Diary of a guidebook writer: The history beyond the charm of Røros

Photo: David Nikel The picturesque Røros shown here is the version of the town that most people know.

Photo: David Nikel
The picturesque Røros shown here is the version of the town that most people know.

David Nikel
Trondheim, Norway

Known for its remarkably well-kept wooden buildings, the former copper mining town of Røros is one of my favorite parts of the country. Although I’ve visited several times, I made a quick day trip on a sunny April morning to grab some decent photos for the guidebook.

As the town is really small, it took only an hour to get the photos I needed. Even after a delicious lunch at the quaint Kaffestuggu, I still had almost three hours to kill, so I chose to visit the town’s museum. It was an eye-opening experience.

Prior to 1645, the only people in the area were nomadic Sámi herders or the odd hunter. The area was simply too cold for anyone else. Legend has it that a hunter discovered the copper after shooting a deer. As the deer tried in vain to escape, it brushed aside moss to reveal a shiny rock underneath.

From that moment on, this remote part of Norway would never be the same again.

Tough beginnings
The next year, Røros Copper Works was granted the right to exploit all ore deposits in the region, along with the right to fell trees and use the water supply. At the time Norway was ruled from Copenhagen, and a tithe of one-tenth of the copper produced was sent to the Danish king. This was particularly valuable in wartime as copper was used to make armor.

Photo: David Nikel Explore the grittier history of the town at the Røros Museum, which is housed inside the town’s old smelting works.

Photo: David Nikel
Explore the grittier history of the town at the Røros Museum, which is housed inside the town’s old smelting works.

Hard labor was required to burn charcoal and transport it to the works. The company soon established the community of Røros near the mine, and people moved from all over the central Norwegian valleys to work in the mine and related industries. Experienced managers were brought in from other Norwegian mining towns such as Kongsberg.

The young community suffered a blow in 1679 when the entire town was burned to the ground by invading Swedish troops during the Scanian War. Forty years later during the Great Northern War, the town was once again taken by the Swedish Army. This ended in tragedy for the Swedes, however, as over 3,000 soldiers perished in the harsh conditions as they retreated following the death of their king.

A brand new community
Røros Copper Works discovered rich deposits of copper ore throughout the region, which led to a golden age for the community during the 18th century. Around 600 people worked in the mines with a further 1,500 working in related trades.

Under the terms of their agreement, the company provided a doctor, school, and church for the community. For proof of just how successful the company was during this period, look no further than the spectacular Røros Church, built in 1784. There are few more impressive buildings in all of Norway.

Photo: David Nikel

Photo: David Nikel

Given the harsh environment, the town was heavily planned and it was of vital importance that every resident played their part. Houses faced the streets with barns and internal courtyards allowing animals to graze. Most residents also farmed land outside the town. While the men worked down the mines, the women were left to manage not just the household but also the farms and food production.

Modernization
One of the downsides of the community’s success was the severe deforestation across the region, caused by the need for charcoal. Evidence of this can clearly be seen today on the plains surrounding Røros. As the forest disappeared, activities moved further and further south.

Industrial advancements brought major changes to copper production in the latter part of the 19th century. Train travel arrived in 1877 as Rørosbanen linked the town to Trondheim and Hamar. Eleven years later, Røros welcomed a new smelting shed complete with modern technology, able to replace all the previous workshops.

A shift to tourism
The shed burned down in 1953, which was the beginning of the end for Røros Copper Works. Work continued until 1977, when the company declared bankruptcy.

With the main economic driver of an entire region disappearing, you could be forgiven for thinking Røros simply faded away. However, just three years after the closure of the Works, the town became a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The town’s focus on sustainable tourism now attracts visitors year-round, despite being one of the coldest parts of Norway. Food production is an important driver of the town’s economy, with local farms producing butter, lamb, reindeer, and ice-cream that is sold all over Norway.

Chasing my tail
I’m now so deep into the production of the book that the only time I have to write this column is on this 1 hour 20 minute flight to Lofoten. I still have so much of the country to research, but my deadlines are stacking up. So although yes, I spend my days traveling and researching, I have to spend my evenings writing everything up and my weekends fact-checking and planning further trips. Cast aside any romantic notions of writing a travel guidebook. It’s a long, hard slog.

Having said that, I’ve received some great feedback from the publisher on my Oslo chapter that will really help to improve the finished book. For example, the editor said my reviews of Asian restaurants in Oslo were all individually fine, but needed a little extra info to help the reader choose between them.

While this kind of detailed feedback means I will need to go back and rework the chapter, it will lead to a much tighter book, and hopefully reduce the length of the final editing phase.

As always, please use the contact form on www.lifeinnorway.net to let me you know your thoughts on the areas I’m visiting or to ask any questions about the process of putting a guidebook together.

David Nikel is a freelance writer based in Norway. He runs the popular www.lifeinnorway.net blog and is the author of the upcoming MOON Norway guidebook.

This article originally appeared in the May 6, 2016, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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