History of the Pisamalahti Hill Fort

One of Finland's best-known ancient hill forts, the Pisamalahti Hill Fort in the heart of rocky and rugged pine forests above the waters of Lake Saimaa, provided protection for local inhabitants at the end of the Iron Age. The exceptionally well preserved stone wall of the hill fort is a remnant of ancient times.

A Refuge and Defence

In the unsettled days of the Iron Age and early Middle Ages, Finns resorted to ancient forts known as hill forts whenever they needed protection and a place of defence. The hill forts may also have been used as lookout points. Hill forts were steep cliffs, with defences built on the least steep sides.

The Pisamalahti Hill Fort is one of the most rugged among the approximately one hundred hill forts identified in Finland. It has never been permanently settled. Instead, locals fled to the hill fort whenever Swedes, Finns and Häme people threatened from the west, or Karelians and Russians from the east. The Pisamalahti Hill Fort was originally thought to date back to the time of the Crusades, around the 1000s–1100s, but is now presumed to be of earlier origin. Research data from the vicinity of the hill fort, and the study of sediments contained in deposits on the bottom of Lake Mustikkalampi a couple of kilometres away, have proven that the area was inhabited – and rye cultivated – as early as the 480s. Continuous cultivation may have begun in the early 1000s, as the age of the Vikings ended and the period of the Crusades began.

Magnificent Stone Wall Still Intact

The top of the Pisamalahti Hill Fort is around 120 x 100 metres wide. The cliffs are precipitous on the water side to the south, west and north, and less steep only to the east, where the fort was protected by a defensive wall. Around 120 metres of the defences' stone base are still intact. Wooden defence structures were once situated on top of the stone wall.

The Pisamalahti Hill Fort stone walls are considered Finland's most magnificent preserved ancient walls. They are approximately three metres wide and up to 2.7 metres high on the outer side. Each wall has a dry masonry structure: the stones are fitted together without mortar or any other substance binding them together. Inside the wall, there are a dozen piles of fist-sized rocks placed at even distances. These are thought to be piles of throwing stones used for defending the fort.

A stone wall. Photo: Anne Pyykönen