Viipuri castle - and the city along with it - was founded in 1293 by the Swedes, during their Third Crusade into the area of Karelia and Eastern Finland. For a long time, it served as a border bastion between the Swedish kingdom and the princes of Novgorod, growing during the 14th century to be one of the largest, and most important cities in all of the Finnish province (as the country wasn't independent at that point). Viipuri came to be the centre of Eastern and Southeastern Finland, as well as an important centre of trade, and of the exchange of cultural ideas and innovations between the East and the West.

Viipuri, along with the rest of Finnish Karelia, was conquered and then ceded to the Russians after a war between the Swedes and the Russians in 1721. Later on, when the Russians conquered all of Finland, Karelia was reconnected to Finland to be a part of the autonomous Grand Duchy of Finland in 1812 - a cosmopolitan city with a population consisting of German, Finnish, Swedish and Russian speaking people, Viipuri stayed as one of the most important cities Finland right up until it was finally given to the Russians after the Winter War.

Pre-War Viipuri was, after independence, the second most populous city in Finland, and the prosperous, thriving capital of Karelia. Viipuri remained a nexus of trade and cultural contact, and despite the dying out of trade from Lake Ladoga to the Gulf of Finland - the ending of which had impoverished all of Karelia during the 19th century - its close proximity to the city of Leningrad and position as a major port city meant that unlike most of Karelia, it never really degenerated into a rural backwater.

Architecturally, Viipuri was a trendy and modern place, with a great amount of buildings done in the Classical and Functionalist styles by famous architects like Alvar Aalto; the era right before the Winter War saw a great amount of development and construction in the city, that really only ended with the ceding of the city to the Russians after the war.

In any case, Viipuri with its university, sport teams and cultural flowering remained large in people's memories after the war. The loss of Viipuri was an incredible blow to the Finns, a symbol of everything they lost in Karelia after the peace treaty - its strategic position was perhaps less remarkable, but its great importance probably still explains why the Finnish defence of the city was as dogged as it was during the last days of the Winter War.

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