Aland Islands, Swedish Åland Skärgård, Finnish Ahvenanmaa, archipelago constituting Åland (Ahvenanmaa) autonomous territory, southwestern Finland. The islands lie at the entrance to the Gulf of Bothnia, 25 miles (40 km) east of the Swedish coast, at the eastern edge of the Åland Sea. The archipelago has a land area of 599 square miles (1,551 square km) and consists of about 35 inhabited islands, 6,500 uninhabited islands, and many rocky reefs. The bedrock is primarily granite and covered with a soil that, though mainly clay, is rich in certain areas.
Åland, the largest island in the group, accounts for more than 70 percent of the total land area and is known locally as Fasta Åland (“Main Island”). It consists of rugged granite to the north and rich agricultural soil to the southeast. Eckerö and Lemland are the next largest islands. Åland is home to about 90 percent of the archipelago’s population and is the site of Mariehamn, the administrative capital, chief seaport, and only town. Also located on Åland is Orrdals Hill, the highest point of the archipelago, rising to a height of 423 feet (129 metres). From the 19th century until World War II, Mariehamn served as the centre of a sailing fleet engaged in grain trade with Australia. Few of these ships still operate, though the colourful history of the fleet is reflected in an excellent maritime museum. Fishing, which originally brought settlement to coastal areas unsuited to agriculture, is a declining source of income.
The archipelago has the highest crop yields in Finland per unit area because of the mild climate and fertile soil. Small, highly mechanized farms produce wheat, oats, barley, rye, cucumbers, sugar beets, potatoes, and onions. The climate also favours apple, plum, and pear orchards. Ayrshire cattle dominate the dairy farms, and sheep are also raised. Tourism, shipping, and commerce and banking account for much of the nonagricultural employment. The islands are linked to Sweden and the Finnish mainland by car and passenger ferries, steamship service, and air service from Mariehamn airport. The islands’ tourist industry has expanded greatly in recent decades, with most visitors arriving by ferry from neighbouring Finland or Sweden. The islands’ inhabitants speak Swedish, which is the sole official language and the language of instruction in schools.
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