There’s nowhere quite like Røros anywhere in Scandinavia, perhaps even anywhere in the world. (David Nikel, MOON’s Norway.)
Yes indeed, David. For reasons you mention—and more, many more.
Røros, especially the old area of Femundshytta, is a “living museum” of three centuries of copper mining. A UNESCO World Heritage site, Røros has about two thousand wooden buildings—many of them are among the oldest in Europe.
Photographing the curtained windows of turf-roofed timber homes in Femundshytta, I become a subjective author, imagining the lives within. Who was living there now behind these historic pine façades, blackened by airborne soot from the smelting works? (By law the houses must be lived in and there are strict controls over preservation.) Was this home rebuilt after Sweden set the town on fire in 1678 or is it the original construction? What was/is it like to live in one of the world’s coldest towns where the temperature has dipped to -50.4°C? What was it like here for women during the golden age of copper wealth?
Legend has it that in 1644 a local hunter wounded a reindeer and when the animal tried to escape and rubbed against a patch of moss, shiny copper was revealed. At that time the only people in this isolated area were nomadic Sami herders. (By the roadside, Magellan and I caught sight of a few reindeer that the Sami still keep, their hides a surprising colour, brown like chocolate.)
The Danish-Norwegian king granted permission to establish Røros Copper Works to mine and smelt the rich deposits, and people moved to Røros from all over central Norway. They built smelters, charcoal pits and cableways, cut the forest to fuel production ovens and build mine structures, timbered cottages and farm sheds. Most of the 600 miners and 1,500 other townspeople had second occupations turning forests into farmland.
Almost all of the copper was shipped to Amsterdam for processing and one-tenth of it was tithed to the king to produce armour and cover the roofs of churches in Copenhagen. Over the 333 years of operations, there were more than 40 copper mines and 200 chrome mines and quarries. Røros was known as Norway’s wild west and Røros Copper Works became one of the country’s richest companies. The smelting works burned down seven times, the last fire was in 1953, and with production costs rising, the company declared bankruptcy in 1977. From the ashes a uniquely special town has arisen, one that attracts a million visitors a year.
How successful was Røros, the only mountain town in Norway? You need only look at its iconic symbol, the splendid Baroque church, Bergstadens Ziir (pride of the mining town). The fifth largest church in the country, “There are few more impressive buildings in all of Norway,” guidebooks say.
Still in use, the white-washed wooden church is only open for two hours over lunchtime, daily except Sunday. “Don’t rush. We’ll let you in and since it closes in fifteen minutes, it’s free. And take your time,” said the kindly man at the visitor centre adjacent to the church.
In soothing shades of light blue, bleu céleste, the interior is zen-like, meditative and surprisingly lacking in religious iconography, refreshing.
Røros Copper Works paid for construction of the church (1780-1784), decorating the walls with the company’s logo and paintings of its managers. Built to accommodate 1,600 people, seats were reserved for the Royal family and company management; everyone else sat according to rank.
You’ll have guessed another reason why we detoured to Røros: it’s one of Norway’s leading regions for locally produced food. People say food from here tastes better because it grows more slowly.
In Bergen on our first grocery shopping trip in Norway, or maybe at the first restaurant we ate at, I noticed butter from Rørosmeieriet, Norway’s only fully organic dairy. Yum! Traditionally made at the lowest-possible temperature with minimum pressure over four days and then dry salted with unrefined, Norwegian sea salt, its taste is described as aromatic and slightly acidic. It’s so delicious that Norway’s Michelin-starred restaurants and the world-renowned Noma in Denmark serve Røros butter.
By the time our cameras had been fully treated to the water-colour pale blue of the church, blackened and colourful houses, heaps of slag, and whimsy in the streets laid out just as they were in the seventeenth century, hopes of lunch with fresh bread and Røros butter began overcoming all other desires.
Ask us about our best food experiences in Norway (there were many) and we’ll be sure to tell you about the goulash soup, the bread (and butter!) and thick slices of almond cake at Frøyos Hus Kafe, operating since 1742 in a blissful garden of a former farmhouse right in the centre of town.
And then it was back to (my) other desires.
In Bergen, set on buying a raincoat from a particular shop, I quickly realized its voluminous shape made me look like a hot-air balloon about to lift skyward. Before lunch, I’d spotted a red raincoat hanging outside a shop on the town’s main street. Not my colour, but maybe inside…
There was one, only one. In yellow. A design from the previous year, on sale. Norwegian-made by BLAEST, a company run by Lisbeth Lillebøe who has lived all her life in Bergen where rain falls 239 days a year. Lisbeth names each raincoat design after a city; mine is Firenze. As advertised, the coat breathes, sheds water; I’ve worn it a lot in Vancouver where it rains only 192 days a year.
Another reason for (my) visiting is Røros Tweed. Watch out Scotland!
The ordinary miner in Røros was poor. When he died in 1789, Peder Hiort, a director of the copper mine, left his fortune to a foundation he’d set up to educate the community in textile production. Success came quickly and was sustained, leading in 1940 to the founding of Røros Tweed. All of the company’s products, mostly woollen blankets created in collaboration with leading designers, are produced in Norway and certified with the ‘Cradle to Cradle’ stamp. While I longed to see something in their shop at the edge of town that would set my heart afire, nothing smouldered a desire.
However, in Oslo “City Blanket” set me ablaze.
Magellan reminded me that our suitcases were already plumped. But I knew a place in Vancouver that carried Røros Tweed, emailed them and yes, “City Blanket” was available for order, and at a better price.
So there you have it—our seven reasons to visit Røros: the historic Femundshytta, iconic church, quaint town, slow-food, acclaimed butter, a lifetime raincoat, contemporary tweed. And now for a bonus.
Røros was home to Johan Falkeberget, nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Born in 1879, Johan was only seven when he began washing ore at Røros Copperworks. Like many other men in the town, Johan’s dad was a miner and farmer but he read aloud to his fellow workers during breaks. At home, Johan devoured myths and newspapers. He began writing about what he saw: exploited workers and poverty-stricken peasants; and what was needed: flowery love letters for his workmates. By the age of ten, he was writing for the local paper and in 1906, the family moved to Ålesund so Johan could become editor of its newspaper. Apparently, no other Norwegian author wrote as many newspaper articles as Johan—about 7,000 posts in 90 different papers.
With his wife, Anna Marie, Johan returned to Røros in 1922. He continued to write and represented the Norwegian Labour Party in Storting. His breakthrough novel, set in the early 19th century and drawn from his experience of copper mining, was The Fourth Night Watch, published in 1923. He followed this with the Christianus Sextus trilogy, which is set in the 1720s and also about the people and culture of mining.
Johan distinguished himself in the war years, accompanying the wife and son of Norway’s Prime Minister in fleeing from the Germans into Sweden and writing more than 500 letters to help raise money for families whose breadwinners had been arrested. His masterpiece, Bread of the Night, a “novel with the power of myth” published in 1959, depicts An-Magritt, a woman born out of wedlock and the only female charcoal burner in a copper mine. An-Magritt, a Norwegian Joan of Arc, teaches peasants to read and write, cultivate crops and repossess their land, the book a precursor to the Constitution in 1814 and dissolution of the Union in 1905. Liv Ullmann starred in the subsequent movie. In 1949, the Norwegian people donated money they’d raised to Johan, along with what was called the “Nobel Prize of the Heart” or “The Norwegian People’s Nobel Prize.” Johan died in 1967 and is buried in the upper churchyard in Røros.
Now I know where to discover the reality of life behind the geranium pots in the windows of Røros homes. In Bread of the Night, accompanied by a market loaf with Røros butter on the side.
Røros, there’s much more to do than we’ve outlined. A museum to visit, Olav’s mine to tour, a magical winter carnival, reindeer sledding, home tours, a variety of slow-food restaurants (they say the food here is better because it grows so slowly), a good choice of accommodation, nearby hiking…Here’s a guide with hundreds of nuggets about the town and surrounding area:
To see examples of the designs of Røros Tweed, drool here.
For more on the brilliant Johan Falberget, this is the best site I stumbled upon.
Founder and designer of BLAEST, Lisbeth Lillebøe may or may not be the person who first claimed there are no bad weather days, only bad clothing days. But those words are on her website.