June 12, 2014


I had a lovely day yesterday with a friend who is also artistically inclined. We drove out to Gammelstad, which is Luleå´s old town, and took some photos and made a few drawings. The sky was a bit cloudy, but we had no rain, so with a jacket on it was quite comfortable. You can see my friend´s photos on her blog. We had both brought our telephoto lenses, and it was impossible to get the whole church in one shot.

Some quick history: The peace agreement between the Swedes and the Russians in Nötebro 1323 didn´t exactly specify where the northern border was, because this was uncharted territory, the land of the Laps (Sami), really. So, it became a matter for the Swedish Crown to establish a presence and put down the Swedish flag, as it were.

The first ones going out were the priests, of course, and in 1339 the first services were held in Luleå. Simple wood churches were built in every river valley along the coast, and in 1492 the stone church you can see today in Gammelstad was consecrated. By then Luleå was a thriving and even rich community. There is a lovely altar screen in the church, dating back to 1520, but the church was not open to visitors at the late hour when we got there. I am sure I will get an opportunity to go back and take some more photos later this summer.

The church is surrounded by the church village, rows of tiny houses built to accommodate the settlers who were scattered over a far too large area for it to be possible to congregate for services every Sunday. They would all come in for major church holidays and coordinate church services with markets, dances (to marry of their sons and daughters and generally have a good time), and thing, or court assemblies.

There was a harbour here, at the site where today we have the folklore museum Hägnan, where we sat for a drawing session. There is a café, but it had closed for the day. The harbour had to be abandoned in the 17th Century due to the elevation of the land, which is at a speed of about a centimeter a year. You can imagine what that does to a coastline in some three or four hundred years! The new town was built where it is today (though the working harbour is even further out nowadays), but Gammelstad has remained an important neighbourhood due to the church, which is now on the World Heritage list. It is a nice place to live, if you can afford it.

While I was drawing I was vaguely aware of my friend taking a photo of me and smiling - I reckoned I was looking funny, but was too engrossed in what I was doing to pay it much more attention than that. When I got home I realized she had used my camera, which is why she was looking so mischievous. The sparrows were quite unafraid, looking reproachfully at us for not bringing a picknick to share with them.

Old Harbour Street (Gamla Hamngatan)

Folklore museum Hägnan



  1. Since the oldest continually occupied European-settled city in the U.S. states was founded in 1565, I'm just loving the age of your sites. The photos are fascinating, and I got a kick out of the harbor having to be abandoned because of rising land. I'll bet that was a disruptive period!

    The native tribal settlements here generally have nothing left in place but mounds, which are interesting, but still... I've read that the oldest continually-occupied native settlement here is from 1150 but that they don't allow photographs. And it's out West and nowhere near me.

    1. When I was an exchange student in 1984, I toured quite a bit with a slideshow about Sweden, and spoke to all kinds of groups, from pre-schoolers to Kiwanas and Sunday school groups of all ages - the most awe-inspiring aspect of my home country seemed to be exactly that: how OLD everything was. Our local church was built in the 12th Century and had all kinds of ghost stories attached to it, involving bricked up pregnant nuns and whatnot! (I particularly remember a small boy who immediately seized the opportunity to get some sex education when the pregnant nun bit came up, but that whole thing was cut short by his teacher! LOL)

      I was fascinated by the native cultures and archeology when I was in the US, but like you say, they haven´t left much of ruins and such behind. Which is something to really reflect upon in this day and age.