More than a hundred Bronze and Iron Age fornminne (burial sites) have been discovered across the Åland Archipelago, attesting to over 6000 years of human habitation. Though all are clearly signposted, most are in fairly nondescript fields. The discovery of fortress ruins confirms that the archipelago was an important harbour and trading centre during the Viking era.
During the Great Northern War of 1700–21 (dubbed the ‘Great Wrath’), most Ålanders fled to Sweden. Further Russian incursions took place in the 1740s and 1809. When Finland gained independence in 1917, many Ålanders lobbied to be incorporated into Sweden, but Finland refused to give up the archipelago. The dispute concluded in 1921, when Åland was given its status as an autonomous, demilitarised and neutral municipality within Finland by a decision of the League of Nations. Åland joined the EU in 1995 but was granted a number of exemptions, including duty-free tax laws that allow ferry services to mainland Finland and Sweden to operate profitably.
Today peaceful Åland is divided into 16 municipalities, 10 on ‘Fasta Åland’ (the main group of larger islands). The other six municipalities cover the far-flung archipelago and its multitude of tiny islands.