For centuries, Vaxholm Fortress (Vaxholms Kastell) guarded a crucial entry route into Stockholm’s harbor. King Gustav Vasa (yep, the same one who commissioned that famous ship) built a fortress here and filled in other waterways to ensure that this channel was the only way into and out of Stockholm. He had good reason to strengthen his defenses. In 1612, Christian IV of Denmark tried to invade. Czar Peter the Great of Russia tried to invade in 1719.
In the mid 19th century, they upgraded, well sort of. Sweden tore down the old defenses and built a giant new granite fortress there. Unfortunately for them, the technology of warfare advanced between the time the new fortress was designed and when it was completed some 30 years later. In its first test, a shell (instead of the old technology of cannonballs) tore a hole in the wall. The fortresses high guns couldn’t really reach the new style of lower design boats. Oops.
Since it couldn’t really serve as a bastion of defense, Vaxholm Fortress was used as a prison. I don’t think I would have liked to be incarcerated here. The citadel seemed a little cold and wet. The uniform didn’t look particularly warm either. Can you imagine spending a Swedish winter like that?
In addition to covering pre-20th century history, the museum contains exhibits on its more recent uses. During World War II, Sweden remained neutral but heightened its military preparedness by strengthening its defenses and drafting conscripts. The Swedes placed mines in the nearby Sea of Åland. Polish ORP Ryś, ORP Żbik, and ORP Sęp submarine crews were detained in Vaxholm’s Citadel.
The end of the Second World War in 1945 signaled the beginning of “Cold War.” Swedish military was on high alert. The USSR was as close as nearby Estonia and the Russians had come sniffing their way before. The archipelago became important because it was a gateway into the country. Vaxholm’s Kastell Fortress monitored the area. The military stopped occupying it in 1993 and in 2000, the absence of an external enemy meant all stationary batteries were deactivated in Sweden. Today, its museum has artifacts thoroughout its history, from royal times to the mines and radar. The incredible setting makes it all the more interesting and it’s well worth a visit.
One of the coolest things about it today is that in addition to functioning as a park, it contains a hotel. The best part is that nothing is closed. If you stay, you can wander around, picnic, sit on the ramparts with drink, enjoy the quiet and watch boats go by. Since the rooms have no radio, TV, or internet, you might not have much else to do.