Saimaa (/ˈsmɑː/ SY-mah, Finnish: [ˈsɑi̯mɑː]; Swedish: Saimen) is a lake in southeastern Finland. At approximately 4,400 square kilometres (1,700 sq mi), it is the largest lake in Finland, and the fourth largest natural freshwater lake in Europe. It was formed by glacial melting at the end of the Ice Age. Major towns on the lakeshore include Lappeenranta, Imatra, Savonlinna, Mikkeli, Varkaus, and Joensuu. The Vuoksi River flows from Saimaa to Lake Ladoga. Most of the lake is spotted with islands, and narrow canals divide the lake in many parts, each having their own names (major basins include Suur-Saimaa, Orivesi, Puruvesi, Haukivesi, Yövesi, Pihlajavesi, and Pyhäselkä). Thus, Saimaa exhibits all major types of lake in Finland at different levels of eutrophication.[1]

View from Joutseno town in western direction.
Locationsoutheastern Finland
Coordinates61°15′N 028°15′E
Primary outflowsVuoksi River, Saimaa Canal
Basin countriesFinland
Surface area4,400 km2 (1,700 sq mi) total
(1,377 km2 (532 sq mi) largest basin)
Average depth17 m (56 ft)
Max. depth82 m (269 ft)
Water volume36 km3 (8.6 cu mi)
Shore length113,700 km (8,500 mi)
Surface elevation76 m (249 ft)
SettlementsLappeenranta, Imatra, Savonlinna, Mikkeli, Joensuu
1 Shore length is not a well-defined measure.

In places in the Saimaa basin (an area larger than the lake), "there is more shoreline here per unit of area than anywhere else in the world, the total length being nearly 15,000 kilometres (9,300 mi). The number of islands in the region, 14,000, also shows what a maze of detail the system is."[2]

The Saimaa Canal from Lappeenranta to Vyborg connects Saimaa to the Gulf of Finland. Other canals connect Saimaa to smaller lakes in Eastern Finland and form a network of waterways. These waterways are mainly used to transport wood, minerals, metals, pulp and other cargo, but tourists also use the waterways.

An endangered freshwater seal, the Saimaa Ringed Seal, lives only at Saimaa. Another of the lake's endangered species is the Saimaa salmon.[3]

About 6000 years ago, ancient Lake Saimaa, estimated to cover nearly 9,000 km2 (3,500 sq mi) at the time, was abruptly discharged through a new outlet. The event created thousands of square kilometres of new residual wetlands.[4] Following this event, the region saw a population maximum in the decades following only to later return to an ecological development towards old boreal conifer forests which saw a decline in population.

Due to its rich, easily accessible asbestos deposits, the shores of the lake are the most probable origin of asbestos-ceramic, a type of pottery made between c. 1900 BC – 200 AD.

The areas around Saimaa lake are very popular location for summer cabins as well as lake cruises.


The Russian writer Maxim Gorky went into exile near the shores of Lake Saimaa for a period of time after his apartment was raided by the Black Hundreds in the aftermath of the Moscow Uprising of 1905. He wrote to his divorced wife Ekaterina, writing "it's beautiful here, like a fairy tale".[5]

See also


  1. Making of Järven tarina.
  2. Hämäläinen, Arto (November 2001). "Saimaa – Finland's largest lake". Virtual Finland. Archived from the original on 14 February 2008.
  3. McClane, A.J. (April 1973). "Fishing: The Missing Link". Field & Stream. LXXVII (12): 144. Retrieved 20 March 2013.
  4. Markku Oinonen et al. (2014) Event reconstruction through Bayesian chronology: Massive mid-Holocene lake-burst triggered large-scale ecological and cultural change; url=
  5. Figes, Orlando: A People's Tragedy: The Russian Revolution 1891–1924. The Bodley Head, London (2014). p. 202

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