Weather-beaten and far out from the mainland lies a peculiar little island called Jurmo. This seemingly uninviting and uninhabitable place attracts thousands of visitors every year and is also home to a handful of permanent residents. Jurmo is an excellent island-hopping destination in the Finnish Archipelago Sea south of the city of Turku. It has a popular guest harbour, but a majority of visitors arrive with M/S Baldur, a connecting ferry transporting passengers for free. Here are ten interesting facts about this intriguing place!
An island once populated by pirates
Photo: Persistency! How this tree manages to grow among all these stones is beyond me.
According to legend, the people of Jurmo were once far from peace loving. Taking advantage of the notoriously dangerous waters surrounding the island, they would lure ships towards their demise.
Lighting strategic fires, the islanders would lure ships to unknowingly navigate straight towards dangerous rocks. Once shipwrecked, the islanders would take whatever valuables they could find.
This pirate story has a gruesome ending. As Finland was a part of Sweden, the Swedish king Gustav Vasa put an end to the islanders’ pirate ways by ordering his men to burn down the island and kill all people. According to this legend, this is the explanation to why Jurmo is still today practically treeless.
Graveyard for ships
Photo: The beautiful votive ship in the chapel of Jurmo looks like one might imagine many of the ships that once sailed in these waters looked like.
The notoriously treacherous waters around Jurmo have caused many ships to wreck. Experts have estimated that there might be up to a hundred thousand shipwrecks on the bottom of the Baltic Sea. Many of these are located near Jurmo.
Two of the most famous shipwrecks in this region are Vrouw Maria and S/S Park Victory. The latter was a U.S. Victory-class cargo-ship, built during the Second World War. On Christmas Day in 1947, the ship ran aground rocks near the islands of Utö and Jurmo and sank.
As many as 38 of the 48 men aboard the ship were rescued from the icy waters, much due to the efforts of the people of the nearby island of Utö (just outside Jurmo). There’s an exhibition about the ship and its final journey on Jurmo. Today the ship is a popular dive site.
Vrouw Maria, a wooden merchant ship sailing under Dutch flag, has lain on the bottom of the Archipelago Sea outside the island of Jurmo for almost 250 years. The ship was on its way from Amsterdam to St. Petersburg when a storm arose, which led to the ship running aground rocks. The crew was saved, but most of the precious cargo, including several pieces of valuable art, sank.
After decades of searching, the shipwreck was finally located in 1999. Today the whole area around the wreck is protected and diving is allowed only with permission.
Photo: Numerous shipwrecks (the blue, green, white and red pins on the map) dot the seabed around the island of Jurmo (the little white speck in the middle). Screen shot of a map of wrecks from Hylyt.net, a shipwreck website .
An Archipelago island with permanent residents
Photo: The old windmill in the small village is worth checking out (just mind the alpacas! More on these if you read on).
The island of Jurmo might have been inhabited as early as a thousand years ago. However, we don’t know this for sure. What we do know for a fact is that Jurmo has had permanent residents since the 16th century as there are official records stating this from this time.
Many of the archipelago islands that once were inhabited and full of life all year round have slowly become increasingly depopulated. Jurmo has stood the test of time and continues to have a permanent population. Today, around ten people live on the island permanently.
The island bar has an impressive bottle collection
Photo: Bottle bonanza! You could easily spend an hour admiring the labels of old bottles.
When visiting Jurmo, make sure you don’t miss the island café and bar called Kaffela. This tiny, but cute place is built in an old wooden structure that looks a bit like an old boathouse. There’s a terrace overlooking the harbour, but that’s not the best part. What makes this bar/café so special is the impressive collection of bottles, both ancient-looking ones and more modern ones. There must be thousands!
In the same space you’ll also find a small store selling staple items, snacks and Jurmo souvenirs.
Home to surprising creatures
Photo: Alpacas in the archipelago? Why not? In Jurmo village you’ll probably run into this gang of alpacas.
A little unexpectedly, a small group of alpacas roam the island and during the summer season a herd of highland cattle can also be seen. The latter are harder to spot, usually they frequent the east side of the island.
The alpacas however are accustomed to people and are hard to miss. In fact, you might have a hard time avoiding them if you’re visiting the tiny village of Jurmo. The alpacas belong to one of the permanent Jurmo residents and yarn made from their wool is sold in the harbour store.
A final resting place for islanders
Photo: The small, unpretentious chapel is beautiful in all its simplicity. The view from the window over the Archipelago Sea speaks for itself.
The tiny wooden chapel on Jurmo overlooking the Archipelago Sea was built in 1846. For a long time, the chapel’s graveyard was the final resting place for the people of the nearby islands of Utö and Aspö as well as the people of Jurmo. For the people of Utö this tradition continued up until the year 1962 when Utö got its own graveyard.
The chapel is rarely open outside of high season, but if it’s locked you can peep in through the window. If you have the chance to step inside, don’t miss the beautiful starry ceiling and the impressive votive ship.
An island favoured by birds
Photo: The varied landscapes on Jurmo attract numerous different birds to the island.
The unique nature on Jurmo attracts a wide and distinct range of birds to the island. Some species – around 80 to be exact – breed on the island, others just stop by while migrating.
A grand total of 315 different species of birds have been spotted on this tiny island! In the whole of Finland, there’s estimated to be around 425 species of birds. In other words, a fairly sizeable portion of Finland’s birds stops by Jurmo.
Some of these species, like for example the Eurasian dotterel, don’t stop anywhere else in the south of Finland during their migration.
Being such a popular place among birds, naturally this attracts those interested in birds as well. The island of Jurmo is a popular place for bird watching for example during the spring and autumn migrations. Since 1962, the island even has its own Bird Observatory with the goal to gather scientific data for ecological research. Around 15.000 birds are ringed every year on Jurmo.
The island is growing
Photo: This view is evolving. Far in the distance the island stretches a bit further every year, slowly rising from the sea.
Unbelievable as it may sound, Jurmo is growing – and that with an impressive speed! Since the 1950’s Jurmo has grown 30 hectares, continuously reshaping the shoreline of this enchanted island. How is this possible?
What Jurmo so excellently exhibits is called post-glacial rebound and is a result of the Ice Age that once held all of Finland under its icy grip. Once the heavy masses of ice started to melt, the land that the weight had pressed down for so long, slowly started to lift.
Post-glacial rebound is a process that is still ongoing. Who knows what Jurmo will look like in 50 years?
Part of Salpausselkä
Photo: One in a million. Finding two identical stones is an impossible task. But make sure you reach down to touch one and admire the silky soft surface.
Jurmo is the outermost visible part of the ridge system called Salpausselkä. This terminal moraine was formed during the Ice Age by huge ice masses pushing forth debris, like stones and gravel.
Salpausselkä has given Jurmo its very unique look and the unfathomable amounts of weather-beaten and wave-polished stones. If you visit other archipelago islands you’ll notice that Jurmo doesn’t really resemble anything else.
The unsolved mystery of the so-called Monkrings
Photo: Who put the stones here and why? Jurmo has four ancient stone circles that remain a mystery.
On Jurmo visitors can get acquainted with some of the most famous and most studied archaeological remains in the whole Archipelago Sea. The Stone circles are – as the name suggests – four circles constructed of stones. The stones used are about the size of footballs.
The rings can be found out in the terrain on the east side of the island. They are not right next to each other, but located in the same area just some hundreds or so metres from each other.
These constructions have puzzled people for centuries. What was the purpose of the circles and why were they made?
One theory that was put forth as early as the 18th century suggests the rings were made by monks visiting Jurmo from the nearby island Kökar on Åland. This theory might not be completely off, since contemporary studies have confirmed that there actually were Franciscan monks living on Kökar from the 14th century until the 16th century.
The stone circles might be remains from ancient shelter used during fishing or seal hunting trips.
Interested in visiting Jurmo? Check out my Jurmo Travel Guide here: Visiting Jurmo – A Complete Guide to Visiting the Stone Kingdom of the Archipelago