corner stoves were built on the site. Two of them were investigated in excavations on 2005, but only few pieces of bronze plate, bone chips, coal, and a knife blade were recovered. On ground of archaeological studies Soppela’s Takala farm is likely to be Sami winter residence, perhaps the 18 th century Vihtala mentioned in history.

The most famous reference to Sami residence is in 1748 recorded data, according to which on the eastern shore of Lake Kemijärvi there has previously been a great Vihtala (Riuhtala or Luhtala) Lapp village and on the other side, on the west bank, Permuslahti Lapp village. Both villages would have been destroyed before the rule of the crown was stabilized. Most likely these are not actual arctic forest villages, but nomadic residences of Sami population.

From Soppela dozen relics are known dating to prehistoric and historic periods. Among those most important is Sami residence at Takala farm, dated to Iron Age and medieval times. It has been studied in the excavations in 2005. On Kaisankangas 174 trapping pits were mapped, and it is one of Finland's most outstanding monuments of the kind. On the area there are a number of pit chains of different ages among a track 2.6 km long. Gravel extraction and road construction have destroyed part of the pits that probably belong to Lapp residence found in Soppela.

The relics are part of local and particular tradition and history, which you can find only in Kemijärvi. They are shared by all, and archaeological heritage can be explored by both local inhabitants and visitors. Archaeology is a great and inexpensive way to explore your surroundings for example, Soppela excavations.


Current Soppela Village

Soppela Village is located by the highway to Perä-Posio. Its eastern shore is at Gulf of Kaisanlahti in Lake Kemijärvi and western shore is at Noidanselkä Beach. The village is characterized by pine-dominated forests, open fields and plantations, as well as existing building stock it’s balanced and interesting, with varied landscapes of villages, opening some beautiful views to the Gulf of Kaisanlahti.

The part of the village between the road to Perä-Posio and Soppela Club House represents traditional cultural landscape, with some newer single-family houses.

Most presentable building stock of this village is Soppela School built in 1928, and the Club House from the same period a good example of rural villages’ public building.

In Soppela there is the school as well as other old building stock, for example Keskisoppela’s residential building spared from war and puoji (shop). As part of the Soppela Village, it is a building of historical and architectural, as well as scenic value.


Schools’ Valuable Architecture

Kemijärvi has exceptionally wide and varied collection of school buildings of different ages, valuable both culturally and historically. School buildings planned by architects Jussi and Toivo Paatela in the 1920’s and architect Toivo Salervo during the reconstruction period, are rare in Lapland scale and therefore particularly valuable. According to architect Jussi and Toivo Paatela’s type drawings for elementary schools at least six schools were built in Kemijärvi, among them Soppela school in 1928.

Architect competitions sought public construction solutions that were simple enough to be viable throughout the country, but at the same time represented a good sense of style and taste, as they acted as role models for construction of small rural houses.

In the 1920’s large employers of architects were apart of private customers now also municipalities and state. Works from that period represent mainly classicism and its design language was impressive and monumental. Stripped classicism preceded functionalist architecture breakthrough in Finland.


Schools Are Being Closed

The first school closure occurred in Kemijärvi in 1946, when the Puikkola School did not prove viable. Pikkukylä Village School did not have enough students for more than three years, either, as the school was closed in 1955. Kemijärvi development does not differ from other municipalities in the Province of Lapland, and the number of village schools began to decline in early 1960’s.

Päiväjoki School ceased in 1961, Ruopsa 1962, Luokanaapa 1964, Muusko 1965, and Pyhätunturi and Oinas in 1966. During comprehensive school's early years Tonkopuro School ceased in 1968 and Javarus and Kuusivaara in 1970. After the comprehensive school started, during 20 years, Kemijärvi had to terminate only Kalkianen School in 1985. During 1990’s and after that pace of cessations has accelerated.

In 1992 Hyypiö, Räisälä and Ulkuniemi villages ceased their schools. Juujärvi School ceased in 1996 and Tapionniemi School in 1997. Completion of the renovation of this school was celebrated in December 1990. In the autumn of 1998 Leväranta School was closed.

In the 21 st century Kallaanvaara, Kostamo, Joutsijärvi, Vuostimo, Soppela, Luusua, Halosenranta, Lehtola and Tohmo schools were closed. Kuumaniemi School was closed down because of problems with indoor air quality, and students were transferred to Hillatie School, which then consisted of combined primary and secondary schools. Hillatie High School was transferred to the former business school premises, where it still functions. Also Lepistö School and seminar training school’s activities have been discontinued because of problems with indoor air quality and they have been empty for the last few years.

Deciding the fate of these and other dismantled school buildings in the future is one of the main tasks from the point of cultural environment, which the city's decision-makers together with the authorities and experts will have to make.