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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User Reviews

Marion Miegapele (4 years ago)
Very interesting small museum, go inside to get information. Important to keep alive! Thank you staff for your work!
Asher Berry (4 years ago)
Beautiful and evocative, especially in the snow and the arctic winter night
Richard Tanguy (4 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 (4 years ago)
A well preserved fort with a great view!
Robert Havey (5 years ago)
A great piece of history, worth going to. easy walk if you come by shipping port, five minutes
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Varberg Fortress was built in 1287-1300 by count Jacob Nielsen as protection against his Danish king, who had declared him an outlaw after the murder of King Eric V of Denmark. Jacob had close connections with king Eric II of Norway and as a result got substantial Norwegian assistance with the construction. The fortress, as well as half the county, became Norwegian in 1305.

King Eric's grand daughter, Ingeborg Håkansdotter, inherited the area from her father, King Haakon V of Norway. She and her husband, Eric, Duke of Södermanland, established a semi-independent state out of their Norwegian, Swedish and Danish counties until the death of Erik. They spent considerable time at the fortress. Their son, King Magnus IV of Sweden (Magnus VII of Norway), spent much time at the fortress as well.

The fortress was augmented during the late 16th and early 17th century on order by King Christian IV of Denmark. However, after the Treaty of Brömsebro in 1645 the fortress became Swedish. It was used as a military installation until 1830 and as a prison from the end of the 17th Century until 1931.

It is currently used as a museum and bed and breakfast as well as private accommodation. The moat of the fortress is said to be inhabited by a small lake monster. In August 2006, a couple of witnesses claimed to have seen the monster emerge from the dark water and devour a duck. The creature is described as brown, hairless and with a 40 cm long tail.