As quickly as you land at Rovaniemi airport in Lapland you see a reindeer. Not an actual one, admittedly, however anyone in a Rudolf go well with cheerily greeting passengers who’ve simply arrived. A few miles from “Santa’s official airport” lies Santa Claus Village, an amusement park full with elves, actual reindeers, huskies, retailers and eating places that pulls greater than 600,000 guests a yr to this remoted spot on the fringe of the Arctic Circle.

There are reindeer in every single place in Rovaniemi: people dressed as them on the airport, actual ones pulling sleighs at Santa Claus Village and statues of them all through town centre.

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However the greatest is one few vacationers discover: the reindeer head embedded within the Finnish metropolis’s road plan. This was the work of Finland’s best architect, Alvar Aalto, when he rebuilt the Lapland’s capital after it was burned to the bottom by the retreating German military through the second world struggle.

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Within the 1930s, Rovaniemi was a quiet buying and selling city of round 6,000 folks till Russia invaded in 1939. The Finns fought off their aggressors within the brutal winter struggle of 1939-40, then allied withGermany for cover from additional Russian incursions.

The Germans created a base in Rovaniemi, doubling the city’s inhabitants. The Luftwaffe constructed an airfield – now “Santa’s official airport” – and a barracks that may develop into the positioning of Santa Claus Village.

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When the tide of struggle turned in opposition to the Axis powers, Russia informed the Finns to expel the Germans; because the German military departed in October 1944, they burned Rovaniemi to the bottom. The residents had already been evacuated, many to Sweden, an arduous course of by which 279 died. One other 200 died on their return to Rovaniemi, killed by mines the Germans laid to guard their withdrawal.

The ruins of Rovaniemi pictured on 16 October 1944 after the German withdrawal.

The ruins of Rovaniemi on 16 October 1944. {Photograph}: FLHC 72/Alamy

The Germans destroyed 90% of the city – residents recalled returning to a smoking spoil with simply chimney stacks left standing. Pekka Ojala, who runs a B&B and sauna close to town centre, nonetheless finds burnt wooden and steel in his backyard. Exterior Rovaniemi is a cemetery for the German struggle useless that accommodates the our bodies of round 2,500 troopers.

This was the scene of desolation that greeted Aalto when he was commissioned by the Affiliation of Finnish Architects to reconstruct the city in 1945. “He noticed the burned city as a possibility,” says Jussi Rautsi, a former planner and researcher on the Alvar Aalto Basis. Partly impressed by the US president Franklin Roosevelt’s Tennessee Valley Authority, Aalto created a plan for all of Lapland – a land mass as giant as Holland and Belgium mixed.

Aalto began by rebuilding town with single housing models designed particularly for the local weather in Rovaniemi and Lapland so they’d as little north-facing facade as attainable, and most exterior publicity to the solar within the south-west. Within the 1950s his plan expanded past town to incorporate your complete area.

Aalto factored in hydroelectric vegetation being constructed on the good rivers of Lapland, and commissioned impression assessments to see what the impact can be on the surroundings, indigenous Sami, reindeer herds, water basins and microclimate. “No one on the planet had accomplished such a plan,” says Rautsi. “It had all spatial ranges: regional, whole city, elements of cities, neighbourhoods, even peripheral estates. This was the one plan of this magnitude on the planet.”

Aalto conceived Rovaniemi’s “reindeer antler” road plan in 1945: he merely imposed a reindeer head define on present topography, highlighting the pure form of the land and the best way the primary roads and railway crossed. The soccer stadium grew to become an eye fixed, and the reindeer was born.

Lappia Hall in Rovaniemi, designed by Alvar Aalto.

Lappia Corridor in Rovaniemi, designed by Alvar Aalto. {Photograph}: Dea Image Library/De Agostini by way of Getty

As a result of the Finns had collaborated with the Germans, Rovaniemi couldn’t get monetary assist from the US within the type of the Marshall Plan support granted to different war-torn European international locations. The Finns had been additionally requested to pay “reparations” to Russia. Nonetheless, some monetary assist did come from the United Nations Reduction and Rehabilitation Administration and its patron Eleanor Roosevelt.

In June 1950, Roosevelt wished to go to the Arctic Circle, so the Finns constructed a log cabin close to Rovaniemi airport in per week, furnished with chairs designed by Aalto. They informed her it was within the Arctic Circle – though it was truly just a little to the south. She despatched a letter from the cabin to President Truman – stated to be the primary posted from the Arctic Circle. The cabin subsequently grew to become a vacationer attraction, visited by world leaders together with the Soviet premier Leonid Brezhnev and the Israeli prime minister Golda Meir.

As tourism grew, Rovaniemi was rebuilt. The zoning facet of Aalto’s plan – with completely different areas for commerce, residential and administration throughout the traces of the reindeer – was by no means totally realised. However he did design three buildings for the city’s municipal centre: an undulating live performance corridor, a city corridor (accomplished by his spouse after his demise in 1976) and a library that’s considered one of his most interesting works. There was additionally a Frank Lloyd Wright-style personal house and a business block, and he constructed a small part of housing within the suburbs referred to as Korkalorinne, that includes terraced housing and two giant residence blocks, modelled on the concepts of the British backyard metropolis motion.

“This was reasonably priced housing, following the social and wholesome British backyard metropolis concepts,” says Rautsi. “Aalto remained devoted to those rules his whole life. Being effectively constructed, Korkalorinne is a well-liked place to reside at this time. Regarding house measurement, Aalto’s predominant thought was simple to grasp: folks want extra space inside in the dead of night and chilly north than within the sunny south.”

Crowds gather round Santa Claus in Rovaniemi.

Crowds collect spherical Santa Claus in Rovaniemi. {Photograph}: Kaisa Siren/AP

By 1984, Concorde was bringing guests to Rovaniemi to see the Arctic Circle. That’s when native entrepreneurs created Santa Claus Village. Based on Finnish fable, Santa truly got here from Korvatunturi (“Ear Fell”), a rock formation formed like an ear so Santa can hear the desires of each baby on the planet. However Korvatunturi is distant and nearly inaccessible: greater than 200 miles to the north of Rovaniemi, which already had an airport.

A rural-style picket village was created round Eleanor Roosevelt’s cabin, providing retailers, reindeer rides, a Santa, and a submit workplace so guests might ship letters from the Arctic Circle. That is the place each letter addressed to Father Christmas finally ends up – round 700,000 a yr.

By the 1990s, the Santa fable had taken over. Even a part of one of many metropolis’s nuclear bunkers – constructed for native residents by the ministry of the inside – was changed into a subterranean Santa-themed park. Vacationers – particularly these from China, Israel and the UK, who make up a lot of the guests – have taken the Finnish model of Santa to their hearts.

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