Helsinki's most outstanding landmark and favourite religious building dominates the northern side of Senate Square and can be seen from miles away. Its role as the most important Lutheran building in Finland makes it almost comparable to St Peter's in Rome, or St Paul's in London, as 85 percent of Finland's population is Lutheran.
The cathedral was originally built in 1830-1852 to replace an earlier church from 1727. The church was designed by Carl Engel as Greek cruciform in shape. Engel drafted his first plans for the Cathedral as early as 1818, and he continued working on it until his death. After many complications in the planning process, construction of the church began in 1830 but it was not ready to be consecrated until 1852. Thus, Engel never saw the church completed.
The Cathedral features external grandeur and is dominated by a high central dome and Corinthian columns on each side. It has a floor plan in the shape of a Greek cross. Engel was himself quite satisfied with the way he saw the work on the building proceed. In his last letter, written to a German friend on 3rd September 1839, he wrote: "An elegance which is difficult to surpass dominates the exterior of this building".
After Engel's death many changes were made to the church and its environs. His successor, E.B. Lohrmann, added four small side towers and two corner pavilions on the Senate Square side. The statues of the twelve apostles made of zinc on the roof, and they are the biggest unique set of zinc sculptures in the world were also added later.
The church was firstly called St. Nicholas church until the independence of Finland in 1917. Since 1959, it became a Cathedral, and was called Helsinki Cathedral or the Lutheran Cathedral.
The cathedral today is not only a religious venue, but also the scene of major state and university events, because the vaulted crypt hosts various exhibitions and concerts. The people of Helsinki also gather outside to welcome the New Year Eve. From steps of the cathedral one can enjoy a superb view out over the roofs to the South Harbour.