My History Blog, Focussing mostly on Roman and Mediaeval Times
A Mixed Bag of Pics
Just a few things from my camera memory card which I collected those last days. Because I'm lazy like that. :)
Thunderstorm clouds, seen from my balcony
Yep, it that sort of summer again. Cold and rainy - too hot and humid - big nasty thunderstorms - cold and rainy - too hot and humid - big nasty thunderstorms ... Rinse and repeat. But it makes for some interesting clouds. One of the bands at the parade
The annual marksmen's festival is taking place this weekend. Not something I care much about, to be honest, but the parade passes right by my house and so I went out and took some photos. This one's the Fanfare Corps from Eschwege.Star spangled cheerleaders
They are not actually from the US but a local group that does some cheerleading and square dancing for the fun of it. They were one of the few more exotic sights; the parade has lost much of its appeal since horses are no longer allowed.My father
My father's member of a shooting club, one of those where the actual shooting is more important that the parties and parades, but they're obliged to walk in the Sunday parade. This is close to the final destination, and my father 'lost' his way and somehow ended up in my flat to get some coffee. *grin*Pretty flowers on my balcony
Some hanging geraniums and begonia semperflorens
. They like this weather and are growing quite spectacularly. Veiled sunset
One of the reasons I like having a balcony. That, and the herbs and flowers I can grow there. Though I need to do something about the thyme; it's busy developing into a giant shrub. :)
The World's Northernmost Fortress - Vardøhus Festning
I've heard there is a heat wave in parts of the US, so I'll stay in the north and post something cold. My readers in the rainy UK may think that it could be worse - at least it's not snowing, lol.
So let's go on a little tour through the world's northernmost fortress (situated at 70°22'N) in the long twilight of an Arctic spring evening. I loved those hours; you don't get colours and shades like this here.
View from fort to the sea
The town Vardø is the easternmost town in Norway, located at 31°5'E, which is east of Saint Petersburg, Kiev and Istanbul. That puts Vardø (and Kirkenes) in a different timezone from Oslo, but Norway keeps one time throughout. Thus the easternmost towns are 1.20 hours ahead and at odds with daylight hours (though with the polar night and the midnight sun, that's only an issue for a few months in spring and autumn). The night before there had been dawn already at 2.30 am which did feel a bit odd, but the daylight was out of sync with Germany already in Bergen - the sun sets later in the north past equinox; I remembered that from the time I lived in Stockholm.
View to the garrison barrack
Vardø lies on an island that is separated from the mainland by the 1.7 kilometres wide Bussesund. The town is connected with the mainland by a tunnel under the sea since 1984. Vardø is the starting point of the E75, the Europe Road that goes all the way to Sitia on Crete (4,340 km).
There is proof for human presence in the area dating back to Neolithic times, but Vardø as a settlement grew with the fortress from 1306 onward and became a town in 1738. It was destroyed during WW2 (though the fortress itself was only damaged) and there were plans to rebuild Vardø on the mainland, but in the end it remained where it had always been.
Main storage building (left) and well house
Vardø is port of call for the Hurtigruten
ships. The harbour remains free of ice all year thanks to the North Atlantic drift, the little brother of the Gulf Stream. Passengers usually have some time to briefly explore the fortress, but we were lucky; the ship had made good progress thanks to the calm Barent Sea and was ahead of schedule, so those interested got a guided tour.
We were met by a man in uniform, carrying a banner on a pole, with the crisp air and fast stride of an ex-centurion. "Follow me!" He actually said it in German because the majority of the passengers were German, and the rest got it anyway. Drill sergeants do that to people.
One of the batteries in the twilight
The first fortress on the site dates back to 1306 and was built by King Håkon V Magnusson in reaction to decades of border skirmishes between Norway and the Republic of Novgorod, at the time stretching from the Baltic Sea to the Ural. There never was an actual war, but conflicts about the tribute of Sami tribes. The Sami are a people living in the northern parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia (not to be confused with the Eskimo / Inuit in Siberia, Alaska, Canada and Greenland) - the area is today refered to as Sápmi.
They were knows already to the Romans, though only from tales of traders and such - even the Romans didn't go that
far north. Tacitus - in his Germania
- refers to the Sami as Fenni
(hence the names like Finnmark and Finland).
The conflict was an overspill of the war between Novgorod and Sweden about Karelia, a Sami-inhabited region (today diveded between Finland and Russia). The borders of Norway and Russia meet above that region until today, so it's no wonder things got a bit messy up there. Novgorod made peace with Sweden in 1223 (Treaty of Nöteborg); Karelia was divided between the two. In 1326, Novgorod and Norway also came to terms in the Treaty of Novgorod where it was decided which Sami tribes should pay tribute to which country, and thus a bufferzone was shaped - with the Sami the losers. That treaty actually held until the 19th century.
If you wonder why people would fight over a land with snow for six month and darkness for three .... well, it's about trade, fur and stockfish in particular. The fur trade eventually went over Novgorod (since fur came mostly form Karelia), a member of the Hansa League, while the stockfish trade remained with Norway and went via Bergen, another member of the Hansa League. Guess who was the real winner here. :)
The garrison barrack, today the museum
The first fortification - founded by King Håkon V - was a rectangular structure of 30 x 40 metres, with 4 metres high walls, and palisades. Within were a row of buildings and a well. The buildings probably didn't look very different from the grass-roofed timber houses you can still see besides the more modern buildings like the commander's residence. The Mediaeval houses
I've seen in the open air museum near Trondheim were not whitewashed, so one can imagine that the buildings may have looked more like those.
The Archbishop of Nidaros (Trondheim) consecrated the first church in Vardø in 1307, by which date the construction of the fortress is infered to have been 1306.
The landside fortress walls
Håkon V Magnusson (born 1270), also know as Håkon Longshanks (Háleggr
), was the younger son of Magnus Lawmender and became king after the death of his brother Eirik in 1299. He's the last male descendant of the dynasty that began with Harald Fairhair (850 - 933) who united several smaller kingdoms and became the first to call himself King of Norway.
Håkon moved the capital from Nidaros to Oslo in 1314 and also built the big brother of Vardøhus fortress there, the Akershus Festning
- that one really has grown over time (I've managed to get a few pics of it, too). Håkon died in 1319.
He was succeeded by Magnus IV of Sweden, son of his only legitimate daughter Ingeborg and Duke Erik Magnusson of Sweden. Magnus became king both of Sweden and Norway, a connection that was not without problems. Magnus was also the one who concluded the treaties of Nöteborg and Novgorod.
View from the walls to the fort, with the main magazine in the foreground
The second fort was moved a few hundred metres to the east, and erected around 1460. It was rectangular as well, with two corner bastions. This fortress, sometimes refered to as Østervågen (East Bay), appears on several maps from that time.
Fishing and the trade of stockfish still played an important role in the area. Stockfish, or dried cod, preserved well and it was a food allowed during Lent season. The captain of the fortress held fishing rights which obviously gave him a nice extra income. Well, you'll have to make up for sending people to such a desolate place, pretty sunsets nonewithstanding.
Commander's residence, interior (the 18th century drawing room)
England recognised Norway's rights to the Arctic Sea in 1583. Since then, each vessel passing from the Barent Sea into the White Sea had to stop and Vardøhus and pay duty. I don't know how many ships there were every year, but obviously enough to wrestle the taxation rights from England.
Vardø also saw some of the most severe witch processes in Norway in the 17th century; 88 women were sentenced to the pyre here. Unfortunately, I could not find out if the fortress itself played a role there, maybe as prison.
Cannons on the wall
(I went for an atmospheric shot here, since we all know what a cannon looks like.)
When King Christian IV of Danmark and Norway visited Vardø in 1599, he prefered to stay aboard his ship because the fortress obviously wasn't in best shape. Or he just didn't like grass-roofed timber houses.
Well, repairs seem to have been necessary. The fortress we can see today dates from 1738 with only minor changes since then. The fort was completely renovated and reshaped. The new design is an eight-pointed star, with a quadratic interior that houses the various buildings: commander's residence, the house for the officers, the garrison barrack, prison, main storage house, powder magazine, armory, and well house. Except for the slightly more luxurious commander's house, they are still built in the traditional way. The star shaped fortifications are earth walls supported by ashlar and armed with batteries.
Powder magazine and armory
Cannons and all; Vardøhus never saw any action until WW2. When Germany invaded Norway, Vardøhus first served as POW camp for German prisoners, then as field hospital and as radio station. There was one German airborne attack on the fort in 1940 that damaged the radio station, but was repelled by the anti-aircraft defence missiles mounted on the fortress walls.
The Germans occupied Vardø from summerr 1940 until 1944. They added more coastal artillery defenses and used the fort as headquarter. When they retreated, they destroyed the town and dismantled the batteries along the shore, but for some reason left the fortress intact albeit a bit worse for the wear.
Another view from the fort to the sea
Today the fortress is subject to Akershus Command. It's still garrisoned by a commander and four men and has salute duties (National Day, royal birthdays and such). The most unusual of those is the firing of two rounds when the sun first appears in full over the horizon after the polar night on January 21. It's a holiday in northern Norway and the kids get a day off at school.
We went back aboard the ship where it was soon time for a nice dinner. Dinners usually involved fish or reindeer, and yummy desserts.
To the South Pole - The Fram Museum in Oslo, Part 2
Here we go on our second expedition with the Fram (actually, it's the third voyage the ship made, but the more interesting one: Roald Amundsen's little trip to the South Pole. :)
The post will be illustrated with photos of the interior of the Fram. The interior of the ship is very dark and cramped. They did put in some lamps but you still get a feel how it must have been like when the Fram drifted through the Polar night.
The cabins were small: a bunk bed that doubled as seat, with storage room underneath, a nightstand with drawers that also served as work table, a few hooks and a bookshelf in some cabins. My cabin on the Hurtigruten tour was quite a bit larger. :)
Interior of the Fram, mess room
(The grammophone and piano were the few traces of luxury.)
Roald Amundsen (born 1872) came form a family of shipowners and captains; he soon abandoned his studies of medicine in order to become an explorer. His first independent tour led him through the Northwest Passage (1903 - 1906) on a rather small yacht called Gjøa
. He traveled via Baffin Bay and stayed in Gjøa Haven (Nunavut, Canada) for two winters; until he eventually managed to clear a way to Beaufort Sea and from there into the Bering Strait, thus completing the navigation of the Northwest Passage.
During the time Amundsen spent in Nunavut, he became fascinated with the culture of the Inuit. He learned a lot from them: to build an igloo, to coat the sledge runners with ice to speed them up, to hunt with a harpoon; the advantages of sealskin clothes (the Goretex of the time) compared to the heavy woollens of western people. All this would prove useful on his later expeditions.
The Fram Museum displays pieces of the equipment in the cabins. Most of those are protected from the public by glass windows in the doors, So it was photographing through glass again, and with bad illumination to boot. Fun.
For his next expedition, Amundsen planned to reach the North Pole. He wanted to use the same approach as Nansen: having a ship drift with the ice, but starting from a different point - the Bering Strait - that would get him closer to the pole. But then news spread that Frederick Cook and Robert Erwin Peary (both Americans) claimed to have reached the Pole in 1909, which made Amundsen's plan sorta pointless - reaching a particular spot in a vast desert of ice and planting a flag there only counts if you're the first to do so.
Amundsen had already gotten the Fram
for his expedition (which he equipped with a Diesel engine) and collected some money, so he merely changed his plans, all in secret, too - only his brother and the captain Thorvald Nilsen learned about it. Since reaching the Bering Strait would have meant sailing south and around Cape Horn anyway, he aimed for the South Pole instead. One of the reasons Amundsen was so sneaky about the changed destination was the fact that he didn't want to alert Robert F. Scott of the competition too early. The British marine officer had planned to set out for the South Pole in August 1910.
Amundsen picked 18 men to accompany him (though some would remain on the Fram
while the pole expedition was going on; the ship should meanwhile explore the southern Atlantic). One of the members was Hjalmar Johansen who had been with Nansen in 1896, and it seems that Amundsen felt somewhat pressured to accept him.
One of the cabins; probably the one of the carpenter Olav Bjaaland
left Oslo on August 10, 1910 and reached Funchal / Madeira on Sept. 9. Here Amundsen informed the men about his intention to go for the South Pole instead of the North Pole. They all enthusiastically agreed to accompany him. Well, they must have been the adventurous types anyway and probably didn't care whether they got their frostbites on the South Pole instead. Amundsen's brother Leon would inform the public and the Norwegian government (which finally found out where their money really
went). Amundsen also sent a telegram to Robert F. Scott, "Beg leave to inform you. Fram proceeding to Antarctic. Amundsen." Scott got that unexpected invitation to a race to the South Pole in Melbourne in October 1910.
The Fram rounded the Cape of Good Hope and proceeded south-east into the Ross Sea where she anchored in the Bay of Whales on January 14, 1911. The Bay of Whales was the southernmost place to be reached by ship, and a good hunting ground for seals and penguins - fresh meat was needed to enrich the diet and avoid skorbut, as well as to feed the 116 dogs. That's a lot of dogs, btw, I don't want to imagine what noise they made during the voyage; the ones in Kirkenes were loud enough.
Eight men would participate in the Pole expedition, the rest remained on the Fram
. Amundsen had brought a pre-fabricated cabin that was now set up as main building of the base the men called Framheim
. The cabin was 7.8 x 3.9 metres, with two rooms, one serving as kitchen, the other as sleeping and living room. Above was a garret for storage. Other storage was kept in deposits around the cabin (esp. 60 tons of fresh meat); a workshop and a sauna were added, and all the buildings connected by tunnels so the men had to stay outside as little as possible during the southern winter.
Amundsen began to set up depots some way towards the pole, so the team would have to carry less from the beginning. Those trips took several days, but it was worth the effort - the weight / provisions ratio was going to be a problem during longer tours (remember, Nansen had to turn back before reaching the North Pole because he was running out of food). The main depot was at 80°S. The men spent the winter improving their equipment (fe. they managed to get the weight of the 3.6 metres long sleds down from 156 to 53 pound without losing stability).
(The ski were 1,8 metres long and made of hickory wood
The first attempt to reach the Pole started on Septermber 8. Eight men set off with seven sleds, some 90 dogs, and provisions for 90 days, but they soon realised that they had started too early - something Hjalmar Johanson obviously had warned about. The temperature fell to -56°C, too cold even for the dogs. Amundsen decided to travel only as far as the depot 80° and leave most of the provisions and equipment there. They reached the depot after six days and fought their way back. A number of dogs died. What exactly happened isn't so easy to determine. The Museum Guidebook has a very short account of the expedition that doesn't include this first failed attempt. Looking around in the internet gave me a few contradictory versions, but the most likely seems to be that the return journey was disordered. Amundsen who had the fastest dog team, got ahead, and the others followed as best as they could, leaving Johansen and Kristian Prestrud without tent and cooking gear when a blizzard hit. Johansen, who must have been a very strong man, carried the exhausted and frostbite-suffering Prestwick back to the camp, saving his life.
Johansen confronted Amundsen about this, in Johansen's eyes, bad leadership, starting too early in the season and not keeping the team together in difficult conditions. To reestablish his authority, Amundsen excluded Johansen from the expedition to the Pole, setting him and Prestrud and a third man to exploring King Edward VII's Land instead. The two versions are basically that either Johansen was a troublemaker with a drinking problem who needed to be put in his place and Amundsen did the right thing, or Amundsen was a meanie who punished Johansen because he was afraid of the man's greater experience.
The truth, as usual, seems to lie in the middle. My impression from - admittedly limited - research is that Amundsen could not risk quarrels, side-taking and a possible divison among the men on a such a dangerous mission and that he was right to settle things by excluding Johansen from the main expedition. But that he gave the command of the sub-expedition to the inexperienced Prestrud who was younger than Johansen and a lieutenant of the Norwegian marine while Johansen was a retired captain, must have hurt Johansen, and could imho, have been avoided.
Inuit style sealskin clothes
On October 20, Amundsen and four other men set out again with four sleds and 25 dogs. The sleds were only for transport; the men moved by ski. The temperature was now a comfortable -20°C to -30°C. *grin* They crossed the Ross Shelf (which is the size of France, to give you an impression of the dimensions), leaving a few depots on the way to have provisions on the way back and travel more lightly. One not so nice but necessary measure was the killing of dogs (which were fed to the other dogs) when they were no longer needed because of the lessened weight of the sleds.
They reached the barrier between the shelf and land, the Transantarctic Mountains, on November 17. Try crossing the Alpes with dog sleds and at temperatures that would make even penguins put on an extra fur cloak, and you get an image of what it must have been like. But the men managed to make pretty good time until they came across a glacier halfway up, the Axel Heiberg Glacier. Amundsen decided to tackle it instead of going around. When the men reached the plateau, they promptly got hit by one of the blizzards the travel catalogue had promised, which lasted for days. They had to cross another glacier which they named 'Devil's Ballroom' because it was it was full of crevices, often hidden under a layer of caked snow. Several times a man or some dogs broke in, but they all survived.
The Antarctic Polar Plateau, situated 3000 metres above zero, is the most desolate place in the world. The penguins don't go that far - it's about 1000 kilometres from the open sea; and if other birds get there, they've been driven in by a storm and won't survive because of lack of food and water. It sounds odd, with all that ice and snow around, but the climate in the inner Antarctic is very dry. During the polar night, the temperature can go below -80°C (one of the reasons Amundsen traveled during the southern summer). But all that doesn't prevent us curious humans from having several research stations there.
Another view into a cabin, with sealskin boots and harpoons
The men reached the South Pole on December 14, 1911. They planted the Norwegian flag into the ice and rested a few days in a temporary camp which they called Polheim
. They had journeyed 1400 kilometres with a daily average of 25 km - not bad considering they had to cross the mountain ridge and two glaciers which slowed them down during those days.
They set out for the return journey on Dec 18. Amundsen left a tent behind and a letter to the King of Norway which Scott should take, in case Amundsen would not survive. The men found a better way to traverse the Devil's Ballroom this time, and later followed the Axel Heiberg Glacier all the way back down to the Ross Shelf. Amundsen's strategy of setting up depots on the way paid off; there doesn't seem to have been any shortage of provisioins, fire wood and other necessary things. The average on the return journey was 36 kilometres per day.
Amundsen and his men returned to Framheim on January 26, 1912. They had covered a distance of 3000 kilometres in 99 days - with ski and dog sleds in a hostile landscape.
Robert F. Scott reached the Pole on January 17th. He became the true tragic hero because of his - and his mens' - death and the struggles he described in his diary. It is true that Scott's expedition suffered from particularly bad weather on the way back, but Scott had also made several mistakes. He used ponies, motor sledges and dogs, but the ponies died, the sledges worked but unreliably (and the fuel cans leaked in the cold), and none of his men was a musher (like Amundsen). The men had do drag the sleds themselves most of the time and made an average of 13 km per day. Scott had brought too little provisons and in the end, tragically, missed a major depot by only a few miles.
Surgical instruments and some shooting equipment
(Amundsen didn't bring a surgeon, but sent two of his crew to attend medical courses. Luckily none of the men got seriously ill, and the wannabe surgeons seem to have been able to deal with frostbites.)
Meanwhile, the Prestrud / Johansen team went eastward to explore King Edward VII-Land. While the expedition was first of all aimed at reaching the South Pole, research also played a role. The Fram
woud come home with a lot of data and samples the men collected. Here, closer to the sea, the men actually found some mountains that were not completely covered by snow, and brought samples of moss covered rocks with them.
meanwhile had returned to Buenos Aires with the remaining crew. After some repairs, she set out to explore the southern Atlantic on June 8, 1911. The men measured the depth of the water in different places, its temperature, took plankton samples, and did lots of other research. There's a display of several instruments, hydrometers, thermometers and whatnot in the museum.
returned to the Bay of Whales on January 9, 1912 and took up the members of the land crew. She set out for the voyage back home on Jan. 30. Thus, the Fram
had sailed further north (85°6'N) and south (78°5'S) than any other wooden ship.
On March 7, the Fram
reached Hobard in Tasmania, from where news of the successful expedition to the South Pole reached the public.
Cabin, nightstand with miscroscope
Amundsen sent Hjalmar Johansen ashore in Hobard, with barely the means to travel home to Norway on his own. That act effectively excluded Johansen from sharing in the fame of the other members of the expedition, and it would indeed take until 1997 when a biography about him appeared to restore his role in the eyes of the public (Ragnar Kvam, The Third Man
). But I'm not to decide whether this was an act of petty revenge from Amundsen or a necessary measure. Johansen was not the most stable personality (he had problems with alcohol and was bound to depression), so he may have caused trouble during the return voyage by confronting Amundsen again. The Fram
was too small to get out of each other's way, after all.
But whatever the reason, Johansen did save Prestrud's life and was a member of the expedition, so he should have gotten some acknowledgement during his life, and that was denied him. He committed suicide in 1913.
returned to Norway on July 16, 1914. She had been destined to be one of the first ships to cruise the newly openend Panama Canal, but the opening was delayed, so Amundsen decided to travel round Cape Horn instead. He already had plans for another expedition, though not on the Fram
who was allowed to retire.
Roald Amundsen disappeared during an airborne rescue mission in the Barent Sea in 1928. His body was never found.
Only a little intermediate post today. Sort of fits the weather, though. We got our summer in April and now it's autumn, at least on the temperature and rain scale.
So let's visit the bearded seals in the Polaria in Tromsø, a mix of aquarium, museum, and research centre. Polaria was established in 1997, in order to make people acquainted with the Arctic flora and fauna, and environmental problems. It is part of the Polar Environment Centre, an institution which includes a number of research bodies, among them the Norwegian Polar Institute.
The seal swimming pool in the Polaria
Seals are cute, and that's reason enough to post some photos. Unfortunately, they were the only ones I could catch with my camera. There's a big aquarium with a walkthrough tunnel and all, but it's impossible to get pics through the glass. Arctic waters are no sunlit coral reefs, but amazingly full of life nevertheless.
At the time I visted Polaria
, there were six seals, but not all of them full grown. They get fed twice a day, but the little tricks they have to perform are not so much for the vistors but to mentally stimulate the seals which are quite intelligent animals.Those humans always make us work before we get that fish
Bearded seals (Erignathus barbatus
) are medium sized seals that can reach a length of about 2.25 to 2.7 metres (7.4 to 8.9 foot) from nose to tail, and weigh about 275 to 340 kg (600 to 750 lb), with a body fat content of 30-40%.
No wonder they are the favourite dinner of polar bears. Seals are also a main food stock of the Inuit who not only use their meat and blubber, but the rest of the animal as well. The traditional Umiak boats are covered with seal skin, for example.
Both sexes are the same size. Other distinguishing features of bearded seals are the square fore flippers and the thick bristles on the muzzle. That's why we're called Bearded Seals
Bearded seals feed on small prey found on the ocean ground, like clams, squids, and fish. That's where those whiskers come handy; they serve as feelers in the soft bottom sediments. Bearded seals prefer the shallower coastal areas and seldom dive deeper than 300 metres (980 ft) though they have been spotted at 450 metres (1480 ft) on occasion. Esp. the younger ones are more adventurous.
Pups are born on drifting floes in shallow water in spring (late April / May). They weigh 30-40 kg and they grow. Fast. About 3 kg a day. It takes about 8 litres of mommy's milk every day during the 18-24 days mom feeds the pup. You have to hurry things up in the short Arctic summer. Baby seals also get into the water a few hours after they've been born, and soon become good divers. Lazing out on fake ice in a polar bear-free zone
The mother will stay with the pup and protect it for some time after it is weaned, but a new mating cycle takes place immediately. The bearded seals - like many Arctic mammals - have a delayed implantation; that means, the embryo will only start to develop a few months after the egg has been fertilised. Thus the gestation period is 11 months but the active part only 9 months.
Males are territoriall. When they want to proclaim their territory or attract a female, they emit a long, warbling note ending in a sort of moan; their 'song'.