The unique cultural environment and milieu of Lake Pielinen in North Karelia, Eastern Finland, has been an inspiration for Finnish artists for over 100 years. In the 1890’s the area became a significant cultural heritage site, as many painters, writers, poets, photographers and composers sought inspiration for their art from Karelia and Kalevala, the roots of Finnish culture.
Jean Sibelius spent his honeymoon in Lieksa in 1892, and returned to Pielinen in 1909 while visiting Koli with painter Eero Järnefelt. Sibelius described the experience in his diary: “At Koli! One of my life’s greatest experiences. Plans.” Besides Sibelius and Järnefelt, Koli was also visited by, among others, photographer I. K. Inha, painters Pekka Halonen and Venny Soldan-Brofelt, and writer Juhani Aho. The shores of Pielinen in Lieksa were visited more than once by, for example, Elias Lönnrot, the collector of the Finnish national epic, Kalevala.
Cellist Jussi Makkonen and pianist Nazig Azezian have developed cultural excursion packages so that Finnish and foreign tourists can come to sense and experience the same atmosphere and inspiration that were felt by, for example, Jean Sibelius while visiting Pielinen.
In 2015, Makkonen and Azezian hosted cultural excursions called In the Footsteps of Sibelius on Lake Pielinen that had over 200 participants from Finland, the United States and Japan.