The Stone Fortress

he weather had been a little towards the gloomy side over the penultimate week of my work assignment in Gothenburg; and I was extremely relieved when I woke up on a beautiful sunny Sunday morning. I had planned to make the trip to Marstrand the week before because the colleagues at office assured me that it would be a worthwhile experience. I quickly checked the train schedule and prepared for the day ahead of me!


Marstrand as seen from the docks on the mainland

Getting to Marstrand was an experience in itself. First, I had to ride the bicycle to Kungsbacka Train Station from my apartment. This was a smooth 8 minute ride downhill. From Kungsbacka I had to ride the train to Gothenburg, which was a 20 minute commute through the countryside. At Gothenburg Central Station I had to take a different train to Ytterby Station, another 30 minute commute. I got down at Ytterby Station and walked over to the Bus Terminal and took the bus to Marstrand, which took another 40 minutes. But wait; that’s not all! From Marstrand I had to take the Ferry across the harbor onto the island. The best part about travelling in Sweden is that I can use a single prepaid travel card to ride the train, bus and ferry!


The pier at Marstrand

Marstrand is an island on the West coast of Sweden around 45 kilometers Northwest of Gothenburg surrounded by the Northern Sea. Marstrand is one of the most beautiful islands found on the West coast. Known for its history as a playground for Royals, this picturesque island is world famous for its exciting boating culture; hosting many major sailing championships like the Marstrand Regatta and Match Cup Sweden.

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Panoramic view of the mainland from the tower at Carlsten Fortress

Another unique feature about the island is the prohibition of motor traffic! Though most people on the island own boats, they also own vehicles which they park on the main land and take the ferry to the island. The area occupied by the general populous is quite small and everything is within walking distance.The cobble stone streets and the old style buildings make you feel like you’ve stepped back in time! Enhancing the ambiance is the fact that there are no vehicles!

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Atop the island of Marstrand sits a 300 year old fortress known as Carlsten Fortress. King Carl X of Sweden ordered the fortress to be built in 1658 to protect the newly acquired province of Bohuslän following the Treaty of Roskide. Its location was chosen due to access to an ice free port. After continuous additions and reconstructions the fortress was completed in 1860. Most of the work was carried out by the inmates who were sentenced to hard labor. Carlsten was used as a prison for men and was decommissioned as a permanent defense installation’ in 1882, though it remained under the military until the early 1990s.


Carlsten Fortress from the outer courtyard

Though the Fortress looks well-fortified, it was attacked and besieged twice and fell into the hands of the enemy. The first attack was in 1677 by the Danish military commander Ulrik Frederik Gyldenløve during the Battle of Marstrand. The second time it was captured was in 1719 by the Norwegian Vice-Admiral Tordenskjold.


The outer courtyard

Once you enter the Fortress, you’re free to roam around the entire facility. The entrance ticket comes with a map that contains information on the history of the Fortress. During my visit, I pretty much had the fortress to myself! I must have crossed paths with a maximum of 10 persons over the 2 hours I spent inside the fortress. Wandering around the fortress by myself was both a blessing and a curse. I had ample opportunities to photograph the structures of the fortress without disturbance. On the other hand, the dark narrow passageways were quite spooky and that eerie feeling of someone watching you didn’t help either!!

Erik Dahlbergh, the Swedish Engineer who designed the fort, was one of the country’s first military engineers and structural architects. He also traveled around Europe to study structures in Italy and France.Later on he was appointed as the head of Sweden’s fortifications, and had significant influence on the permanent fortresses, citadels and redoubts of the realm. The walkway with loopholes in the walls known as the shooting gallery within the Inner Gate Bulwark is a special feature of his design. Built in the 1680s this was a tactical structure built to allow the fort’s garrison to ambush enemies who managed to overcome the first line of defense.


The large inner courtyard

The Fort has a large open court yard and a cozy little chapel. There are many secret passageways built in to the walls; out of which one is open to the public. The passageways are illuminated using yellow tungsten lights giving the effect of flaming torches used in the old days. Visitor can also go into the Prison Cells on the ground floor as well as the Gunpowder house, kitchens and officer’s quarters within the fortress. While prowling through the cold damp dark Prison Cells I was reminded of the how Alexandre Dumas described Edmond Dantes’s experience inside the island prison Chateau d’If in his book “The Count of Monte Cristo”.


The main tower

From afar, the most prominent part of the fortress is the tower; a single cylindrical structure with small semi-circular windows facing every direction. Visitors aren’t allowed to go all the way up to the highest level of the tower, but, they are allowed to ascend to the upper courtyard. The upper courtyard offers a breathtaking view in every direction! Looking out in one direction, you can see the entire town and the mainland beyond it separated by the harbor. The green colored roof of the church sticks out oddly against the sea of orange roofs that make up the small town. In the other direction you see the ocean; the beautiful blue ocean. Though it was a sunny day it was awfully cold in the upper courtyard, but I spent about half an hour soaking in the scenic beauty and capturing panoramic photographs of the amazing landscape in front of me.

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Panoramic view of the Northern Sea

The area behind the castle is un-populated. This area has a nature reserve and has many trails that visitors use for hiking. I did see a lot of locals out and about this area hiking and having picnics. The trails go up to the coast where visitors can indulge in a sea bath at the designated bathing locations. I took one of the short trails that led back to the town. It was way past lunch time when I returned to the town. The local Fish n Chips shop caught my attention; the smell of fresh fish on the fryer was exquisite! I sat down on the pier and enjoyed a piping hot serving of Fish n Chips accompanied by a smooth creamy white sauce!


Looking back at the fortress from the nature trail


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