Varala through the years

The oldest sports institute in Finland was founded in 1909, originally to promote women’s sports and physical education. Founded by women ahead of their time with enough vision to know their efforts in sports and physical education would be recognised with time.

The original building – today known as Villa Varala – was a summertime villa built for industrialist Heikki Liljeroos in 1892. The wood used to construct the villa were from the village where Liljeroos originates from called Varala in Kangasala. This served as an inspiration for the name of the institute. Designed by engineer Karl Snellman, the villa represents the jugend architecture of its time.

The topic of raising awareness of the importance of exercise among women doing manual labour was brought up by Finland’s first labour inspector Vera Hjelt, during a summer party in Kuopio in 1906. This task was undertaken by the vigorous women of Tampere including Schreck, Lilja, Petterson and Collan as well as the mother of women’s gymnastics in Finland, Elin Kallio.

The idea of promoting exercise for its benefits for health and well-being was ahead of its time. The first gymnastics, sports and game week in the summer of 1908 revealed the need for a permanent place of education. They brought the villa to be used for summer courses at the encouragement of example architect Wivi Lönn. On May 15th 1909 the women took over and the formation of the oldest sports institute in Finland begun.

With time the institute grew and the villa served as the heart of the area for over sixty years. In 1971 the only sports museum in Finland was founded and was restored in 2010-2011. Today, there are four bookable meeting rooms available in the villa while the top floor remains a museum.

With the expansion of operations, acquiring a proper gymnastics hall for the institute became inevitable. It was designed by Wivi Lönn and it served its purpose from 1911 to 1978. Hall 2 in the Kalliola building was built on the grounds of the original hall. Other buildings now surrounding the original villa are Kisapirtti building, Majala building, and the Main building which was built in 1969.

What started as a small women’s gymnastics school at the beginning of the last century has evolved into a sports centre that is diverse, vibrant and accessible for all.