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The early Lappeenranta area on Lake Saimaa was a busy Karelian trade centre. It was established as a town by the busy Count Per Brahe in 1649. Queen Kristina of Sweden accepted the coat of arms depicting a primitive man, after whom the Swedish 'Villmanstrand' was unflatteringly adopted (Villmanstrand means 'Wild Man's Shore' in Swedish). Apparently jealous, Vyborg businesses lobbied against their emerging rival, and Lappeenranta lost its town status in 1683.

Following a Russian victory on 23 August 1741, and the town's complete destruction, Lappeenranta was ceded to Russia and remained part of tsarist Russia until independence in 1917. A spa was founded in 1824, but it was only after railways and industries were developed that Lappeenranta began to grow. Today the beautiful lakeside setting is marred by oversized industries, such as timber milling, that provide work and wealth to many.