Actually a whole set or complex of forts/fortresses near the town of Boden in the remote north-east of Sweden
and these days a very special tourism destination. The fortresses are partly hewn into the raw bedrock with underground tunnels complementing the armaments on top. One is now a museum of sorts, the others are abandoned and derelict.
Boden fortress actually consists of five separate larger forts, all named after the mountain/hilltops that they are located on: Degerbergsfortet in the north, Mjösjöbergsfortet and Gammelängsbergsfortet to the east and Södra Abergsfortet and Rödbergsfortet to the south. In addition there are/were a number of secondary forts, some also artillery batteries, plus support structures and observation posts.
A common feature of all of the large forts is that they are "cut" into the hard bedrock and have low, rounded iron-armoured artillery turrets on top. They all feature deep 'caponier' ditches – that's deep trenches, like a dry moat, protected by gun stations inside the walls to make it near impossible for enemy troops to get into and cross them. Mostly these ditches surround the inner fort on all four sides. A couple have these caponier ditches on two or three sides only, namely where the sheer mountain sides provided enough protection for that side without the need for such a ditch, e.g. at Södra Abergsfortet. These huge ditches are the most impressive aspect of the forts from an "architectural" perspective. It's hard to imagine how so much rock could have been cut away in just a few years of construction .. and all that without heavy machinery, just hand tools and the odd stick of dynamite.
The inside of the mountain-top forts, i.e. under the gun batteries on top, contained the support facilities and also served as a sheltered garrison for infantry regiments, on between two and four levels. Several hundreds of soldiers were stationed in each one of these large forts. They were equipped to hold out self-sustained for up to three months of siege.
But the times they are a-changing. Norway
separated from Sweden already at the time the forts were constructed and then Finland gained independence a few years later too. Suddenly there was no longer any direct border with the great threatening Russian/Soviet empire to the east, i.e. the usefulness of such fortifications became rather doubtful. Indeed, they never saw any battle "action" during their entire time in service.
Furthermore, it can be argued that this type of fortification had already become hopelessly outdated in any case – at least since the beginning of WWII
demonstrated how easy it was to overrun such dug-in defensive lines (especially the Maginot Line, which totally failed to protect France
from invasion), namely if modern, highly mobile "Blitzkrieg" strategies were applied.
Boden fortress was still deemed a safe enough place for hiding a major proportion of the Swedish gold reserves during WWII and even for many years after the war. The last cases are said to have left Degerbergsfortet only in 1982 … and allegedly nobody knows where they went from here.
Even after WWII Sweden
, although it always maintained neutrality and non-alignment, held on to its military northern forts all the way through the Cold War
too. All the while they remained a top-secret military site and an important command and communications centre.
Incidentally, Boden fortress also wrote history in terms of pioneering telecommunications technology: it was from a radio bunker constructed in 1916 just south of Degerbergsfortet that the very first radio broadcast in Sweden was sent in 1921.
After the end of the confrontation between the West (NATO
) and the Eastern Bloc
, and especially with the dissolution of the Soviet Union
and the Warsaw Pact
, the Boden fortresses became even more redundant and were eventually closed for "business", i.e. the military moved out. After one fort had already been decommissioned as early as in 1979, all the others followed suit in 1997-1998.
One of them, Rödbergsfortet, has since been turned into a museum and can be visited on guided tours in summer. The other forts are nominally out of bounds to visitors, but you can see them close up in their delightfully abandoned state of dereliction. They are not guarded, only fenced in, but even the fences aren't well maintained any longer and have holes. Some of the smaller ones can be entered quite easily. And even at the nominally inaccessible big forts there is evidence of urban explorers having "trespassed" further and possibly entered the insides of the closed forts too.
Boden itself remains a military town with a large garrison housed in extensive barracks complexes. It has a military museum and lots of military presence all round. You see soldiers in uniform in town and tanks and artillery flanking the gates to the various military complexes.
But it is those forts, both mysterious and menacing in character, that are the region's prime attraction for a dark tourist. Their appeal is not just due to the (comparatively loose) association with the world wars and the Cold War, but more so the general underground mystique of these fortifications, as well as the middle-of-nowhere remoteness and derelict state of most of them.
What there is to see: Since the forts were decommissioned they have mostly become just abandoned ruins – though very impressive ones at that (see below). Only one of them, Rödbergsfortet (meaning 'Red Mountain Fort') has been preserved and commodified for tourism. So let's concentrate on that one first:
To see the inside of the fort you have to join a guided tour (90 mins). These are offered seasonally only – from roughly mid June to mid August (winters are long up here in Lapland!). Tour groups meet at a small visitor centre-cum-café, which also has a small shop with postcards T-shirts, caps and some militaria junk.
Normally, tours are in Swedish only – but you can borrow a folder with English translations of what will be regularly conveyed by the guide (the quality of the English is a bit shaky, but you get the gist). My guide actually spoke fairly decent English himself, so I was able to ask questions whenever he wasn't addressing the whole group (all the others were Swedes) at the various stops on the tour.
The first stop is by the main gate, which is normally locked. A recording of a guard dog's bark coming from some hidden loudspeakers is supposed to enhance the "realisticness" here, but was more cause for little chuckles and smiles in our group. Peeking through the gate you can stare directly into the barrel of the gun that protects this gate from behind thick steel plating.
Through the gate you get into the main and deepest of the caponier ditches that surrounds the fort like a moat, i.e. you're at the bottom of sheer cuts into the bedrock 18m (60 feet) deep at this point. Some of the tools used in the construction of this are on display as the guide continues his talk.
Then the tour proceeds inside. Here, many of the furnishings from the active days of the fort have been preserved, some of these now inhabited by dummies, i.e. mannequins in period uniforms and such like. You get to see the hospital, the soldiers' dorms, washrooms, the kitchen and the command centre stuffed full of vintage communication technology, maps and navigation gear. A hall opposite is obviously some sort of conference or event location that's for hire. It has a bar and seating, and in a niche to the side a little shrine with pictures of the Swedish king and queen.
The real martial bits come next, as you get to see the ammunition storage and the stairs and ammo lift to the top where the big cannons are. Some in our group were even allowed to crawl into the inside of one of the gun turrets. I couldn't resist it either, but there isn't really that much to see up there.
Finally, a little door leads out to the smaller observation ditches at the top by the cannons … and to the cannons themselves. From up here you get a good view of the surrounding area, including the town of Boden to the north and the neighbouring Södra Abergsfortet to the east.
If after the tour you want to check out any of these other forts, then said Södra Abergsfortet would naturally be the nearest one to go to. As with all the big forts other than Rödbergsfortet, you can't actually go inside, but you can get up quite close these days.
At Abergsfortet you can peek into the big caponier moat directly through a locked gate. Inside you can see marble plaques "signed" by the successive kings of Sweden
. Otherwise you can walk around the complex and climb to the top of the outer moat rim. There are fences of clearly different ages. The inner one closer to the rim is mostly made of rusty old barbed wire and quite withered away by now, but even the newer outer fence has holes in it so you can – at your own risk and not entirely legally – climb through and get right to the edge of the moat. But that's about as far as it is possible to explore within reasonable safety margins …
Below Södra Abergsfortet on the northern side of the hill is the much smaller fort of Norra Aberget – which used to be a separate forward gun battery but is now completely empty. There isn't much to see other than rock walls covered in graffiti. But you can descend the stairs into this smaller fort's single caponier ditch.
From Aberget you could then fiddle your way north-east to track down the next two large forts, Mjösjöbergsfortet and Gammelängsbergsfortet. They look quite similar and at both you can get dramatic views down the deep caponier ditch moats. At the bottom, vegetation is reclaiming these places. Again, you can't see much more than the moats and the gun turrets on top of the main part of the fortress across the moat.
But there is graffiti there too especially on the gun turrets … so some intrepid urban explorers must have made it across somehow – i.e. they must have been "trespassing", as it would officially have to be called, I would presume. Looking more closely you can even spot ropes and stacks of crates and such like which the explorers/trespassers must have used to get up on the other side of the ditches. In a couple of places there were even open doors visible – so presumably some will have made it inside even. Since these other forts are said to be no longer furnished I presume there won't be anything much to see inside, but it's still an exciting idea to those of the urban explorer ilk. Maybe these determined trespassers have parties down there? But I repeat: officially, these closed forts are out of bounds to the public.
The fifth and last of the big forts is Degerbergsfortet to the north-west of Boden. This is the only one I wasn't able to see up close. The approach road is blocked by a gate and an intact fence surrounds the area. There are also some buildings that look very much in use just behind the fence so I presume there is still some sort of importance attached to the site and it may even still be under surveillance. Ironically, it was the only one that was signposted.
As if to make up for Degerbergsfortet's inaccessibility, the nearby former ancillary stronghold and former gun battery at Leakersberget a bit further west turns out to be the most accessible of all the abandoned forts. Here you can get through the gate and into the main caponier ditch, climb to the trench-like ditches at the top, and even poke around behind some no longer locked doors. Not that anything much would be there to discover inside (mostly just junk and rubble). But it's cool all the same to explore a bit further than is possible at the other, closed forts.
Also worth a quick stop is the old radio bunker, from which Sweden
's first radio broadcasts were once transmitted. Later the bunker was appropriated by the military too. There's a small information panel pointing out the historical significance of the place, but otherwise there isn't much to look at. It's a rather run-of-the-mill square-ish concrete bunker that's nowhere near as dramatic structurally as the big forts of the Boden fortress complex are. But it is completely surrounded by a bizarre tangle of rusty wires. Don't ask me what for. The inside is, again, locked.
A bit to the north-west of the radio bunker is another unusual building of some significance: the blimp shed. I know, it sounds anything but glamorous, but it is the only one of its kind in the country and its size is kind-of impressive. The huge red wooden building, also known as the balloon hangar, used to house a hydrogen-filled blimp/balloon 90 feet (30m) long and 20 foot (7m) in diameter which was used for communication purposes in the heyday of Boden fortress's service history.
In the vicinity are further military installations such as pillbox bunkers, observation points, dragon's teeth and soldiers barracks and storage buildings, but overall nothing much of note.
On balance, it's the big fortresses that count here. Rödbergsfortet as the most tourist-friendly one, the others as the most enigmatic and dramatic to look at as abandoned sites for the more specialist "explorer" type of traveller. I enjoyed both – but I realize that it is not for everyone. But if you have a certain liking of the dark aura of such fortress-y things then these examples are amongst the best you can see anywhere in Europe. If it's worth the time-consuming journey to get here, everyone has to decide for themselves …
Boden is a town in northern Sweden
's part of Lapland, some 25 miles (40 km) from Lulea on the Baltic Sea to the south-east and about 150 miles (250 km) south of Kiruna, which in turn is ca. 100 miles (150 km) from Narvik
across the border with Norway
. Rödbergsfortet is located on a hill about a mile (1.5 km) south-west of Boden, the other fortresses are to be found in more secluded locations in the wooded hills north and east of the town.
Google maps locators:
] – Blimp shed
Access and costs:
quite remote, but Boden is accessible with relative ease by train. Rödbergsfortet is open to the public in the short summer season for fairly-priced guided tours. The other forts and fortresses are more hidden and are officially inaccessible but can at least be seen from the outside.
From within Sweden
you can get to Boden with relative ease by road or train – in theory also by flying to the nearby Lulea airport, but for most visitors trains will be just fine. You can even get a train from Narvik over in Norway
which goes via the famous iron-ore mining town of Kiruna. So it is possible to "do" Boden as a three-day/two-nights return excursion from Narvik
– in fact this connection is more convenient that those from within Sweden itself. And this is exactly how I did it (in August 2012). The train fares are quite affordable provided you book as early as possible in advance via the Swedish rail network's website: www.sj.se. There are usually two trains a day from Narvik, of which the earlier one is the cheaper one, and in my view also more convenient as it arrives in Boden in the afternoon rather than late in the evening.
For accommodation in Boden there are a few hotels, some of them at quite reasonable rates (I stayed at the Niva, which is also very near the Boden C train station). For real budget travellers there is also a youth hostel and a camping ground. Boden is a small but well-equipped provincial town with a shopping centre and all amenities, including a few restaurants and various at best mediocre fast food outlets. My recommendation if you want to eat well is a place called Pär & Micke's Kök – featuring excellent food & drink
and also functioning as an unexpected embassy of Scotch single malt whiskies, some of which sometimes even find their way into the cooking! So decadent, but oh so tasty!
Rödberget is located just south-west of Boden town, about a mile (1.5 km) from the Defence Museum. So in theory it is just about walkable if you're fit enough, but most people still prefer to come by car. The route to Rödbergsfortet is partly signposted: first follow the sign "Militär historia" south out of town and cross the river and head left heading south, then right … look for the "Rödbergsfortet" sign at a small road/track branching off to the left. This track then winds its way up the mountainside and ends at the car park in front of the visitor centre.
To see the other forts and surrounding structures you will definitely need a car – unless you have plenty of time and don't mind either really long hikes or bicycle rides up hillsides and over some very bumpy terrain. To locate the various forts it's best to follow the map/GPS locators above – the locally available tourist maps of the town and region are of minimal help at best.
Getting a hire car in Boden is not so straightforward, though. The usual international car rental companies do not have offices/stations in Boden – the nearest of this type would be at Lulea airport. But that's no good if your coming by train. However, it is possible to hire a car locally from the Statoil petrol station just south of the town centre on Garnisonsgatan street. There's no online booking option; you have to phone them: +46(0)921-14322; the guys I dealt with were very helful and friendly and spoke good English.
Time required: The guided tour of Rödbergsfortet lasts ca. 90 minutes, but allow a bit of extra time before and after to check out the bits outside the fort proper and for a look in the visitor centre/shop/café.
To see the other forts you need a car to make it in a single day, otherwise significantly more time would be required if you want to hike or bike it to the various locations in the woods around Boden.
Combinations with other dark destinations: In Boden town there is the Försvarsmuseum ('Defence Museum'), which may be mildly interesting to some dark tourists too. It chronicles the military role of the place and has a model of the fortresses, amongst other things, but is more a historical museum – apart from the display of some big "toys" outside (tanks, artillery, etc.). Location: at Granatvägen 2 in the south of Boden; opening times: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., daily in summer, only Wednesday to Sunday in winter; admission: 60 SEK. I can't report on its qualities – as I did not find the time to see it, having given preference to exploring all the forts instead.
If you go by train from/to Narvik
over in Norway
, that place offers a few interesting sites too. And en route you pass Kiruna with its the massive iron-ore mines and spoil heaps. This iron ore is the reason why the train line was built in the first place and constituted the main thing that the Nazis
were after when Germany
captured Narvik as part of their invasion of Norway in WWII
. Interestingly, otherwise "neutral" Sweden continued trading its iron ore to the Nazis – while at the same time sheltering resistance fighters, Jews and other refugees from Norway … hypocrisy, anyone?
Further south within Sweden
itself, the Forsmark nuclear power station
offers a more modern aspect of (at least potentially) dark technology. And further south still, Sweden's capital city Stockholm
is always worth a visit, not only for the dark history tourist.
Combinations with non-dark destinations: The great outdoors in the endless forests and subarctic taiga of Swedish Lapland is the main draw of the region. So it's mostly those into hiking and camping in the wild who spend their holidays here (despite the mosquitoes).
There is, however, also a very upmarket type of accommodation not far from Boden that even has become a tourist attraction in its own right: the famous "Tree Hotel". To see it you don't necessarily have to stay there (which can rip deep holes in your wallet), there are also guided tours for visitors. The hotel's "rooms" are indeed tree houses, and not just any old tree houses but truly exceptional modern ones … one more extravagantly designed than the next. The prize for the absolute pinnacle of unusualness has to go to the "UFO" suspended between trees. The Tree Hotel is located ca. 30 miles (50 km) north of Boden just off route 97.
- Boden fortress 01 - Rödbergsfortet from afar, hardly visible on the hilltop
- Boden fortress 02 - Rödbergsfortet is now accessible by guided tour
- Boden fortress 03 - visitor centre and cafe
- Boden fortress 04 - through the first gate
- Boden fortress 05 - gate fortifications
- Boden fortress 06 - we go inside
- Boden fortress 07 - hospital quarters - spot the amputated leg
- Boden fortress 08 - in the surgery - spot that leg in the bucket
- Boden fortress 09 - soldiers dorm
- Boden fortress 10 - steel helmet with three crowns
- Boden fortress 11 - kitchen
- Boden fortress 12 - command centre
- Boden fortress 13 - vintage communications gear
- Boden fortress 14 - old and new
- Boden fortress 15 - Royal shrine
- Boden fortress 16 - pretty female soldier dummy
- Boden fortress 17 - stairs up to the guns
- Boden fortress 18 - amunition lift
- Boden fortress 19 - hatch to one of the gun turrets
- Boden fortress 20 - inside one of the gun turrets
- Boden fortress 21 - doorway to the top
- Boden fortress 22 - on top of the fortress
- Boden fortress 23 - the big guns
- Boden fortress 24 - the town of Boden in the background
- Boden fortress 25 - staring down the barrel of a gun
- Boden fortress 26 - Abergsfortet seen from Rödbergsfortet
- Boden fortress 27 - Abergsfortet closer up
- Boden fortress 28 - Abergsfortet - access to the inside is locked
- Boden fortress 29 - peeking into Abergsfortet
- Boden fortress 30 - Mjösjöbergsfortet
- Boden fortress 31 - the rope is probably evidence of trespassing
- Boden fortress 32 - rusty barbed wire
- Boden fortress 33 - Gammlängsbergsfortet
- Boden fortress 34 - single person guard bunker near Degerbergsfortet
- Boden fortress 35 - Leakersberget battery fortress
- Boden fortress 36 - this one is more accessible
- Boden fortress 37 - there are even some open doors, revealing junk storage
- Boden fortress 38 - Leakersberget
- Boden fortress 39 - radio bunker
- Boden fortress 40 - blimp shed
- Boden lake with Degerberget in the background
- Boden train station
- the train goes past the Kiruna iron-ore mine en route to Narvik