Thursday, 13 September 2018

Ales Stenar, the Stones of Ale - a Viking memorial in Skåne, southern Sweden

This is probably the most fascinating and enigmatic pre-historic monument of Scandinavia. There, writing only started by the year 1000 under Christian culture. Without that skill, limited to runic stone carvings, Vikings left few testimonies of their era; that's why this is a preciously rare heritage, dated from about 600 DC.

The ship form Alignment stands on the green covered flat top of a high cliff.

Ales Stones (Stenar)
Scania, Sweden

Coordinates: 55° 23′ N, 14° 03′ W

It looks like a funereal vessel made of 59 obeliscs standing beteween the sky and the sea, in a pasturage on top of a steep cliff near the small fishing port of Kåseberga. Ystad is the closest town. Built by whom, why ? or what for?

The answer seems to be: quite probably a burial monument, maybe over an earthed grave, and dedicated to some Viking captain capsized with his ship and crew at this Baltic Sea coast; but some think otherwise: an astrononomical purpose (like Stonehenge), for the sun is perfectely aligned with the two extreme stones ('bow' and 'stern') at both solstices.

Datation is well established, between 500 and 1000 AC, during the late nordic Iron Age. But archeologists discovered that the stones stand on a much older funereal camera from ca. 5500 years ago. Maybe the alignment in the form of a ship's keel meant the transport of the underlying deceased to their eternal abode? But here, so far away from Caronte's bark ????...

Most of the megalyths are made of granite, except two of local sandstone and one of quartzite; those are probably not original, but later apports or substitutions. We can scarcely imagine how tons of boulders were lifted and dragged up the fields, up a steep slope, and finally aligned carefully and accurately with the celestial stars.

Why 'Ale' ?

The monument was known as Heds Stenar (Heesteena) in the 18th century ( and currentlu now by the locals), and there is a mention of Stene by the 17th century. The origin of the name is unknown.

The Swedish writer and film director Hasse Alfredson supported the hypothesis of Ales Stenar's astronomical purpose in 1970. With a simple compass he verified that the central line, main axes of symmetry of the 'ship', pointed to the sun at the solstices: in Summer, the setting Sun was aligned with the bow, in Winter with the stern.

Göran Lind, teacher at Lund University, declared in 1975 he had confirmed Alfredson ideas with more sophisticated equipment. Since then, several articles, some more esoteric than others, speculate about the geometric and cosmologic coincidences without full scientific evidence.

History's best treasures are frequently the ones we don't fully understand.

Friday, 10 August 2018

Hudiksvall, hidden gem on the east coast of Sweden by the Gulf of Bothnia

- This is also to express my solidarity with the Swedish population who suffered from violent wildfires this month -

Hudiksvall, at the entrance into the gulf of Bothnia, would probably not be the Ultima Thule that Pytheas reached. But being easily accessed by boat and in the shore of Arctic waters that freeze through winter months, enjoying long daylight in summer, and still being rich in History and heritage, Hudik has all that is needed to be Thule nowadays.

The east coast of Sweden borders the waters of the Gulf of Bothnia, an arm of the Baltic Sea. Those are very cold waters, iced during winter, and well known to the old Norse sailors.
Hudiksvall is nested deep into a fjord of the same name - Hudiksvallsfjarden, along the country's east coastal road.

Hudiksvall, Gulf of Bothnia, Sweden

Coordinates : 61° 44′ N, 17° 08′ W
Population:  ~16 000

The town was founded in 1582 by King John III. At the time, fishing and the trading of furs, skins, iron, copper and wood products were the main sources of income, and the city flourished through the 18th century.

The fish business was of great importance until the mid-1800s. During the 20th century, the processing plant has grown relatively slowly and lost its prevailance.

The city's later expansion is mainly due to the timber trade; Hudiksvall developed in the latter part of the 19th century to one of Sweden's leading export ports for timber.

Fisktorget, Fisherman's Square, is a good point to start in the center of old Hudik.

Close by is the Sundskanalen and Möljen, with red boathouses aligned on the two sides of a canal that used to allow boats from the inner lagoon Lillfjärden to the large fjord.

Fisktorget and the Möljen.

Möljen means pier or quay.

The canal now connects Lillfjärden lagoon to the sea. It is 500 meters long. In early times Lillfjärden was the harbour of Hudiksvall, but the connection to the sea was silted up and in 1615 the harbour moved to its present location. Fishermen continued to use the old harbour and until the 19th century they built boathouses along the canal where they landed and sold their catch. Today they are mostly used for shops, restaurants, and only a few for storage.

The warehouses complex was completed in 1800 to provide storage. Until 1938 it was also used as a Market Square. It is paved and decorated since 1995.

Hudiksvall  is also known as Glada Hudik, a term that originated in the 19th century as word spread of its friendly hospitality and its lively social life.

Möljen is especially captivating, even bewitching, at twilight under snow.

In a summer day, it's the best place for a drink.

Also at Fisktorget, an old Phone Box still remains from the Swedish network, Rikstelefon:

But Hudiksvall has history and heritage scattered all around; let's start in the Old Church Street:

Home Bakery, Stora Kyrkogatan

The Church of St. Jakob

Building works began in 1643, and were completed in 1672. During the Great Northern War, when the Russians burned cities along the northern coast of 1721, the church received a cannonball shot through the porch window. It was the biggest single disaster in Hudiksvall's history. The local people will never forget that.

The most tragic disaster in Hudiksvall's history: in 1721 the Russians attacked, and the city was burnt in the ground.
St Jacob's tower spire has been chosen then as Hudiksvall's representative image.

The Culture House is the place for most artistic events.

Storgatan, the main street in the shoppping area, opens with two iconic statues:

Harlekin and Pierrot, Storgatan

Throughout all the town, statues decorate the urban space helping to a more human and artistic atmosphere.

Other smaller residential streets display the typical nordic charm:


Lillfjärden Park

On the northeast side of the old inlet, now a lagoon, is the town's large public park.

At Kärleksstigen (Love Trail) in Lillfjärden Park stands the famous Povl Söndergaard's Statue of Modern Youth from 1935.

In the Lillfjarden Park there is also a very nordic beautiful Rosarium (at 61º N, remember !).

During the 16th century, after Hudiksvall was founded, Lillfjärden was the innermost part of Hudiksvallsfjärden, and the city's harbour and center. But larger boats could no longer get there and the city moved to the current location.

Today, Lillfjärden is a small lake that has been flooded by Hornån, whose final stretch to Möljen and Strömmingssundet since the 19th century is stoned and is called the "canal" but increasingly evolves into a flowing watercourse.

Still in the park, the small Theater, which was the first built in Hudiksvall.

The wooden theater was built in 1881.

The theater has retained most of its original interior and furnishings. The lounge is in pink, reddish-brown, with gold-plated wood.

The Railway Station

The station building in Hudiksvall opened in 1888

An elegant design that has been kept as new.

Sångartempel på Köpmanberget

The Sanger church temple at Köpmanberget.

After 16th century texts, at this elevated site people spanned the ocean after waiting ships. Five cannons defended the city from the Russians' ravages, though without great success... In the early 1900s, the city's craftsmen and merchants created a kind of public park, and in 1910, the Sångarförbund's singing temple opened on the hill. It was well-known architect Frej Berglund who designed the wooden pavillion.

Inside the dome, listening in silence, the singing voices from the past still resound...

The singing temple is owned and managed by the municipality of Hudiksvall.

Hudiksvall is a small but vibrant town, deserving to be visited for its pleasant and quiet ambiance as well as for architecture and history.

Lillfjärden by dusk.

Recently this region of central Sweden has been devastated by wildfires, almost unbelievable at such latitudes. I wish to leave a word of solidarity, support and friendship to the nordic friends who suffered from the tragedy.