Finnskogsriket is a concept that includes the vast wilderness area in Central Sweden between the provinces of Gästrikland – Hälsingland and Dalarna. Major attractions are unexploited nature and three characteristic cultural concepts: 1. Iron and -iron processing 2. Mountain chalets 3. Slash and burn – remnants of Finnish settlements.
In the 18th century Sweden stood for 40 % of the world’s demand for iron. Ancient techniques were during the 17th -18th centuries replaced by mining and blast furnaces, and the demand for charcoal and water power soared. The vast forests and the many streams in the region were essential for the production of iron. Come and see the buildings, waterworks and other remains of this booming industry!
From time immemorial, maybe as far back as the 12th century, farmers from the river valleys have moved their cattle to higher pastures, i.e. fäbodar (fä=cattle, bod=house). The animals were looked after by young women who spent all summer in small cottages on the pastureland, usually a rather lonely existence. They milked the cows and goats, churned butter, made cheese and other products, which were brought back to the villages at the end of the season. Their hard work has always been shrouded in myths and highly romanticized. A few pastures are still in use. Guides will tell you all about it.
About 400 years ago, Finnish migrants came to the region. They brought with them a
foreign culture and a different way of life. Their tradition of cultivating the soil, using the slash and burn method,
was new to Swedes in this region. The settlers, ”Svedjefinnar”, came primarily from Finland but had their
roots farther east. They spoke Finno-Ugric, a language with origin around the Ural Mountains in Russia.
Occasionally one could hear Finnish spoken even far into the 20th century.
They cut down big trees, allowed them to dry for a couple of years, then burned them in
a huge bonfire. They planted perennial rye in the ashes with good results. They prospered, but during the
18th century slash and burn agriculture was banned, and their former wealth changed into poorer living
conditions. They lived in simple houses and took their baths in smoke saunas. These buildings had an
opening in the roof, but no chimneys.
For three centuries the Finns maintained their manners and customs without being influenced by Swedish ways.
Today there is a newly awakened interest in their life and circumstances, especially since many Swedes are of Finnish descent. The unique and unusually rich history of these Finns has lately been the subject of several books and scientific studies. For shedding light on the early settlers, excavations are under way in certain areas. Local guides will show some of the settlements for interested parties.