The Government Palace is located beside Senate Square in Helsinki. The building was designed by Carl Ludwig Engel for the use of the Senate that had its seat in Helsinki, the administrative centre of the autonomous Grand Duchy of Finland, which later became the capital of Finland. Today, the Government Palace houses the Prime Minister’s Offi ce, the Offi ce of the Chancellor of Justice and
most departments of the Ministry of Finance.
The House of the Senate
Work on building the Senate began in 1818. The building is a typical neoclassical Empire palace. The three-storey palace has a protruding centre piece with a balcony and Corinthian columns, while the protruding facades at either end of the frontage are supported by pilasters.
The Imperial Finnish Senate moved to the palace overlooking Senate Square in 1822. The wing on the Aleksanterinkatu side was completed in 1824 followed by the Ritarinkatu wing in 1828. The Hallituskatu side was not closed off until several decades later with a courtyard annex added in 1860 to house the Senate printing press. The Ritarikatu and Hallituskatu sides were later subsequently renovated and altered. The Government Palace acquired its present appearance between 1916 and 1917 with the heightening of the Ritarikatu wing.
In addition to the organs of the Senate itself, the Senate building was in the early years also home to a wide range of other important public agencies and offices, including the predecessor of the Bank of Finland, Postal Directorate, Customs Board and National Archives. The Imperial Alexander Pharmacy was also located in the Senate building before it moved to the building completed on the opposite side of Senate Square in 1832.
From the Senate to the Government
Finnish resistance to the policy of Russification at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries reached a dramatic climax on the second-floor landing of the main staircase in the Senate building in 1904 when Eugen Schauman fired the fatal bullets at Governor-General Nikolai Bobrikov. A period of change began in 1917 with the fall of the Tsar in Russia.
Finland declared independence on 6 December 1917, and the Economic Division of the Senate formally became the Government of Finland on 27 November 1918. Accordingly, the building which had previously housed the Senate now became known as the Government Palace.
The Judicial Department was divided into the Supreme Court and Supreme Administrative Court. The administrative departments of the Senate were turned into Government ministries and the Office of the Chancellor of Justice, with the Senate Chancery becoming the Prime Minister’s Office.
Architecturally, the most valuable parts of the building are the almost entirely original main staircase and the Senate Assembly Hall, nowadays the Presidential Reception Room.
The large painting of the Diet of Porvoo in 1809 which adorns the session hall of the Government serves as a reminder of the historical origins of the Finnish State.
The Government Palace also has facilities for meetings of cabinet committees and other negotiations. The changes needed to accommodate present-day ways of working were carried out in the 1990s so as to preserve the valuable features of the building as close as possible to their original appearance.