We are standing in a room with sculptures of saints while our guide tells us about their place in Finnish history. I move away to take some photos of the group and put my eye to the viewfinder of my camera. What’s that? I see something dark in between the legs of those visiting the castle with me. Maybe the lens is dirty. I put the camera down and look at the group again, only three meters away from me. There’s definitely something crawling between their legs.
Turku Castle: a bit of history
The construction of Turku Castle started in 1280, when Finland was still part of Sweden and known as “Eastland”. The castle functioned as a military fortress and administrative center until the 17th century and as a prison for two centuries after that.
Throughout the centuries, the Turku Castle suffered many sieges, a great fire, and several wars. Although restoration works had begun at the beginning of the 20th century, they weren’t finished until 1987 (my birth year, by the way). Now the Turku Castle is a historical museum with a church for the local congregation, restaurants and banquet rooms for city happenings. It is one of the oldest medieval buildings in Finland still in use and the largest medieval building in Finland still standing.
I’m visiting that historical museum tonight as part of a press trip. Apparently, they’re opening the museum just for us so that we can experience the special Ghost Tour there without any other visitors wandering around.
A ghost tour?
When we meet our guide, she’s dressed in a large black cape. Hair tied back, skin pale, lips blood red. Tonight she won’t just guide us through the castle. She’ll focus on its gruesome history, on the things that happened there that people would rather forget.
As we commence our tour, I notice that all the main lights are out. The small ambient lights lit here and there sure add to the spookiness of the tour, but they’re not that great for photography. I’m often fiddling with my camera while our guide tells us about murders, trials, diseases and other fun stuff.
At a certain moment, we enter a larger room with sculptures of saints while our guide tells us about their place in Finnish history. There’s a bit more light here, so I move away to take some photos of the group and put my eye to the camera’s viewfinder.
I see something dark in between the legs of those visiting the castle with me. Maybe the lens is dirty. I put the camera down and look at the group again, only three meters away from me. There’s definitely something crawling between their legs. At first I think it’s fellow blogger Inma lying on the ground to get a shot from a different perspective, but then the crawling figure starts to moan and sigh. By the tone of its voice, I can tell it’s a she, but when I go up to look closer, she suddenly collapses on the floor. Her face is hideous, full of opened up blisters and other wounds.
Only then does our guide step in: “She died of the plague”, she tells us. We all look at each other and start to laugh awkwardly. “An actress, of course.”
We’d be on our guard now, looking out for other surprises the tour might have in store for us.
As we continue through the castle we constantly keep an eye on hatches and dark corners, expecting someone to jump out of them. Nothing happens though, and after a while our full attention is back with our guide who is now telling us about the different punishments that existed in the Middle Ages for things like adultery and murder.
She even takes us into this room where a skeleton is on display and shows us something on the skeleton’s knee that points to an affliction the person clearly had when still alive.
We need to look closer.
“WHO SHALL I EXECUTE TODAY?”
I jump about a meter high. Behind us suddenly stands an executor, complete with hooded cape and axe. He asks us about our crimes and if someone is willing to volunteer so that he can demonstrate how he does his job. We don’t need to have our heads chopped up, just a finger will serve the purpose. We all laugh sheepishly, partly still surprised, partly scared and partly amused. It’s a strange mixture of feelings. Somehow I’d like to poke the man to see if he’s real, but I contain myself.
After having toyed with us a bit, the executor disappears again. How could we have let him fool us like that?! We’re adults! Highly startled adults, that is.
The rest of our tour continues quite peacefully, but I’m happy we’re having dinner after this, and I don’t need to go to bed right away.
Turku Castle is open all year round, but it’s best to check the website for correct opening times (and entrance prices) as these change depending on the season.
There are several guided tours to choose from, but you can also visit the castle independently and enjoy the permanent collection and temporary exhibitions. The tour we did is probably a bit too scary for kids, but the castle also has specific tours just for children and an area where they can dress us as a knight, princess or king.