The Senate Palace, or the Government Palace is one of the three large building projects which Engel was urgently to undertake upon his arrival in Helsinki in 1816. Out of the three, the Government Palace on the eastern side of Senate Square was the most prominent, and truly massive compared to any of the older buildings existing.
The palace was built to accommodate the Senate of the autonomous country, but as an ever-present building on the central square it also symbolised the benevolence of the Emperor and the power of Mother Russia.
The original 1818 plan comprised a main wing facing the Senate square, four pavilions in each corner of the block and lower annexes spanning between each pavilion, enclosing a secured courtyard at the centre of the block. The three-storey main wing still appears very much as it did in 1822 when it was inaugurated, the other wings being altered throughout the years and now matching the height of the main wing.
At the start of the 20th century an extension was built in the centre of the block splitting the courtyard in half. Despite the various alterations made over the years, all the facades are dominated by the classical details Engel introduced. Over time the colour of the building has varied mainly in different shades of yellow, however, a period of pink has been recorded in the late 19th century. The change in fashion and ideals is also noticeable in the windows which originally were six-paned but are now late 19th century replacements with a T-shaped muntin and three panes.
The most festive and fascinating interior of the main wing is located in the middle of the main floor. The former Senate Assembly Hall, now the Presidential Room is oval in plan and both ends of the chamber are emphasised with a row of gypsum marble, or scagliola, finished columns.
Equally striking is the main stairwell and the dainty stair structure supported by brick vaults, an arrangement that kindled great pride in the designer himself. In June 1904, the staircase received controversial attention when a patriotic activist Eugen Schaumann assassinated the sitting governor-general who had vigorously supported the Russification of Finland.
text: Kati Winterhalter