Illustrated Travel Journal with Essays about Roman and Mediaeval History


19/07/2011
  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).

Commander's residence

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.
 
Comments:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Churchill_Fort_Prince_of_Wales_1996-08-12.jpg

58°46′09″N 094°10′09″W

I concede that Vardohus Festning is more northerly at 70°22'N

But where Vardo has fish, we have polar bears!!!
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Churchill,_Manitoba
 
Wow, what a great post Gabriele.
 
1717 puts it pretty much in the same time frame, and it looks really nice.

Ok, you may have got polar bears, but Norway still has kings who get a salute on their birthday. ;)
 
This is an extremely cool post! And no, I'm not punning even though air temp here today was 97/36 with a Heat Index of 115/46.

Great pics, as usual.
 
That must have been a cold and remote posting!
Great photographs, as ever.
 
Thank you, Paul. It could be fun to use the fort as model / game. :)

Curt Emanuel, 36°C? Yikes, that would kill me.

Thanks, Carla. I don't think the place was high on the list of favourite postings . :)
 
It may be rainy here, but it's very humid, and it's greast to see some snowy pictures:> Plus lots of interesting, different aspects of history!
 
Gabriele

Thanks, I need any thing cool. Wednesday we had 99F/37C in the shade if there was any to be found.

That following a storm with sustained huricane force winds (half way between Chicago and Milwaukee) whch put power out for four days. but it is now a comfy 32-33 degrees C.


P.S. Excellent pictures and narraitve as always.
 
Thanks for that refreshing interlude. I needed snow pics. :) And I learned some stuff too!
 
Thank you, Anerje, Hank and Constance.

Yeah, I prefer our rain and thunderstorms to the heat and hurricanes part of the US got. You always want things bigger than everyone else, it seems. :)
 
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The Lost Fort is a travel journal and history blog based on my travels in Germany, the UK, Scandinavia, and other places. It includes essays on Roman and Mediaeval history, as well as some geology, illustrated with my own photos of old castles and churches, Roman remains, and beautiful landscapes.

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Location: Goettingen, Germany

I'm a blogger from Germany with a MA in Literature and History which doesn't pay my bills, so I use it to research blogposts instead. I'm interested in everything Roman and Mediaeval, avid reader and sometimes writer, opera enthusiast, traveller with a liking for foreign languages and odd rocks, photographer, and tea aficionado. And an old-fashioned blogger who still hasn't got an Instagram account.
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Introduction

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Ring of Brodgar - The Neolithic Landscape
Skara Brae
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Post-Mediaeval Times

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Beautiful Germany

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A Tour on the Wakenitz River

Harz National Park
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Oderteich Reservoir
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Forest Botanical Garden, Göttingen
Hardenberg Castle Gardens
Junkerberg Cemetary
Wilhelmsthal Palace and Gardens

Other Landscape Sites
Oberderdorla and Hainich National Park

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Spring
Spring on my Balcony
Spring at the Kiessee Lake
Spring in the Rossbach Heath

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Summer Hiking Tours 2016
Summer Thunderstorms

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Autumn at Werra and Weser

Winter
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Winter at the Kiessee Lake
Winter Wonderland
Winter 2010

Wildlife
Birds at the Feeder
Harz Falcon Park
Ozeaneum Stralsund: The Baltic Sea Life
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Experimental
Alien Architecture
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Llama, Llama
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Spectacular Sunset
Carved Animals


Across the Channel - United Kingdom

Mountains, Valleys, and Rivers
Sheep Grazing Among Roman Remains
A Ghost Cruise on the Ouse River
West Highland Railway

The East Coast
By Ferry to Newcastle
Highland Mountains - Inverness to John o'Groats
Some Photos from the East Coast

Scottish Sea Shores
Crossing to Mull
Mull - Craignure to Fionnphort
Pentland Firth
Staffa
Summer Days in Oban
Summer Nights in Oban

Wild Wales - With Castles
Hazy Views with Castles
Shadows and Strongholds
Views from Castle Battlements

Wildlife
Sea Gulls


Land of Light and Darkness - Scandinavia

Norway

The Hurtigruten-Tour
A Voyage into Winter
The Farthest North
Culture and Nature in Norway
Along the Coast of Norway - Light and Darkness
Along the Coast - North of the Polar Circle

Norway by Train
From Oslo to Bergen
From Trondheim to Oslo

Wildlife
Bearded Seals
Dog Sledding With Huskies
Eagles and Gulls in the Trollfjord


Shores of History - The Baltic Sea

Baltic Sea Cruise

Lithuania

Nida and the Curonian Spit
Beaches at the Curonian Spit




Historia
Geologia
Delectatio (Fun Stuff)
Comblogium (Blog Roll)
Conexiones (Links)

- Roman History
- Mediaeval History
- Other Times and Miscellanea


Roman History

Wars and Frontiers

Maps
Romans in Germania

Traces of the Pre-Varus Conquest
Roman Camp Hedemünden
New Finds in 2008

The Battle of the Teutoburg Forest
Museum Park at Kalkriese

The Battle at the Harzhorn
Introduction

Along the Limes
Limes Fort Osterburken
Limes Fort Saalburg

Roman Frontiers in Britain
Hadrian's Wall

Rebellions
The Batavian Rebellion

Roman Militaria

Armour
Early Imperial Helmets
Late Roman Helmets
The Negau B Helmet

Weapons
The pilum
Daggers
Swords

Other Equipment
Roman Saddles

Life and Religion

Religion
The Mithras Cult
Isis Worship
Curse Tablets and Good Luck Charms

Everyday Life
Bathing Habits
Children's Toys
Face Pots
Styli and Wax Tablets

Public Life
Roman Transport - Barges
Roman Transport - Amphorae and Barrels
Roman Water Supply

Roman villae
Villa Rustica Wachenheim

Miscellaneous
Legend of Alaric's Burial


Mediaeval History

Feudalism
Feudalism, Beginnings
Feudalism, 10th Century
The Privilege of the deditio
A Note on handgenginn maðr

The Hanseatic League
Introduction and Beginnings
Stockfish Trade


Germany

Geneaologies

List of Mediaeval German Emperors

Geneaology
Anglo-German Marriage Connections
Heinrich the Lion's Ancestors

Biographies

Kings and Emperors
King Heinrich IV
Emperor Otto IV, Introduction

Princes
Otto the Quarrelsome of Braunschweig-Göttingen
The Dukes of Braunschweig-Grubenhagen
Otto of Northeim
The Ludowing Landgraves of Thuringia
Albrecht II and Friedrich I of Thuringia

Counts and Local Lords
The Marshals of Ebersburg
The Counts of Everstein
The Counts of Hohnstein
The Lords of Plesse
The Counts of Reichenbach
The Counts of Winzenburg

Famous Feuds

Local Feuds
The Lüneburg Succession War
The Thuringian Succession War - Introduction
The Star Wars

Royal Troubles
Otto IV and Bishop Adalbert II of Magdeburg


England and Normandy

From the Conquest to King John

Normans, Britons, and Angevins
The Honour of Richmond and the Dukes of Brittany


Scotland

Kings of Scots

House Dunkeld
Malcolm III and Northumbria
Struggle for the Throne: Malcolm III to David I
King David and the Civil War (1)
King David and the Civil War (2)

Houses Bruce and Stewart
Robert the Bruce and Stirling Castle
The Early Stewart Kings

Scottish Nobles and their Quarrels

Clan Feuds
MacLeans and MacDonalds
A Scottish Wedding


Wales

Princes and Rebels

The Princes of Gwynedd
The Rise of House Aberffraw

The Rebellions
From Llywellyn ap Gruffudd to Owain Glyn Dŵr


Scandinavia

Kings and Vikings

Kings of Norway
King Eirik's Scottish Marriages

Famous Nobles and their Feuds
Alv Erlingsson of Tønsberg


Other Times and Miscellanea

Post-Mediaeval History

Discoveries
Otto von Guericke and the Magdeburg Hemispheres
Raising a Wreck, Now and Then (Vasa Museum in Stockholm)

Explorers
Fram Expedition to the North Pole
Fram Expedition to the South Pole

History in Opera and Literature

Opera

Belcanto and Historicism
Maria Padilla - Mistress Royal
The Siege of Calais in Donizetti's Opera

Historical Ballads

Ballads by Th. Fontane, translated by me
About Theodor Fontane
Archibald Douglas
Gorm Grymme
Sir Walter Scott in Abbotsford
The Tragedy of Afghanistan


Geological Landscapes

The Baltic Sea
Geology of the Curonian Spit

The Harz
Karst Landscape
Karst - Lonau Falls
Karst - Rhume Springs

Meissner / Kaufunger Wald
Blue Dome near Eschwege
Diabase and Basalt Formations
Karst Formations

Solling-Vogler
Raised Bogs
The Hannover Cliffs

The Shores of Scotland
Staffa

Paleontology

Fossils
Ammonites


Fun Stuff

Not So Serious Romans
Aelius Rufus Visits the Future Series
Building Hadrian's Wall
Playmobil Romans

Royal (Hi)Stories
Kings Having a Bad Hair Day
The Case of the Vanished Wine Cask

Historical Memes
Charlemagne meme
Historical Christmas Wishes
New Year Resolutions
Aelius Rufus does a Meme
Rules for Writing Scottish Romances

Funny Sights
Tourist Kitsch in St.Petersburg

My Novels in Progress / Planning

I'm a bit of a writer, too; here are the novel projects on which I'm currently working

Roman Novels (Historical Fiction)
The Saga of House Sichelstein (Historical Fiction)
Kings and Rebels (Fantasy)


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Links leading outside my blog will open in a new window. I do not take any responsibility for the content of linked sites.

History Blogs - Ancient

Roman History Today
Ancient Times (Mary Harrsch)
Bread and Circuses (Adrian Murdoch)
Following Hadrian (Carole Raddato)
Mike Anderson's Ancient History Blog
Mos Maiorum - Der römische Weg
Per Lineam Valli (M.C. Bishop)
Judith Weingarten

Digging Up Fun Stuff
The Anglo-Saxon Archaeology Blog
Arkeologi i Nord
The Journal of Antiquities (Britain)
The Northern Antiquarian
The Roman Archaeology Blog

History Blogs - Mediaeval

Þaér wæs Hearpan Swég
Anglo Saxon, Norse & Celtic Blog
Casting Light upon the Shadow (A. Whitehead)
Norse and Viking Ramblings
Outtakes of a Historical Novelist (Kim Rendfeld)

Beholden Ye Aulde Blogges
A Clerk of Oxford
Historical Britain Blog (Mercedes Rochelle)
Magistra et Mater (Rachel Stone)
Michelle of Heavenfield (Michelle Ziegler)
Senchus (Tim Clarkson)

Royal and Other Troubles
Edward II (Kathryn Warner)
Henry the Young King (Kasia Ogrodnik)
Piers Gaveston (Anerje)
Lady Despenser's Scribery
Simon de Montfort (Darren Baker)
Weaving the Tapestry (Scottish Houses Dunkeld and Stewart)

A Mixed Bag of History
English Historical Fiction Authors
The Freelance History Writer (Susan Abernethy)
The History Blog
History, the Interesting Bits (S.B. Connolly)
Mediaeval Manuscripts Blog
Mediaeval News (Niall O'Brian)
Time Present and Time Past (Mark Patton)

Thoughts and Images

Reading and Reviews
Black Gate Blog
The Blog That Time Forgot (Al Harron)
Parmenion Books
Reading the Past
The Wertzone

Imaginations
David Blixt
Ex Urbe (Ada Palmer)
Constance A. Brewer
Jenny Dolfen Illustrations
Wild and Wonderful (Caroline Gill)

German Travel Blogs
Alte Steine
Blickgewinkelt
Meerblog
Reiseaufnahmen
Sonne und Wolken
Teilzeitreisender
Travelita
Unterwegs und Daheim

Highland Mountains
The Hazel Tree (Jo Woolf)
Helen in Wales
Mountains and Sea Scotland

The Colours of the World
Shutterbugs


Research

Archaeology
Past Horizons
Archaeology in Europe
Orkneyar

Roman History
Deutsche Limeskommission
Internet Ancient Sourcebook
Livius.org
Roman Army
Roman Britain
The Romans in Britain
Vindolanda Tablets

Not so Dark Ages
Burgundians in the Mist
Viking Society for Northern Research

Mediaeval History
De Re Militari
Internet Mediaeval Sourcebook
Kulturzeit
The Labyrinth
Mediaeval Crusades
Medievalists.Net

Castles
Burgenarchiv
Burgerbe.de
Burgenwelt
Exploring Castles
The World of Castles

Miscellaneous History
Heritage Daily
The History Files

Mythology
Ancient History
Encyclopedia Mythica

Online Journals
Ancient Warfare
The Heroic Age
The History Files

Travel and Guide Sites

Germany - History
Antike Stätten in Deutschland
Burgenarchiv
Strasse der Romanik

Germany - Nature
HarzLife
Naturpark Meissner
Naturpark Solling-Vogler

England
English Heritage
Visit Northumberland

Scotland
The Chain Mail (Scottish History)
Historic Scotland
National Trust Scotland

Books and Writing

Interesting Author Websites
Bernard Cornwell
Dorothy Dunnett
Steven Erikson
Diana Gabaldon
Guy Gavriel Kay
George R.R. Martin
Sharon Kay Penman
Brandon Sanderson
J.R.R. Tolkien
Tad Williams

Historical Fiction
Historical Novel Society
Historia Magazine

Writing Sites
Absolute Write
TheLitForum.com
National Novel Writing Month


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