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A magnificent collection of images from many fine photographers. Urban and country scenes, some on aerial video.

  Main page: Nature & the Environment: SAIMAA – Finland's largest lake   

SAIMAA – Finland's largest lake

Written and photographed for Virtual Finland by
Arto Hämäläinen, environmental advisor,
Regional Council of South Karelia

Photo: Arto Hämäläinen

Towards the end of the Ice Age, landscape features were created by meltwater gravel deposits. Venäjänsaari, Taipalsaari

What is Saimaa?

Saimaa is a labyrinthine watercourse whose waters flow slowly from north to south and finally through its outflow channel, the Vuoksi, southeast over the Russian border into Ladoga, Europe’s largest lake. The Saimaa drainage region covers most of the southern part of eastern Finland, a region about the size of Belgium, extending almost to Lake Oulujärvi in the north and just over the Russian border in the east. In places, there is more shoreline here per unit of area than anywhere else in the world, the total length being nearly 15,000 km. The number of islands in the region, 14,000, also shows what a maze of detail the system is.

Saimaa was created by the continental ice sheet in the Ice Age. Ice more than a kilometre thick then covered the entire area; when it melted, Saimaa gradually emerged through various stages as a freshwater basin separate from the sea and about 76 metres above sea level.

Note: ‘Saimaa’ is used here to refer to the Saimaa basin, the central area of the Saimaa lake system or drainage region, consisting of several interconnected lakes of which Lake Saimaa proper, the principal lake in the system, is one.
See more of the author's masterful portrayals of the Finnish countryside

Virtual Finland offers lots more of Arto Hämäläinen's fresh, brilliant pictures of Saimaa which we hope you will enjoy viewing in our special slideshow. And we recommend his splendid book on the Saimaa region, "Lake Saimaa in words and photographs", published in Finland by Otava (ISBN 951-1-15434-6).


A selection of antique pictures from the Saimaa region of eastern Finland

Lake Saimaa, the Saimaa canal and the surrounding countryside in eastern Finland were popular locations for holidays as long ago as the 19th century. The Imatrankoski rapids and Punkaharju ridge were of particular interest to foreign visitors. For a glimpse of past life in the Saimaa region, we are pleased to offer you a remarkable collection of antique photographs kindly lent to us by Finland's National Board of Antiquities.


Published November 2001



What is Saimaa?

Natural environment


Settlements and people

Transport and trade


Vuoksi and Imatrankoski rapids

Saimaa Canal

Kolovesi national park

Linnansaari national park

Olavinlinna Castle




Saimaa Travel Info - Lappeenranta and Imatra Region