The Åland Islands were part of the territory ceded to Russia by Sweden under the Treaty of Fredrikshamn in September 1809. As a result, along with all other parts of Finland, they became part of the semi-autonomous Grand Duchy of Finland.
During this process, Sweden was unable to secure a provision that the islands not be fortified. The issue was important not only for Sweden but also for the United Kingdom, which was concerned that a military presence on the islands could threaten Britain's military and commercial interests.
In 1832, Russia started to fortify the islands with the great fortress of Bomarsund. This was captured and destroyed by a combined British and French force of warships and marines in 1854 as part of the campaign in the Baltic during the Crimean War. In the 1856 Treaty of Paris, the entire Åland Islands were demilitarized.
After 1917, the residents of the islands worked towards having them ceded to Sweden. In 1919 a petition for secession from Finland and integration with Sweden was signed by 96.4% of the voters on the islands, with over 95% in favour, although serious questions were later raised regarding this extraordinarily high figure. Swedish nationalist sentiments had grown strong particularly as a result of the following issues: anti-Swedish tendencies in Finland, Finnish nationalism fuelled by Finland's struggle to retain its autonomy, and the Finnish resistance against Russification. In addition, the conflict between the Swedish-speaking minority and the Finnish-speaking majority (on the mainland), which since the 1840s had been prominent in Finland's political life, contributed to the Åland population's apprehension about its future in Finland.
Finland was, however, not willing to cede the islands and instead offered them an autonomous status. Nevertheless the residents did not approve the offer, and the dispute over the islands was submitted to the League of Nations. The latter decided that Finland should retain sovereignty over the province but that the Åland Islands should be made an autonomous territory. Thus Finland was obliged to ensure the residents of the Åland Islands the right to maintain the Swedish language, as well as their own culture and local traditions. At the same time, an international treaty established the neutral status of Åland, whereby it was prohibited to place military installations or forces on the islands.
The Åland Islands are governed according to the Act on the Autonomy of Åland and international treaties. These laws guarantee the islands' autonomy from Finland, which has ultimate sovereignty over them, as well as a demilitarized status. The Government of Åland, or Landskapsregering, answers to the Parliament of Åland, or Lagting, in accordance with the principles of parliamentarism.
Home Education has effectively been banned by the Swedish government in 2011, but is allowed by the Finnish government. Due to the island's close proximity to Sweden and because the island is Swedish speaking, a number of Swedish homeschooling families have moved from the Swedish mainland to Åland, including Jonas Himmelstrand, the chairman of the Swedish association for homeschooling.
The Åland Islands occupy a position of strategic importance, as they command one of the entrances to the port of Stockholm, as well as the approaches to the Gulf of Bothnia, in addition to being situated near the Gulf of Finland.
Åland's economy is heavily dominated by shipping, trade and tourism. Shipping represents about 40% of the economy, with several international carriers owned and operated off Åland. Most companies aside from shipping are small, with fewer than ten employees. Farming and fishing are important in combination with the food industry. A few high-profile technology companies contribute to a prosperous economy. Wind power is rapidly developing, aiming at reversing the direction in the cables to the mainland in coming years. In December 2011 wind power accounted for 31.48% of Åland's total electricity usage.
The majority of the population, 82.1%, belongs to the Evangelical Lutheran Church. The Åland islands contain Finland's oldest Christian churches, including the Church of St. Olaf in Jomala, which dating from the late 13th century is likely to be the oldest in Finland. The Åland Islands' largest church is the Church of St. George in Sund, dating from shortly after.
- Museumship Pommern
- Aland Maritime Museum
- Bomarsund Fortress
- Aaland Museum
- PAF Casino
- Mariebad public swimming pool
- Eckero Post & Tullhus