Karlskrona Maritime Heritage: Naval Base of the Swedish Empire

Karlskrona is a medium-sized city of about 65,000 people located in the south-eastern corner of Sweden. It was founded by King Karl XI in 1630 (who humbly also named the new city after himself) for the purpose of establishing the nation’s naval base at the height of the 30 Years’ War, from which Sweden emerged as a major European power. The Swedish Empire would endure for the next 100 years until a series of defeats against a coalition of nations led by Russia would bring the imperial era to an end. 

As the Swedish Empire’s naval headquarters, Karlskrona played an important role throughout this entire period of time. The historic core of the city remains remarkably well-preserved and consequently was granted UNESCO World Heritage status in 1998 for its unique naval architecture. The city is spread across a natural archipelago (group of islands); most of the maritime heritage area is located on the main island of Trosso? and its adjacent, smaller islands, while more modern development tends to dominate beyond and onto the mainland.

The Big Square

The natural focal point of Karlskrona and its heritage area is Stortorget (literally, ‘The Big Square’), which lies in the middle of Trosso?. While ‘Stortorget’ is the standard name for the main city square found in cities throughout Sweden, coincidentally, Karlskrona’s big square is also actually the biggest in the country. It is bounded on one side by Fredrikskyrkan, an impressive baroque church completed in 1744, and by the Ra?dhus, the city’s former City Hall which is now home to the Blekinge County District Court, on the other. A statue of King Karl XI, completed by John Bo?rjeson in 1897, marks the centre of the square, and additional historic buildings populated by dining establishments, shops, and hotels fill out the periphery.

Stortorget in the centre of Karlskrona is the largest historic square in Sweden_ this view shows the statue of King Karl X1 and Frekrikskyrkan
PHOTOGRAPH BY Rowdy Geirsson

From Stortorget the historic imperial atmosphere extends in all directions, albeit with the highest concentration of heritage sites lying to the south and east on Trosso? itself, as well as the smaller, neighbouring islands of Lindholmen and Stumholmen, which are easily accessible by short bridges.

Architecture and Historic buildings

Highlights of the heritage area include:

Amiralitetsklockstapeln is the city’s large clock dating to 1699. Its tolling functioned as the naval base’s equivalent of the playing of Reveille (a bugle or trumpet call) for the men stationed here. The clock is located in the middle of a park that was once the site of Karlskrona’s Bastion Wachtmeister fortress, and which begins just one block south of Stortorget.

The historic clocktower of Amiralitetsklockstapeln as viewed from within the park that surrounds it, where some of the old military infrastructure can still also be seen
PHOTOGRAPH BY Rowdy Geirsson

Located in the south-eastern corner of Trosso? is the Bastion Aurora, a stone fortress completed in 1704. This fortress was originally intended to be just one in a ring of fortresses constructed around Trosso? at the time, but a shortage of funds prevented this plan from being realized. Further along the eastern edge of Trosso?, and facing the adjacent island of Stumholmen, is Bataljon Sparre, the former barracks complex. This complex included facilities for the soldiers’ housing, cooking, exercise, bathing, and laundry.

On the island of Stumholmen itself is Karlskrona Nedre Fyr (the Lower Lighthouse); an iconic, white-washed lighthouse, while the small island of Lindholmen includes Repslagarbanan, where rope was manufactured for the Swedish fleet. Dating to the 1690s, this factory is one of the oldest buildings in Karlskrona as well as the longest wooden building in all of Sweden.

Nedre Fyr, the Lower Lighthouse located on Stumholm, can be easily viewed from Trosso?
PHOTOGRAPH BY Rowdy Geirsson

Museums and Collections

Perhaps, unsurprisingly, Karlskrona is home to a couple of stellar museums:

Marinmuseum (The Naval Museum) focuses on the history of the Swedish Navy from 1522 to the present day and is housed in the Navy’s former model-ship chamber on Stumholmen. Exhibits include a collection of historical figureheads that adorned the bows of Swedish Navy ships during the Age of Sail (typically described as falling between the mid-16th to the mid-19th centuries). There is also a Swedish submarine from the Cold War, and a tunnel that leads beneath the surface of the water to a capsule which allows visitors to view an actual wrecked ship from the 1700s still resting on the seabed.

Blekingemuseum (Blekinge Museum) on Trosso?, covers the general history and prehistory of Blekinge County and is housed in the former residence of one of the Swedish Empire’s admirals and advisors to King Karl XI.

Also in the Area

There is, of course, much more to see and do in Karlskrona, and it is best explored by foot. Adding to the unique naval atmosphere is also the fact that Karlskrona is still an active naval base—albeit on a much smaller scale than during Sweden’s Stormaktstid (Imperial Era). Additionally, Sweden’s Kustbevakningen (Coast Guard) is headquartered in Karlskrona. The presence of these active bases lends a unique continuity to the city’s defensive purpose, connecting its past to its present.

Karlskrona is still an active port and military base, which includes the headquarters of the Swedish Coast Guard
PHOTOGRAPH BY Rowdy Geirsson

How to Get Here

Travel to Karlskrona is not difficult, but not necessarily direct either. A regional airport is located nearby in Kallinge and ferries arrive at Karlskrona’s port from Poland, but arriving by bus or train will generally require a transfer or two if you are coming from elsewhere within Sweden beyond the immediate environs. Expect two transfers and a total travel time of about five hours if you come by train from Stockholm (traveling from Copenhagen is actually shorter and more direct).

Karlskrona Central Station (serving both bus and train) is located at the northern tip of Trosso?, and from it you will only need to walk 5 blocks south along cobble-stone streets to reach Stortorget.

Extra Reading

For anyone who might like to learn more about Karlskrona’s maritime heritage, Visit Karlskrona and Orlogsstaden Karlskrona provide a good place to start.

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Rowdy Geirsson

Rowdy Geirsson attempts to promote Leif Eriksson awareness but generally fails, and barely maintains Scandinavian Aggression, a mediocre blog about Vikings past and present. He is the editor of Norse Mythology for Bostonians, a humorous retelling of the trials and tribulations of Odin, Thor, and the other Norse gods as conveyed in the charmingly quaint dialect of a foul-mouthed Bostonian, and is a regular contributor of humor articles to McSweeney’s, Metal Sucks, Points in Case, and Slackjaw. He lived in Norrköping as a guest researcher of the local university in 2015. Follow him on Twitter @RGeirsson, or don’t.