Cultural History

The cultural history of the Kvarken Archipelago

As a result of the land uplift, the Kvarken archipelago is quite young. At the time when humans started inhabiting the earth, the whole area was under water, pressed down by the latest ice age. This is why there are few prehistoric remains found in the archipelago, as well as on the main land. From historical time, on the other hand, there are several remains and relics from the early fishing and seal hunting industry, as well as relics from the years of war. It is not known for certain when the archipelago was first inhabited, but evidence suggest that it has been occupied as early as in the 1400s.


 The main industries in the 1700s were fishing and seal hunting. Seal hunting took place during the winter, and employed the majority of the male population, and seal skins were important goods for export and exchange. Fishing took place close to the shoreline, as well as in the open ocean. Fishing in the open ocean meant that the fishermen needed places to live on the more remote islands of the archipelago. At first, these accommodations were built from rocks which were covered by some kind of fabric. Remains of these shelters can still be seen on some islands. In the 1600s fishermen started replacing these accommodations, by building wooden fishing cottages.

Remains from rock accomodations

Agriculture at this time was small-scale, and concentrated on stock-raising, since the barren soil and the climate made it difficult to grow crops. Everything that was suited as fodder was utilized, and the intensive pasture and haymaking gave the inner archipelago an open appearance. Cultural influences can also be observed in the outer archipelago, since the guardians of the lighthouses, fishermen etc. and their families also kept livestock.


Traveling between the islands in the Kvarken archipelago and the mainland occurred during the summer, as well as during the winter. For hundreds of years people have traveled the archipelago to exchange fish for grain. In the 1600s travelers believed to have been very active, and people, as well as mail, were transported over the water. The honor the villagers who transported mail and people across the Kvarken, an event called Postrodden (in Swedish) is arranged every year. During the event participants sail and row 60 kilometers between Holmön in Sweden and Björkö in Finland.

The war between1714 and 1721 has also left cultural traces in the archipelago, which can still be seen today. The most famous remains are the so-called “Russian ovens”, which are believed to have been used for baking bread and cooking. Most villages close to the coast where burned down and plundered.

Around the 1750s rules of trading changed, and the industry of shipbuilding and navigation expanded, which was a development led by Ostrobothnia. Also, the agricultural sector went through major changes, as farmers and fisher who used to both fish and grow crops, started focusing on either agriculture or fishing alone.

During the 1800s people´s curiosity for natural sciences grew, as the interest of the variation of the water level, for example. To calculate the variations of the water level, water level markings were carved in the rocks at the shorelines. The oldest ones can be observed at Ratan (1749) and at Rönnskär (1697).

Water level marking

Many spectacular marches have taken place over the ice of the Kvarken archipelago. For example, general Barclay de Tolly marched with his troops, to occupy the Swedish city of Umeå, over Kvarken during the war in 1808 to 1809. Due to cold weather and bad conditions of the ice, many soldiers and horses lost their lives during the march.

 The first lighthouse was built in the eastern part of Kvarken at Molpehällorna in 1668. In the 1960s the government started to automate the Finnish lighthouses. In 1986 the last lighthouse guardian left his post at Norrskär.

Valsörarna lighthouse

 The first lighthouse was built in the eastern part of Kvarken at Molpehällorna in 1668. In the 1960s the government started to automate the Finnish lighthouses. In 1986 the last lighthouse guardian left his post at Norrskär.

During the first world war, many young men fled the country illegally to study warfare in Germany, as a preparation for the coming war of freedom of the Russian occupancy. Also, smuggling of certain goods increased at this time, as coffee, cocoa, tobacco, and liquor.

During the war with Russia, Finland started to lack necessities, and clothes, provision and weapons were transported from Sweden during the winter. Surprisingly, not many lives were lost during these car transports over the ice. After this time, transportation over Kvarken has been regular, and the first ferry for transporting motor vehicles came into use in 1958.

The motorization and use of synthetic material in the 1900s had a revolutionary effect on the fishing industry. Also, the archipelago started to become affected by recreational needs. In the early 1900s the first cottages were built in close approximation to the city, and the building of cottages for recreational use increased explosively in the 1960s. In the outer archipelago, on the other hand, effects of recreation has continued to be small and local, as nature conservation has been prioritized.