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The region had its beginnings in 1229 when a Catholic settlement was founded at Koroinen, near the present centre of Turku. Work soon started on the new church (consecrated in 1300) and the Turku Castle. Both the early Catholic Church and the Swedish administration ran what is present-day Finland from Turku, which was at times the second-largest town in Sweden. Fire has destroyed Turku several times during the centuries.

Turku was named Åbo by Swedish settlers because it was a bo (settlement) on the Aura River (å). The Finnish name, Turku, is an archaic Russian word for 'marketplace' - the city's market has long been one of the largest and finest on the south coast. Turku has a thriving university - the first in Finland, founded in 1640 - a cultural spirit, and proud residents, some of whom are still irked that Helsinki took over as Finland's capital back in 1812. The longstanding joke among its loyal residents is that after Turku spread culture to the rest of Finland, it never returned. The number of art and antique shops around tend to contradict this though.

The city is also famous throughout Finland for its processed mustard; Turun Sinappi, though now controversially produced in Sweden, remains an icon of the summer barbecue.