Vardø: Pomors, Radars and Witches in the Far North
Let's stop next to the statue of King Haakon and I'll tell you about the fortress.
The northern part of Finnmark in the 1200s was rife with fighting between the Norwegians and people from Karelia in Russia. For the Karelians, the coast of Finnmark was originally important as a trade source for furs. So in 1251, a peace treaty was reached between the Republic of Novgorod and Norway, putting an end to the clashes.
The first fortress was ordered and built by Haakon V Magnusson in 1306. Not much is known about this fortress, but the second fortification was built in Østervågen – the east bay of Vardø. It was built between 1450 and 1500. This fortress had an rectangular form, with two corner bastions.
Today's fortress was built between 1733 and 1739, and remains almost in its original form. The fortress site forms an eight-point star, protecting many buildings within the walls.
Vardøhus saw no military action until the Second World War. During the war, the fortress was used as an anti-aircraft site and POW camp before the German occupation.
During the second World War, a notorious flag-battle occurred here at Vardøhus. With the first Germans arriving only on 17 July 1940, Vardøhus was the last armed unit under a Norwegian flag to put down their arms. This occurred on 20 July 1940, when German soldiers took down the Norwegian flag.
Between the 20th and 25th of July, no flag could be seen at Vardøhus, because the Germans had ordered the Norwegian soldiers to not raise the flag again.
But, the Norwegians thought the order was to only not raise the State flag. Instead they raised the Civil ensign on July 25th. From that day until November 7th, the Norwegian flag was visible at least part of every day. It was removed five times by German soldiers, who raised their own. But this was replaced as soon as they left. Each time the Nazi flag was burnt.
The command of the fort is now the responsibility of the Royal Norwegian Navy, with one commander and four soldiers. Today the fort serves little practical military use. It works mostly as a salute fortress, firing gun salutes on Norwegian Constitution Day, dissolution of the Union with Sweden Day on June 7th and on all royal birthdays. It also houses a museum.
The fortress is unique for the fact that, on the first winter day, the sun can be seen again in its full size from the fortress. The fortress guns will then fire a salute. The gunshots announce to the school pupils of Vardø that they have the rest of the day off - this is a tribute to the sun, and is of course, very popular among the children in the city!
Vardøhus fortress Is open to the public, so if you have enough time, please pay a visit.
When you are ready to move on, turn so the fortress is behind you and make your way towards the road ahead, between the red fences.