Karlsborg on the western shore of Lake Vättern, 30km (19 miles) north of Hjo, is dominated by a huge fortress, northern Europe’s largest building, and you can experience it right here – in Sweden.
In 1809, when Sweden lost Finland to the Russians, the Swedes decided to build two fortresses to house the government and the treasury.
Construction on the first fortress began 1819 to realize the so-called central defense idea adopted by the Swedish military after the Finnish and Napoleonic Wars. The site was chosen by Baltzar von Platen in connection with the construction of Göta Canal.
Related: Around Lake Vättern in Sweden
The fortress’s main building is mindbogglingly enormous, its length is 678 meters. Just the walk from one edge of fortress to another takes a good 10 minutes because the whole area is bigger than 170 football fields.
The intent of the central defense idea was that the King, the Council, the Riksdag and central command functions would, in the event of an attack against the kingdom, pull back and ensconce themselves in this fortress in the middle of the country. Even the gold reserves of the central bank of Sweden were to be safeguarded in the fortress in times of trouble.
You can take part in an adventure tour where you also can watch a fictional movie about fortress’ life and Russian’s attack on the fortress. The tour continues through defense tunnels into safety from enemy. The cannons thunder, sound of the battle comes from everywhere and in one of the rooms even the floor is trembling from the shots of cannons. The Swedes have made the stage set very well. You’re passing a wounded soldier in pain and another snoring in the bunk. There are built different living and working areas under the fortress, where you can join workshops and enjoy a beer in the pub and watch the safehouse for Sweden’s gold reserves.
Building the fortress required 250,000 tons of limestone. It was quarried by prison labor on the eastern side of the lake and ferried across by boat. The fortress was to house a garrison of 6,000 enlisted men and an additional 8,000-10,000 people. The walls were mostly complete in 1830, and after comprehensive visits to other fortresses in Europe, fortress architect Johan av Klen presented plans similar in style to the Fort Winiary in Posen (present-day Poznań).
From the top of the defense wall you can see three defense lines built to protect Karlsborg. The construction of the fortress took 90 years from 1819 to 1909 and cost a tremendous amount of money. No wonder that the King Karl XV ironically shouted while inspecting the fortress for the first time: “What! It’s made of stone? I thought it was built of gold.”
The castle has walls 2 meters (6 1/2ft) thick with 4km (3 miles) of ramparts, but by the time the building was finished in 1909, fortresses were out of fashion. Due to its great expense and reduced funding, the fortress wasn’t in operation until 1870.
Fortunately, the fortress has never beeen used in actual battle. The adventure tour brings life to the fortress and the visit is worth the fee.
The second castle was never built.
Northern Europe’s Largest Building – In Sweden, written by Tor Kjolberg: Source: Wikipedia
Feature image (on top): Photo: Västsverige