I live quite near Turku, but I haven’t visited the medieval castle since I was a kid. It was a looooong time ago. I have wanted to go and explore the castle for quite a while now and being completely honest with you, the most I would be interested in is the ghost and torture tour that they are organising at the castle every now and then.
I could imagine in the Middle Ages flogging might not have been the only punishment before throwing the badasses in the dark dungeons. And dungeons they have, for sure. Turku Castle has been serving as a jail throughout its history. Perhaps you know what they say; where there are old jails and dungeons, often there is also unexplained activity.
You can participate on a haunted tour in nearly every town in Finland, especially in Halloween, but very often they are also suitable for kids. How boring is that? The haunted tour in Turku Castle instead is forbidden for kids under 15 years old! Knowing this fact I’m even more interested in the content of this tour.
Unfortunately, at the time of our visit, Turku Castle didn’t give us ghosts or horror stories. They had a medieval themed tour instead. Of course, we participated in the tour, it was only 3 euros on top of the 9 euros entrance after all. No biggie.
As there’s no point of rewriting history, if interested, I’d recommend you to get familiar with the website of Turku Castle (it’s also available in English, yay). They provide extended information about Turku Castle from the very beginning until today, completed with beautiful 360 degrees images. I can’t beat that, so I chose a little bit of a different topic for this post.
Instead of the construction and war history, which neither are really my specialities, I wanted to dedicate this post to weird and silly habits from the Middle Ages that I learned during the tour about.
How did people really live inside the great walls of Turku Castle in the Middle Ages? Please join me on the tour!
People worried about their looks already in the Middle Ages
Did you know that in the Middle Ages you could tell by the looks whether women were married or single? Only single women were allowed to keep their hair untied, descending nicely on the shoulders. Married ladies instead had to keep their hair tightly tied under the hat.
Perhaps it didn’t come as a surprise for you. How about this one: Even if today all women (and why not men as well) want to have beautiful abs and slim waist, in the Middle Ages women were adding pillows on their tummies under their dresses. A woman wasn’t a woman until her side profile was shaped like the letter S.
Oh no, women weren’t the only ones having pressure about their looks nor stuffing something extra under their clothes. Instead of jeans, men were wearing short skirts and knee-high socks just to show off their wonderfully muscular calfs. If they weren’t so wonderful and muscular, men stuffed their socks to make them look like they were. Not so masculine now, huh?
Would you fancy a pie spiced with rabbit hair and poop?
People in the Middle Ages had also other super weird habits than dress codes and stuffing things under their clothes. The weirdest one was related to dinner, which had to be fancy and pretentious. No ordinary food was good enough, so when baking a pie, they often hid a living bunny rabbit or birds inside it. When they started eating the pie and took the cover off, a bunch of birds were flying away or a bunny rabbit jumping out of the pie. Such show-offs, right?
I didn’t expect that hygiene would be perfect in the Middle Ages, but would you really eat a pie spiced with bird or rabbit poop?
Our guide also told women were supposed to eat a lot of leaf gold. It was a common belief that leaf gold helps you to stay young forever. Even today leaf gold is still used to decorate some desserts and sweets; another good reason to treat yourself with a delicious cake every now and then!
Only babies and heavily sick people were allowed to drink milk
Milk was a true luxury in the Middle Ages, so only babies and seriously sick people were privileged enough to drink it. Everyone else, including the rest of the children, had to drink… this is shocking… BEER! Yes, you read correctly. The daily portion was roughly a twelve-pack per person, perhaps a bit more. Cheers!
Messages were delivered by a desperate spouse
Shocking but true: They didn’t have emails or Facebook messages in the Middle Ages! So the best way to get their messages delivered was by carrier pigeon. But do you know how a pigeon knows where to deliver the message? Apparently, all Game of Thrones fans knows this (except with crows, not pigeons. But anyway!). I’ve never watched the series, so this was completely new information to me.
The honoured pigeon was always a male pigeon with a wife, perhaps even a whole family. As cruel as it sounds, the male pigeon was taken apart from his family, all the way to the place where the message was given. With a message tied in his leg the pigeon was released and with his great orientation skills, he flew directly back home to his wife. And so the message was delivered. A bit cruel, but also very sweet.
When investigating the topic, I found that we even have a carrier pigeon association here in Finland, and pigeons are still used in many important tasks e.g. by the military. I didn’t know that either!
Guestbook from the Middle Ages
Besides carrier pigeons, some other traditions have remained to this date. Like guest books! Although the guest book in the Middle Ages was a bit different from the boring ones, meaning actual books, that we are used to.
This guest book is still readable inside the walls of Turku Castle. Can you spot the year? As a hint, I can say this guest book is exactly 400 years older than I am!
How would the job title ‘royal butt wiper’ look on your CV?
When you visit Turku Castle, there is absolutely no reason to skip the guided tour because of three extra euros. To be completely honest with you, if I didn’t have a tour guide with me, I would have just walked through these rooms without even thinking who has lived in them, when and how. I would have missed so much. Most probably I would have missed also the queen’s toilet!
Not only did the queen have her own toilet, she also had her own butt wiper. According to our tour guide, ‘the royal butt wiper’ was an extremely highly valued job. The royal butt wiper was such an important person, that he had a great chance to move on in his career and get promoted as a political advisor. I can’t help wondering how this job title would be appreciated by the employers in a job seeker’s CV today.
So, based on these facts, how would you have enjoyed living in Turku Castle in the Middle Ages?