One of the most interesting ancient monuments in the valley of the Oulujoki river is the islet of Turkansaari, known tor centuries as the centre of eastern trade of the parts around the mouth of the river. It was not permissible for Russian traders to carry on trade farther west. The islet was also an important centre tor salmon catching, a further attraction which drew people from the surrounding countryside there.
The island of Turkansaari, situated on the Oulujoki river about 14 km east of Oulu, is an old trading center and place of salmon fishing.
Tar production and transportation
Tar was used already in ancient Egyptian mummifications circa 1000 BC. During the Middle Ages, tar had an important role in warfare in the defense of towns and fortresses. The importance of tar was paramount during colonial times and the Great Migrations of the 15th and 17th centuries – the era of large navies. All the navies in the world consisted of wooden sailing ships.
For hundreds of years tar was the only known product used to impregnate wood and to waterproof the hulls of ships. Tar has also been available as diluted tar-water, which has been used in old fishing nets. Tar was vital as the first sealing component, or tarmac, for use on the roads. To impregnate the surfaces of the wooden ships, 1.5 litres of tar per square meter was needed.
Pitch is a product distilled from tar. Pitch was traditionally used to help caulk the seams of wooden sailing vessels and to seal roof shingles. Pitch is considered more solid while tar is more liquid. The terms tar and pitch are often used interchangeably.
Even in the 16th century, tar was almost entirely a product of Central Europe. By that time, however, the coniferous forests of the area were diminishing and the centre for the tar-burning industry moved north of the Baltic. During the latter part of 18th century, the most important tar-burning areas were in Finland, especially in the eastern and central parts of the country.
The peasant farmers used to bring the tar they had produced down the river in tar boats to be sold to the merchants of Oulu. Oulu had been granted the status of a borough and the rights to conduct foreign trade in 1765, and the tar exchange had been set up for storing the tar by the merchants of Oulu in 1781.
The bark Onni was built in Oulu
Oulu was, in fact, the leading tar exporting port in the world in the 19th century. During the best year of 1865, the export was over 80,000 barrels of tar, which amounts to 10,000,000 litres. The Oulu tar harbour was destroyed by fire in 1901, after which the tar trade declined and eventually dwindled to nothing as the age of the wooden ships came to an end.
The raw material of tar is the coniferous tree, usually pine. Birch is used to make particularly fine tar, and it used to be much more rare than pine. Preparations for a tar kiln were usually begun about five years before tar making. The lower part of the trunk of the pine trees was stripped using a barking tool, after which the trees were left standing for further three years or so to allow the resin to become concentred in the heart of the tree.
The upper part of the tree was then stripped in the same way, and it was again allowed to stand for a couple of years. Having been dried out in this way, the trees were then felled in the autumn and brought to the tar kiln during the following winter to be cut into suitable lengths. These were then stacked in the bottom of the funnel-shaped pit in the summer under the direction of the "kiln-master", and after that, the kiln was ready to start the burning. The first tar was extracted a day after the start of the burning. A trough or gully made of two hollowed-out halves of tree trunks bound together with supple twigs ran from the centre of the pit to the tunnel at its entrance, and the tar, which dripped from this gully, was collected into barrels.
The full barrels of tar were transported from the tar kilns to the banks of the rivers and lakes, from where they were shipped to Oulu in specially constructed boats. These were long, narrow vessels with no keel, measuring some 10-14 m (33–46 ft) in length, about 1.2 m (4 ft) in width, and providing space for 12-24 barrels.
An old Finnish proverb states that if sauna, vodka and tar won't help, the disease is fatal.
In archaic Finland, wood tar was considered a panacea reputed to heal all ailments. Today, tar is being used as a raw material in the chemical and pharmacological industries. Wood tar is a non-poisonous microbiological substance and has a pleasant odor. Tar is also used as a treatment for psoriasis, where coal tar is the most effective.
Wood tar is still used to caulk traditional wooden boats and the roofs of historical churches, as well as to paint the exterior walls of log buildings.
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