Encyclopaedia Fennica


At the very northern end of Pielinen lake, 125 km north of Joensuu and 115 km south of Kajaani

Edellinen: Pikkurata, a former forestry railroad

Seuraava: Kannus

Nurmes is a small town (urban area population less than 5000, entire municipality 9200) in Finnish North Karelia (Pohjois-Karjala) region, at the northern end of the great Pielinen lake. It is a beautiful wooden old town; such towns are rare away from the coast and not found elsewhere in Finnish Karelia.

Wooden Nurmes (Puu-Nurmes)

Karelian Bomba house

Railway station

Nurmes, to be fair, is not that old either; a market town (kauppala) was founded here, on a ridge between Pielinen and smaller Nurmesjärvi lakes, only in 1876, and wooden buildings here are mostly from 1880-1930s.

The age of the city is obvious from the planning of the center: very regular square blocks, with wide streets (as a fire precaution) dividing them, here also lined with birches. Older city centers tend to have really messy planning, unless they already burned down at some point and were rebuilt to a newer plan (which in practice happened to most of them). Newer, 20th century city centers have more organic and practical plans. Nurmes of course is quite small, there is just about ten old center blocks in total.

There are also some purposefully left firebreaks (helpfully marked with signs), a very rare feature

Long before Nurmes was founded as a town these lands were originally inhabited by Orthodox Karelians and belonged to Russia until the Stolbovo Peace of 1617. After that Eastern (Orthodox) Karelians mostly moved east into Russian territory, and Nurmes was resettled by Western (Finnish, Lutheran) Karelians. The neogothic brick church dates from 1890s (and bears names of Russian emperors at the time of its construction, as Finland back then was, of course, part of the Russian Empire).

But there is also a small Orthodox church from 1959. After World War II Orthodox Karelians from lands annexed by the USSR were resettled in Nurmes, among other places. And so some Karelians live here again now.

The word "Karelians" (karjalaiset) is a bit awkward in this context, as it can refer both to Western Karelians, which are just a subgroup of Finns inhabiting the southeast of the country, and Eastern Karelians, which mostly live in Russia, in the so-called Republic of Karelia, and have Orthodox Christian faith, unlike Western Karelians. When not talking about Finland, "Karelians" is usually taken to mean Eastern Karelians, but in places like Nurmes there are actually both Western and Eastern Karelians living together.

Before the war Orthodox Karelians lived in Finland in the very east, in Suojärvi area and around it, and there weren't really many of them. Evacuated Karelians from Suojärvi eventually decided to build in Nurmes something reminding them of their land, and that's how Bomba house (Bomban talo) was built.

The house, on the southern outskirts of Nurmes, was constructed in 1978, and is a partial copy of a very large house built by Jegor Bombin, a Karelian from Suojärvi, in 1855. The original house was already a bit of a local sight, but was demolished even before the war, in 1934. Both the original and this copy were built entirely by hand and from wood, without any nails. Nowadays Bomba, the biggest sight of Nurmes, houses a restaurant and is owned by the local cooperative of S-Group (same company that owns S-Markets and Prismas).

Bomba is now a tourist center, with a "Karelian village" of cottages and a more regular hotel nearby.

The bigger signs are in Karelian, a language closely related to Finnish but with lots of Russian borrowings

But there is also an Orthodox chapel, a little away from the tourist part, on a small peninsula at the lake. The chapel is a copy of Ägläjärvi chapel in Korpiselkä. There is a separate word for Orthodox chapels in Finnish, tsasouna, from Russian часовня; while Lutheran chapels are called kappeli.

There is also a monument to the citizens of Suojärvi who died in Soviet internment camps in the Winter War of 1939-1940. Very few Finnish civilians in either Winter War or Continuation War of 1941-1944 were imprisoned by the Soviets; nearly all were successfully evacuated, a huge and rarely remembered feat. But Suojärvi, awkwardly located at the border, was one of the few places that unfortunately weren't fully evacuated in time.

Among the victims of Winter War is also Ogoi (Agafia) Määränen, a famous Karelian rune-singer from Suojärvi, who managed to return to Finland after Soviet camps, but died soon afterwards in Helsinki in 1940. A monument to her stands next to the Bomba house. Barely any real singers of so-called runes, Finnish/Karelian folk poems, are alive anymore.

Nurmes is very beautifully located, with many great lake views right from the city center. However unlike many other towns at Pielinen and Saimaa shores it never had especially large industry, and I'm not sure if there is still any commercial shipping.


Beach at Pielinen

Boat harbor at Pielinen

Some timber industry


The town does have a railway station, also a rather pretty one, opened in 1911. This is the end station for railbuses from the city of Joensuu; the railroad continues on to Kontiomäki near Kajaani, but that stretch has no passenger traffic.

Monument to the 75th anniversary of this railway station, from 1986

There are some old carriages and engines stored at the station, near the old roundhouse. There is a museum train based here (of Höyryraide company), although I'm not sure if all carriages are actually owned by the museum train, or if some are just stored in reserve.

That's about it with the interesting parts of Nurmes. The very center, with its central square (tori) and buildings around it, isn't all that old and pretty. There are some multi-storey residential buildings as well.


New school building

Cute old hotel

Residential area

Bus station

City administration



Nurmes is actually effectively a twin town; the center is the southern part, and the northern part, Porokylä (Finn. Reindeer Village), also doesn't have much, not even lake views.

Porokylä center

Joensuu-Kajaani-Oulu bus passes through Nurmes between Joensuu and Kajaani, here pictured in Porokylä


North Karelia is famous for its nature, but Nurmes area in particular doesn't have major nature sights. But they are not too far away; as many as three national parks (Koli, Tiilikkajärvi, Hiidenportti) are within 60 km distance, just outside the municipality limits.

Nurmesjärvi lake
Nurmesjärvi lake

Saavutettavuus joukkoliikenteellä: Railbuses from Joensuu (two per day), buses between Kajaani and Joensuu. (Kajaani and Joensuu easily reachable by train.)


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