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Helsinki ( listen (help·info); Swedish: Helsingfors, listen (help·info)) is the capital and largest city in Finland. It is in the region of Uusimaa, located in southern Finland, on the shore of the Gulf of Finland, an arm of the Baltic Sea. The population of the city of Helsinki is 596,233 (31 January 2012), making it by far the most populous municipality in Finland. Helsinki is located some 80 kilometres (50 mi) north of Tallinn, Estonia, 400 kilometres (250 mi) east of Stockholm, Sweden, and 300 kilometres (190 mi) west of Saint Petersburg, Russia. Helsinki has close historical connections with these three cities.
The Helsinki Metropolitan Area includes the city of Helsinki and three other cities: Espoo and Vantaa, which immediately border Helsinki to the west and north, respectively; and Kauniainen, which is an enclave within the city of Espoo. The Helsinki metropolitan area is the world's northernmost urban area among those with a population of over one million people, and the city is the northernmost capital of a EU member state. Altogether 1.1 million people, approximately one in five Finns, live in the Helsinki Metropolitan Area.
Helsinki is Finland's major political, educational, financial, cultural and research centre as well as one of northern Europe's major cities. Approximately 70% of foreign companies operating in Finland have settled in the Helsinki region.
The nearby city of Vantaa in the Helsinki metropolitan area is the location of Helsinki-Vantaa Airport, with frequent service to various destinations in Europe and Asia. Since early 2009, Helsinki has been exploring a merger with Vantaa. On 30 March 2009, the city council of Vantaa agreed to review Helsinki's proposal of a possible merger, while emphasizing that the review is not about the possibility of terminating the existence of the city of Vantaa. On 31 January 2011, the city council of Vantaa turned down Helsinki's proposal of a possible merger, with 45 votes against the proposal compared to 22 in favour of it.
In 2009, Helsinki was chosen to be the World Design Capital for 2012 by the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design, narrowly beating Eindhoven for the title.
Helsinki was established as a trading town by King Gustav I of Sweden in 1550 as the town of Helsingfors, which he intended to be a rival to the Hanseatic city of Reval (today known as Tallinn). Little came of the plans as Helsinki remained a tiny town plagued by poverty, wars, and diseases. The plague of 1710 killed the greater part of the inhabitants of Helsinki. The construction of the naval fortress Sveaborg (In Finnish Viapori, today also Suomenlinna) in the 18th century helped improve Helsinki's status, but it was not until Russia defeated Sweden in the Finnish War and annexed Finland as the autonomous Grand Duchy of Finland in 1809 that the town began to develop into a substantial city. During the war, Russians besieged the Sveaborg fortress and most of the city was devastated in a 1808 fire.
Czar Alexander I of Russia moved the Finnish capital from Turku to Helsinki in 1812 to reduce Swedish influence in Finland and bring the capital closer to St. Petersburg. Following the Great Fire of Turku in 1827, The Royal Academy of Turku, back then the country's only university, was also relocated to Helsinki, and eventually became the modern University of Helsinki. The move consolidated the city's new role and helped set it on the path of continuous growth. This transformation is highly apparent in the downtown core, which was rebuilt in neoclassical style to resemble St. Petersburg, mostly to a plan by the German-born architect C. L. Engel. As elsewhere, technological advancements such as railroads and industrialization were key factors behind the city's growth.
Despite the tumultuousness of Finnish history during the first half of the 20th century, Helsinki continued its steady development. A landmark event was the XV Olympiad (1952 Olympic Games) held in Helsinki. Finland's rapid urbanization in the 1970s, occurring late relative to the rest of Europe, tripled the population in the metropolitan area, and the Helsinki Metro subway system was built. The relatively sparse population density of Helsinki and its peculiar structure have often been attributed to the lateness of its growth.
The Swedish name Helsingfors ([hɛlsiŋˈfɔrs] or [hɛlsiŋˈfɔʂ]) is the original official name of the city of Helsinki (in the very beginning, spelled Hellssingeforss). The Finnish language form of the name probably originates from Helsinga and similar names used for the river that is currently known as the Vantaa River as documented already in the 14th century. Helsinki (pronounced with the stress on the first syllable: Finnish pronunciation: [ˈhelsiŋki]), is used to refer to the city in all languages except Swedish, Norwegian and Danish. Helsingfors comes from the name of the surrounding parish, Helsinge (source for Finnish Helsinki) and the rapids (Swedish: fors), which flowed through the original village. The name Helsinge may have originated with medieval Swedish settlers who came from Hälsingland in Sweden. Others have proposed that the name derives from the Swedish word hals (neck), referring to the narrowest part of the river, i.e. the rapids.
In Helsinki slang the city is nicknamed as either Stadi (from the Swedish word stad, meaning "city") or Hesa (short of Helsinki + slang suffix sa), with Stadi being used to assert that the speaker is native to the city. Helsset is the Northern Saami name of Helsinki.
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