Russarö Lighthouse – the eye of the Hankoniemi Peninsula

No heavenly star am I, only a twinking lighthouse
I am the tower on Hankoniemi shore
Guiding sailors when day's light is blown out
And danger lurks on secret rocks.
I turn, my lamp now blackness, now bearing,
All at sea withness my light shining:
And proclaim with joy, l"It is the Eye of Hanko!

– Zacharias Topelius

Russarö Island is located off the Hankoniemi Peninsula, about five kilometres south of Hanko Port. Hankoniemi Peninsula is strategically located along major shipping lanes and therefore, the surrounding area has been subject to many important naval battles. As a result, Russarö Island has had a chequered history. Over the centuries, various nautical navigation signs, fortifications, and pilot stations have been built on the island.

A close-up from a 1880 map.

Nautical navigation signs from the early 18th century

Russarö Island is known to have had nautical navigation signs since the early 18th century. These wooden, lightless day beacons were in use until the 19th century when the need for a lighthouse was realised.

The Russian Emperor ordered a lighted beacon to be built in 1826 and the old wooden daymark (Fin. pooki) was converted into a lighthouse. Although it was put into service in 1838, it had already been demolished by 1854, during the Crimean War. After the war, a temporary day beacon was built on the site because plans for a stone-built lighthouse were still ongoing.

Completed in 1863, and built from granite and brick, this octagonal lighthouse now dominates the island's landscape. Its highest point is 34 metres above sea level. The lighthouse is still in use today and is currently powered by electricity. The light is visible for 16 nautical miles or almost 30 kilometres.

A drawing of the Russarö Lighthouse by the Rusian naval officer and seascape painter from his travel journal. Source: Aleksei Bogoljubov Al'bom morskih" vidov" sěvernago berega Finskago zaliva 1866. (Translation: An album of ocean views on the north coast of the Gulf of Finland.

Pilots inhabited the northern part of the island

It is known that pilotage was in operation on Russarö Island since the 18th century. Pilots inhabited the northern part of the island, which also housed the island's most sheltered harbour. After the establishment of the winter harbour in Hanko in 1873, pilot activity on Russarö was brisk.

Today, the existing pilot's cabin on the island was built in the early 20th century. After the Winter- and Continuation Wars, the pilots no longer lived on the island but came from Hanko instead. The pilotage was completely transferred to Hanko in 1950.

Russarö Lighthouse at the end of the 19th century.

Fortresses and military action on Russarö Island

The Swedes fortified Russarö Island in the 18th century, with the aim of defending against Russia's growing might. Fortresses were also built on other nearby islands, such as Gustavsvärn, to protect the city of Hanko.

In 1809, the island was taken over by the Russians and fortification works continued. However, with the threat of the Crimean War (1853-1856), the Russians destroyed the fortresses they had built because they did not want them to fall into enemy hands. The local islanders were permitted to retrieve personal property and building materials and eventually the fortress was blown up.

In 1914, the Russians restarted the fortification of Russarö, and the island was incorporated into the sea fortress chain of Tsar Peter the Great. More than 40 buildings, roads and even a railway were made on the island. However, the fortification work was left unfinished when the Russians abandoned Russarö Island after the revolution in 1917. When they left, the Russians again destroyed some of the fortifications. The island was then given over to the  Finnish Coast Guard.

When the Winter War began, Soviet troops bombed both Russarö Fortress and the city of Hanko. After that conflict ended in 1940, Russarö and the entire Hankoniemi Peninsula had to be leased to the Soviet Union. However, before the lease period began, the island was hastily emptied by Finnish troops. In a massive operation, the island’s heavy 50-tonne cannons were removed along with other equipment, to avoid them falling into Soviet hands.

In the following year, the area was returned to the Finnish State and the cannons were also returned to the island. From then on, the island has been used by the Finnish Defence Forces, serving as a military training fort.

A 234 mm cannon at the Russarö Fortress captured by German troops in 1918.

Russarö as a tourist destination

Although Russarö Island still belongs to the Finnish Defence Forces, guided tours have been organised there since the summer of 2009. The island is particularly known for its long and rich history, as well as its varied and diverse nature.

For military enthusiasts, a unique feature of the island are the two original Bethlehem Steel Company 234 mm sea cannons, which are unique throughout Europe.

The Russarö Lighthouse has also inspired poets and songwriters. It has also become the coat of arms of Hanko City.

There are many shipwrecks and other ancient archaeological sites around Hanko. You can find out more about these in the Cultural Environment Service window.

Why and how is this location protected?

The island of Russarö has a long history that is strongly linked to the history of Finnish seafaring and defence. The island is still in use by the Finnish Defence Forces. Although this fortress island is rich in military history, as well as having buildings associated with pilotage and lighthouse operations, it has no official conservation status.


Guided cruises to the island are organised in summer. However, only Finnish citizens are allowed to visit the island. It is prohibited for visitors to land on the island with their own boat as the island is still under remit of the Finnish Armed Forces.

More information about the cruise organisers’ own webpages.

Finnish Heritage Agency's mapservice

N: 6632403, E: 272520 (ETRS-TM35FIN)