Wilderness and Witchcraft


Hurtigruten (Coastal Steamer) entering Vardø harbour.


After Kirkenes, we headed westwards to Varangerbotn and then eastwards again around the Varanger Peninsula to Vardø. The Varanger Peninsula is an area of wilderness, except along the coastline, where small fishing villages have existed for hundreds of years. The fishing brought the first Norwegian settlers to the area, as well as tradesmen from Russia (the Pomors) and from Finland. These Finnish immigrants, along with those found elsewhere in Northern Norway, form the Norwegian national minority called the Kvens (http://www.kvenskinstitutt.no/kvener/).

On our way to Vardø, we visited the archaeological site at Mortensnes. This area was inhabited from stone age times by the Sami.  On the left below is a sacrificial site. The large standing stone is surrounded by circles of small stones. This stone circle has inspired the painting behind the speaker´s chair in the Sami parliament. On the right above, is a Sami pre-historic grave, and on the right below, are circles that mark the boundaries of dwellings.


Vardø is a  Norwegian rather than a Sami town, first settled in the 1300s. It was built for the fishing industry, and for defensive purposes. The fortress in Vardø dates from 1738. In 1940, when the Germans invaded, it was the last place in Norway to fly the Norwegian flag.



Vardø is also known for the witch trials. From 1598 – 1692, 91 people were burnt here, accused of being witches (around 300 “witches” were burnt in Norway altogether). About 25% of those killed in Vardø were Sami. The Steilneset memorial was opened in 2011, on or near the spot where they were burnt to death. The memorial is a long corridor with information about each of the “witches” on the walls as you walk along. The sound of the waves outside is magnified, to give it an earie but also peaceful feeling.


For more on the memorial and witch trials: http://www.nordnorge.com/EN-ost-finnmark/?News=469 

Below you can see a couple of the stories hanging on the wall (English translation to come…)