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Explore the history of Kokkola

This website contains information enabling you to delve into Kokkola's long and colourful history.

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 Kirkonmäki. 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 Kokkola’s history. It has significantly remodelled the landscape, influencing, for instance, 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 beginning in the 16th century. This period also witnessed the last Nordic peasants’ revolt of note, the Club War, whose events are closely related to Kokkola.

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

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, as a so-called 'maakaupunki' or 'inland town', Kokkola 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, or 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 ports of the Mediterranean and England. At one point, Kokkola boasted the largest mercantile fleet in Finland. The town’s noted shipping families included Roos, Donner, Rahm and Kyntzell.

The rapid economic growth stalled in the mid-19th century, only to bloom again in the late 1800s, spurred on by industrialisation. Kokkola became an important industrial city, thanks in no small part to its leather and metal industry.

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