Vardøhus Fortress

Vardø, Norway

In 1251, an embassy from the Republic of Novgorod to King Haakon IV Haakonson of Norway complained of clashes between the Norwegians and the Karelians in northern Finnmark. A Norwegian embassy was dispatched to Novgorod where a treaty (the original of which is unfortunately now lost) was signed to conclude a peace between the two countries, including the Novgorod tributary land of Karelia. The first fortification was erected by Haakon V Magnusson in 1306 and was called Varghøya. It is not known how long this fort was manned, but in 1307 the Archbishop of Trondhjem went to Vardøhus to consecrate the new Vardø Church. The earliest record still extant which defines the border between Norway and Russia is from 1326. In 1340, records show the Archbishop made further efforts to improve conditions there.

The second fortification to be built was in Østervågen (the 'East Bay') which was erected between 1450 and 1500. This fortification was rectangular with two corner bastions. It appears on various maps from the 14th and 15th century.The Captain of Vardøhus owned a share of the fishery.

By the 1730s, Vardøhus had become decrepit. The seat of government of Finnmark was transferred from Vardøhus to Altengaard. Major upgrades to the current fortress began in 1738. Vardøhus never saw enemy action until the 20th century. The last time the fortifications were on active anti-invasion duty was during the First World War. During the period from the beginning of the Second World War to the German invasion of Norway Vardøhus Fortress was an active unit under the command of Naval District no. 3 in Tromsø.

During the immediate post-war period, from 1945 to 1947, the fortress was demilitarised and used as a prison for people convicted of treason in the post-war legal purge. In 1947, Vardøhus was returned to fortress status manned by a commander and a few privates. The command of the fort is now the responsibility of the Royal Norwegian Navy, with a commander and four soldiers stationed there. Today the fort has few practical military purposes and serves primarily as a salute fortress, firing gun salutes on Norwegian Constitution Day (17 May), dissolution of the Union with Sweden Day (7 June) and on all royal birthdays.

The fortress is unique for the fact that on the winter day that the sun can again be seen from the fortress walls after the period of continuous darkness the fortress guns fire a two round salute. The gun shots announce to the school pupils of Vardø that they have the rest of the day off in celebration of the return of the sun.

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Founded: 1306
Category: Castles and fortifications in Norway

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Marion Miegapele (3 years ago)
Very interesting small museum, go inside to get information. Important to keep alive! Thank you staff for your work!
Asher Berry (3 years ago)
Beautiful and evocative, especially in the snow and the arctic winter night
Richard Tanguy (3 years ago)
Sizeable fort with a long history, first established in 14th century. Extensively remodelled over the following centuries, the defensive walls retain a star-shaped configuration, with a variety of older canons and WWI artillery guns in situ. However, there is little supporting documentation available. With no specialist knowledge either, it is difficult to discern much else.
Jens Thomas (3 years ago)
A well preserved fort with a great view!
Robert Havey (4 years ago)
A great piece of history, worth going to. easy walk if you come by shipping port, five minutes
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