KIRUNA, SWEDEN, February 10, 2015 – And now for something completely different. What is the new definition of the word “undermine”?
If you said, “It’s when the world’s largest iron-ore excavation infringes so far upon a city that the entire town will move itself two miles to the east,” you would be absolutely right.” But I am betting you didn’t say that.
Kiruna is Sweden’s northernmost city nestled about 90 miles about the Arctic Circle, and the local economy lives and dies with the productivity of the world’s largest iron-ore mine.
Not so very long ago, citizens of Kiruna began noticing cracks in the streets and other strange phenomena that told them something was wrong. Realizing that the odds of being the victim of some weird alien science-fiction intrusion were extremely high, they began to investigate.
What they discovered was that the city of Kiruna is actually sitting on the mother lode of their iron resources. That left two choices; let the city become a ghost town until it was swallowed up by the mine or move the entire village a couple of miles to the east.
The Kirunites chose to move.
You guessed it. Kiruna, Sweden is now in the process of uprooting its entire city and moving it two miles to the east so the iron mine can continue operating.
Being situated 90 miles above the Arctic Circle might conjure images of remoteness and isolation. While it is certainly true that no one in their right mind would opt to build a community in that region without some justification, the iron mine has made Kiruna rich from the ore that lies beneath its streets.
Further north there is little else but deep glacial lakes and frozen tundra. Lapps use the area for their reindeer herds but the moon-scaped region has little else to offer.
Kiruna, on the other hand, is a thriving modern community. Don’t let its remoteness fool you. Tourism has grown in recent years thanks to the advent of the ice hotel which is annually sculpted out of the frozen snow-covered surroundings.
In winter the Aurora Borealis puts on one of Mother nature’s greatest sky-shows. Summer brings the phenomenon of the Midnight Sun which is equally spectacular in its own way.
Thanks to an abundance of water, northern Sweden is also a great place to do white water rafting which, if you think about it, is a wonderful cocktail party icebreaker to be able to say you went whitewater rafting above the Arctic Circle.
I say that because, full disclosure, I was fortunate enough to do it and also to witness the Midnight Sun and they are now cherished pages of my traveler’s scrapbook.
There is one other achievement from my base camp in Kiruna which was having the thrill of herding reindeer with a Lapp pilot from the cockpit of his single engine pontoon plane. Unlike Brian Williams, I remember it distinctly because I really did it and I have video to prove it.
Just because Kiruna is isolated does not mean it is off the beaten path from modern technology. It was one of the first cities in Sweden, in fact, to have an electronic indoor teller system at its bank.
Thanks to the iron mine, Kiruna has thrived since 1900. Now it faces demolition by the very source of its wealth.
The Swedes will have none of that. They are moving lock, stock, barrel and shovel to the east. Taking a hint from Brigham Young, Kiruna is “going East, young man, going East.”
Two miles to be exact. The entire project will not be totally finished until the mid-2030s but when you consider the mine produces 90% of all the iron in Europe it is well worth the effort. By the way, that totals to enough iron ore to build more than six Eiffel Towers a day.
Construction of a new town square has already started complete with a contemporary circular town hall. Twenty of the most important current buildings have been identified and will be reconstructed brick by brick in the new location.
Among the buildings scheduled to be saved is Kiruna’s rust-colored wooden church which was built in 1912 in the style of a Lapp, or Sami as they prefer to be called, teepee. The church was once voted Sweden’s most beautiful building.
Also to be preserved is the cast iron bell tower above the new town hall.
One major concern is where people will live during the city’s renovation, but those details have been carefully “ironed” out.
So should you decide to visit Kiruna, Sweden within the next 20 years or so, consider the fact that it will be a “moving” experience.
Bob Taylor has been traveling the world for more than 30 years as a writer and award winning television producer focusing on international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
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