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KeMun sisäänkäynti ja lumiset portaat talvella. Image Keski-Suomen museo (KeMu)
I have been drawn to the nature in Jyväskylä as a student so much that my love for history and heritage studies was diminishing. The prepossessing summers in Jyväskylä bring with them a lot of activities: nature walking, photography, biking, traveling, studying, swimming, and attending concerts among others. The nature in Jyväskylä, at least to visitors and international students, could be overpowering that it is easy not to learn of how the city - its past, continuing and changing features of life – has come to be defined. 

Author: Felix Dade, University of Jyväskylä

Observing Rantaraitti through the changing seasons

My favourite activity in my one-and-half year of study and life in Jyväskylä has been to walk around Lake Jyväsjärvi, including the Rantaraitti recreational route. Observing the geese swim, and the changing colours of the leaves of plants arrest the attention of every nature-loving resident. Residents’ cycling, walking and working out in the several gym spots along the recreational route are beautiful and priceless moments to observe. The winter season is now upon us, so we'll tell the summer stories later. Before the winter season was autumn. Coming from a tropical climate, I have always considered the autumn season an interlude between a pleasant, sunny summer and an impending winter with its associated darkness.

Jyväskylä is popular for its nature but is it also the centre of sports and physical activity in Finland. The city is also known for pioneering Finnish education, and it’s an attraction for lifelong learning. However, for international students and visitors, little is known about how the past has shaped Central Finland’s present and the future. 

Learning about Central Finland's history

The autumn season presented me with an opportunity to experience something new such as exploring the ‘origins’ of Finland. I visited the Museum of Central Finland (KeMu) in Jyväskylä. It was a visit to learn about Finland’s past, specifically the contribution of Central Finland to what is currently the “world’s happiest country” and is also at the top of international rankings for quality education, quality of life and the protection of the planet.

a created Ice Age man standing with a javelin. Image Felix Dade

KeMu is a cultural museum and has architectural collections. It is also an environment cultural museum and holds many workshops that explore the cultural landscape and environmental themes of Central Finland. KeMu also showcases collections of the evidence of the earliest people in Finland - from the prehistoric to the present millennium. For example, simple stone, metal and wood tools used by the earliest people in Finland are on display. The tools collection provides some insights into the way of life of the earliest people of the region as well as their relationship with nature. 

Rock paintings and touchable collections

A very unique feature of KeMu is that many of the collections can be touched. Also, visitors see the rock paintings collected from Laukaa, which is the biggest collection in the Scandinavian region based on counted marks. During my visit, I was drawn to the modern “rock screen''. On this large, finger-sensitive “rock screen”, visitors can imagine and make patterns and marks just like the earliest people. The “rock screen” experience is exciting for people of all ages. It could even be enchanting for children! All one needs to do is make patterns with the hand. In a sense, KeMu is using modern technology and innovation to take visitors on a trip down memory lane to prehistoric times.  The “rock screen” innovation gives the feeling that the world has indeed come far. That is, a “rock screen” technology showing the continuity and changes in human life!

Ancient skis against the wall. Image Felix Dade

At the Museum, I saw the changes that Finland has undergone in terms of tools and technology. Over time, the earliest people in Finland made changes to the tools they used. There was an improvement to farm tools with metal and wood technology coming into the frame. Skiing has stayed with the Finns, but it will be interesting to see and compare the transformation from simple wooden skiing equipment to modern ones. Over time also, industries sprung up producing goods needed for everyday life and defense (military hardware). Many of these industries were located in Central Finland. So, in a sense, the technology and innovation we see in Finland are a culmination of years of improving upon what was available in the past.

Builder of Finnish education system

Here comes the best part: KeMu provides perhaps the clearest insight into the making of the “Finnish education system”. Jyväskylä was described by observers at the time as the ‘Finnish Athens’ because it developed the first Finnish school system at a time when schools around Finland were heavily Swedish-influenced.

Jyväskylä had the first teacher training school, hence establishing the foundations of the present education system and human resources for the whole of Finland. The teacher training school of the 19th century set the foundation for what is today the University of Jyvãskylä where I study. The region also had printing factories to facilitate the provision of educational materials. During my visit to KeMu, I sat in a model classroom depicting the past. This made me appreciate the continuity of purpose, which is educating the next generation and the changes that the education system has undergone. One can visit KeMu to have a feel of the earliest classrooms in Finland to reflect on Jyväskylä’s contribution to the world’s acclaimed education system.

An early classroom setting in KeMu. Image KeMu

Transformation of streets and city planning

Another favourite attraction to see in KeMu is the transformation in the city’s planning and architecture over time. The popular streets in the city’s centre have transformed. The streets were small and with single-lane roads, there seemed to be vehicular ‘traffic’. When I compare evidence of the streets then and now, I see streets well planned, green, and streets with diversified means of transport, for example, bicycle lanes. 

Depiction of an ancient street life in Central Finland. Image Felix Dade

Alongside the showcase of two of the city’s models, visitors can play a map game of the streets and areas they know in Jyväskylä. They can, for instance, find Kauppakatu and Vapaudenkatu streets on this game map. As a student of the University of Jyvaskyla, I could compare the continuing architecture of my campus, and the changes the campus has seen based on the “model city” on display at the Museum.

A model city plan and street map game. Image Felix Dade

As visitors to Central Finland will later find, no art and architecture lesson can be given without invoking the name “Aalto”. KeMu was designed by the celebrated Alvar Aalto, a national hero of Finland for his exploits in the field of architecture and arts. As a student, I see Aalto’s work all around the Seminaarinmäki Campus of the University of Jyväskylä and around the city. I understood from my tour of the Museum that Jyväskylä has the largest collection of Aalto’s arts in the whole world. It is exciting to expect that with the completion of Aalto2 in the summer of 2023, KeMu and the Alvar Aalto Museum will form together a modern, aesthetic museum centre of not just the past, but the present and future destination for learning about the culture and architecture of Central Finland. This adds to the eight (8) other smaller museums in Central Finland.

I am personally excited that I could also experience continuity and changes in my own life. In other words, I can continue to enjoy what nature offers in Jyväskylä (continuity) as well as experience the influential works of Alvar Aalto and the culture and history of Central Finland under one roof (change).

Worth a visit!

Visitors and students to Central Finland could consider visiting KeMu which is located at Alvar Aallon katu 7, 40600 Jyväskylä. It is easily accessible by foot or bicycle for students and residents who live close to the University of Jyväskylä (the Ruusipuisto Campus). Visitors distant away can drive to the Museum where there are parking spots for cars. Bus connections are also available and stops can be made at Museo 2 (Hannikaisenkatu street) and Yliopisto 1 on Keskussairaalantie street.

The Museum is open Tuesday-Sunday between 11 am - 6 pm. Admission is free on Fridays. On the other days, adults and students will pay 8 and 4 euros respectively. KeMu has a free admission policy for persons below 18 years and a host of others which can be found here. Families can also use available materials in the exhibition spaces to imagine and create “historical artifacts”.  

My desire to explore Finnish history to understand what has shaped people and their way of life were met. KeMu provided not just the changes and transformations of Central Finland (Jyväskylä in particular), but the continuing legacy of education, industrialisation, and architecture.

When you visit, ask to see the exhibitions on display there to experience how technology, glamour, and staff professionalism have been fused to tell the story and showcase earliest and present people in Central Finland. KeMu is rightly the place to track the changes and continuity that have taken place in Central Finland!