Currently there are fourteen World heritage sites in Sweden, places or areas that are so important to the history and development of man, or to the planet we live on that they are listed by UNESCO as worth protecting for future generations. To visit them all may be too hard even for the most dedicated traveler (and after all, it’s a vacation you’re after, not hard work…), but if there is such a place nearby where you’ve decided to spend your holiday, it would be shame to miss it, wouldn’t it? So, let’s pick a few of these really spectacular sites from north to south, and for the rest there are two informative websites listed at the end of the article – choose your own particular favorite site to visit from them!
Let’s start with Laponia, in the far north. The term Laponia is used to describe the cultural landscape of the Saami people and one of the last large wildernesses of Western Europe. It consists of the four national parks of Muddus, Sarek, Padjelanta, and Stora Sjöfallet, and the nature reserves of Sjaunja and Stubba. Hiking and trekking in these areas will bring you close to a fantastic nature with everything from glittering mountain lakes to sharp peaks, glaciers, and narrow mountain valleys. There are paths to follow, some with cabins for staying overnight – enquire at the specific information offices of the respective park to get detailed information!
But nature and wildlife is not all there is. Since prehistoric times Laponia has been inhabited by the nomadic Saami people, and it is one of the best-preserved examples of a nomadic area in northern Scandinavia. Modern technology of course has changed both reindeer herding and the Saami lifestyle, but this is as it should be – there is no hankering for the picturesque in the modern day Saami world, and you get a unique opportunity to see how a traditional society has incorporated both technology and modern problem solving into their culture (which is not to say that all problems are now solved and that all Saami as happy as can be).
Visit Jokkmokk and its museum of Saami culture, where you may get a deeper understanding of nature, life and culture in the Swedish mountains and information for your further Laponia travels! The first week in February Jokkmokk is the place of a famous Saami market as well. This is an occasion for wearing traditional costume, selling beautiful horn jewelry and embroidery with tin threads, leatherwork and many other things. You’ll get the opportunity of tasting both Saami and traditional Swedish food – only beware of getting hot coffee with a slice of cheese in it, in the northern Saami/Swedish fashion! (Websites to visit: laponia.nu , jokkmokk.se and ajtte.com)
If we stay on in the north for a while, another Worl Heritage Site is Gammelstad (Old Town) in the town of Luleå on the Baltic coast. Gammelstad is what was called a “Church town”, which means a group of houses and stables used by parishioners who lived far away from the church. They stayed here during the big church holidays, since the long distances made it difficult to get to service and home again on the same day. One might have thought people would perhaps skip church attendance in these circumstances, but with the Reformation came strict control of the religious life – skipping was not an option. Staying the Church Town was not all about church, however. In Gammelstad there developed a large marketplace and there were people who lived on trade and commerce here the year round, so going here meant time for doing errands and meeting friends as well.
The town was built in medieval times, but the church houses were used in the traditional way right up to the 1950’s. Together with the 14th century church this is a very special environment –and easy to visit if you’re travelling the east coast of Sweden. Since no one will check out on your proper Lutheran behavior nowadays, you may combine culture with a pleasant boat trip to the beach at Klubbviken and immerse yourself in salt water instead of sight-seeing for a while. (Websites to visit: visitlulea.se and klubbviken.se)
Leaving the north of Sweden for Dalecarlia’s smiling agricultural landscape, the town of Falun with its Great Copper Mountain is a monument of Sweden’s history as an industrial nation. Falun received town-privileges in the mid-17th century and the mine buildings you see are from that epoch. But copper mining had been important long before that – in fact it may have started already in the 8th century! There is a mine museum to visit, but the main attraction is of course the visitor’s mine, where a guided tour will tell you of the hardships endured by ancient miners. What about being swung down a shaft in a basked and jumping off into a hole in the shaft wall into a tunnel opening at just the right moment? Or getting lost, dying and then being preserved for ever more in a copper-rich pool of chemical solution, which happened to the unlucky miner “Fat Mats”? When eventually found some sixty years later his aged fiancée had the chock of her life seeing his youthful corpse! But don’t worry, taking the elevator 55 metres below ground level will not test anything but your claustrofobia.
Remember also to look at the huge mountains of rusty-colo0red stone debris, to peer down into the large crater left after a caving in of the mine in the 1687, to stroll through the town and its red houses that were once worker’s quarters and to order Falu Sausage for your lunch (The ropes for the baskets swinging miners down into the mine where made of oxen’s guts and the rest of the animals were turned into sausages the story goes – although nowadays, they are mostly made of pork.) (Website to visit: falugruva.se/sv/Kopparberget)
One of the most famous World Heritage sites in Sweden is of course the Viking town of Birka, on the island Björkö in lake Mälaren, within easy reach of Stockholm. Birka was a trading hub established already in the 8th century and drawing visitors from near and far. The opposite island of Adelsö is the place where the king resided , keeping order in what was the largest Swedish town at the time (a whopping 700 inhabitants). Don’t miss visiting this, since here you’ll also find lots of reminders of Viking Age kings, chieftains, and farmers. For instance, at the medieval church there are a number of large burial mounds, the three biggest of which are called the Kings’ Mounds, and you may still look upon a rune-stone placed to face approaching boats in the ancient harbor. The royal estate from the Viking Age was situated up on a ridge on Adelsö, where later the medieval castle of Alsnöhus was later built.
Birka was abandoned in the 10th century, and this also put an end to the unique fact that Pagans and Christians lived side by side in a Swedish community – notwithstanding the efforts of Saint Ansgarius, the Apostle of the North.
Today, you’ll find at Birka a museum in the entrance area, a reconstructed town block with all sorts of Viking crafts and activities going on, a path through the archaeological area with its grave mounds and a monument to Ansgarius. (Websites to visit: destination-stockholm.com/sights/birka.htm and stromma.se/birka)
Let us finish this choice of World Heritage Sites with the Naval Port of Karlskrona in Blekinge in the extreme south of Sweden.
When the port was founded in 1680 it was one of the most modern and most efficient naval bases of the time, and Karlskrona’s naval heritage has been continued down to our own times, with over 300 years’ unbroken activity in the naval base and the shipyard.
Karlskorna is intimately linked to what is called “Sweden’s Age of Greatness” in the seventeenth century. This was Sweden’s bid at imperialism and Sweden was a huge state at the time, comprising present-day Finland, Estonia, Latvia, and parts of northern Germany. These countries may perhaps not think that “greatness” would be the right word to use for this occupation, and few Swedes today would maintain that this actually was a glorious epoch – but the fact remains that there was an increasing need for a naval base in southern Sweden to defend this mega-state.
The answer was to found Karlskrona in the middle of Sweden’s Baltic empire, immediately creating the biggest workplace in the kingdom.
Today the buildings of the naval base are well preserved, a perfect place to study the architecture, art and technology of the 17th century. The Swedish Navy still has one of its headquarters here, and shipbuilding is still carried on, so you’ll be visiting a living environment and not a preserved enclave. And of course this World Heritage town sits in the middle of a lovely coastal landscape with a history and prehistory that goes back well beyond the 17th century – the Museum of Blekinge in Karlskrona will help you get to know and appreciate other (and just as great) aspects of landscape history , nature and culture. (Websites to visit: blekingemuseum.se/index.htm and karlskrona.se/turism)
Outside this small selection, there are nine other World heritage sites for you to explore – from the Engelsberg Ironworks in Västmanland to the Grimeton Radiostation in Varberg, including the walled Hanseatic city of Visby on Gotland and the Royal castle of Drottningholm outside Stockholm. To get to know more you can visit these websites: raa.se/cms/en/places_to_visit/world_heritage_sites/world_heritage_sites_from_north_to_south.htm and worldheritagesweden.se/vis1.html