The first settlers set foot on Åland 6000 years ago, and more than a hundred Bronze and Iron Age fornminne (burial sites) have been discovered. These are all clearly signposted, though they are in a fairly ruinous state. Åland was an important harbour and trading centre during the Viking era, and evidence has been found of six fortresses from that time.
During the Great Northern War of 1700-21 (nicknamed the 'Great Wrath'), most of the population fled to Sweden to escape the Russians, who were bent on destroying Åland. The Russians returned during the 1740s (a period known as the 'Lesser Wrath') and again in 1809.
When Finland gained independence in 1917, Ålanders were all too familiar with Russians and feared occupation by Bolsheviks. There were strong moves for Åland to be incorporated into Sweden, which was not only the Ålanders' former mother country but also their source of language and cultural identity But Finland refused to give up its island province. The Swedish-Finnish dispute only came to an end in 1921, when Åland was given its status as an autonomous, demilitarized and neutral province within the Republic of Finland by a decision of the League of Nations. Today Åland is almost a Little Sweden, and locals are more aware of events in Stockholm than Helsinki.
Although Åland joined the EU along with Finland in 1995, it was granted a number of exemptions, including duty-free tax laws that allowed the essential ferry services between the islands and mainland Finland and Sweden to continue operating profitably.