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On 7 September 1620, the Swedish king Gustav Adolf II signed a document transforming the small Ristiranta village, known for fishing and farming, into a town called Gamlakarleby. Kokkola was established as the Finnish name a little later.

History of Kokkola on a timeline

  • 2020 The year marks the 400th anniversary of Kokkola
  • 2009 Kälviä, Lohtaja and Ullava are merged into Kokkola.
  • 1977 Kokkola and Kaarlela are joined together.
  • 1969 Öja is merged with Kaarlela.
  • 1939–1945 The Second World War is tough on people also in Kokkola. After the wars, industrial activities are focused in the Kokkola Industrial Park area in Ykspihlaja.
  • 1932 Öja becomes a municipality (previously a part of Kruunupyy).
  • 1918 Civil War
  • 1909 The municipality of Ullava is established
  • 1905 The current Kälviä Church is built.
  • Late 19th and early 20th century: years of oppression. More immigration and religious and political activism.
  • 1889 The lighthouse on Tankar Island is completed.
  • 1885 Railway to Kokkola.
  • 1854 Kokkola fights off the English in the battle of Halkokari.
  • 1808–1809 The Finnish War. Sweden loses Finland to Russia.
  • In the late 18th and early 19th century, Kokkola was one of the biggest tar producers in the Swedish-ruled Finland. The city was home to wealthy ship owners and merchants.
  • 1793 The church of Ullava is built.
  • 1770–1803 Anders Chydenius is the vicar in Kaarlela.
  • 1768 The current church of Lohtaja is built.
  • 1765 Kokkola receives staple rights and trade is flourishing.
  • 1664 Most of the city is destroyed in a fire.
  • 1639 Kälviä becomes an independent village.
  • 1620 The Swedish king Gustav Adolf II establishes a city named Gamlakarleby. Later on, Kokkola becomes the established Finnish name.
  • 1608 Ullava is first mentioned in a list of sharecroppers.
  • 17th century Lohtaja is a significant area for the ironmaking industry.
  • 1597 During the Club War, the fight of Tarharanta took place near the church hill.
  • 1578 Lohtaja becomes an independent municipality.
  • 1544 First historical mentions of the villages of Kälviä and Ruotsalo.
  • Late 15th and early 16th century: The Kaarlela church is built.
  • 1375 First written reference to someone from Kokkola.
  • 4000–2500 BC: Pit-Comb Ware period in Kälviä and Lohtaja. The settlement lives on and expands in the Bronze and Iron Ages. Burial cairns are built.
  • Around 6500 BC: The first inhabitants arrive in the Ullava area. The rest of Kokkola is still under water.

Explore the history of Kokkola

In the oldest preserved documents, the city’s name is seen in the form Karlabi, which was the origin of Kokkola’s Swedish-language name, Karleby. The Finnish-language Kokkola may have been derived from the name Kokkolahti. Kokkolahti was the bay formed at the point where the sea penetrated the coastline all the way to the church hill. According to legend, ‘kokkos’, or eagles, used to sit on the large rocks in the bay.

Kokkola could already boast a port, shipyard and trade centre in the Middle Ages. Land uplift has played a central role in the history of Kokkola. It has significantly remodelled the landscape, influencing, for example, the development of the port authority and trade.

Trading took place along the Ostrobothnian coast, while agriculture, hunting, fishing and seal hunting were also vital forms of livelihood. The tar export business, later to become crucial to the history of Kokkola, was already taking off in the 16th century. This period also witnessed the last Nordic peasants’ revolt of note, the Club War, the events of which are also closely related to Kokkola.

On 7 September 1620, the Swedish king Gustav Adolf II signed a document transforming the small Ristiranta village, known for fishing and farming, into a town called Gamlakarleby. Kokkola was established as the Finnish name a little later. In those times, the current Kaupunginsalmi narrow was a slender bay that extended as far as the church hill.

Little by little, Kokkola became a significant hub for maritime activity and shipbuilding. There were shipyards in Kaustarinlahti, Mustakari and Soldatskär. At first, ship routes only covered Turku and Stockholm, since Kokkola, being a so-called ‘maakaupunki’ or ‘inland town’, was not allowed to engage in foreign trade. Largely owing to its active vicar and deputy Anders Chydenius, in 1765 Kokkola was awarded a staple right, meaning the right to conduct foreign trade freely.

In the early 19th century, Kokkola saw its wealth grow rapidly, mainly through the tar and shipping businesses. Members of the town’s bourgeoisie purchased tar from the peasants, exporting it to foreign lands, often to the Mediterranean and English ports. At one point, Kokkola boasted the largest merchant fleet in Finland. The most notable shipping families in the city included the Roos, Donner, Rahm and Kyntzell families.

The rapid economic growth stalled in the mid-19th century, only to bloom again later in the century, spurred on by industrialisation. Kokkola became an important industrial city, thanks in no small part to its leather and metal industry.