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City Hall history

The Helsinki City Hall block is called the Lion Block. It is situated in the area bordering on the Senate Square, Market Square and the streets of Katariinankatu and Sofiankatu in the neoclassical, Empire-style city centre.  

The southern side of the block facing the Market Square is dominated by the blue-and-grey facade of the Helsinki City Hall. The block’s oldest buildings are located on the northern side facing the Senate Square. These are the merchant houses of Bock, Burtz and Hellenius dating back to the 18th century. A modern building in the centre of the block is the base of the Helsinki City Council.

The construction of The Lion Block started after Helsinki had largely been destroyed by a fire in 1808. Helsinki was developed according to a city plan drawn by J. A. Ehrenström and approved in 1812, after Helsinki was named the capital of the Russian Grand Duchy of Finland. The best-known of the block’s architects was Carl Ludwig Engel, who was commissioned to design the new public buildings of the capital.

Until the early years of the 20th century, The Lion Block and its vicinity were Helsinki’s centre of commerce and social life. The Seurahuone (“society house”) hotel, as well as the block’s buildings that originally served commerce and housed wealthy bourgeois, have undergone many changes dictated by new uses. The facades of the merchant houses were altered according to Engel’s plans to comply with his Empire style, and one extra floor was added to the houses. The largest series of alterations to The Lion Block, according to plans by architect and professor Aarno Ruusuvuori, were carried out in 1965-1970 and 1985-1988.

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After Helsinki became capital in 1812, the city entered a period of construction and expansion. It became necessary to name the streets, as the fire insurance alone required that street names were visibly displayed at street corners and on gates. Streets were mostly named by the City survey office, which picked names from flora and fauna. The Lion Block’s neighbouring blocks were named Elephant and Senate. The block names were first widely used by residents, but they gradually fell out of use after the turn of the 20th century.