Linus Godet / Gällivare
Basic Information
français | english
This wiki
This page
Project Update
Basic Information Mapped Information Links


Gällivare Shield




History [Draft 081021]

“For those who walked, the land was the Wide home. Not many people lived there. There were no villages or communities. Man moved, just like everything else in the wilderness. The grounds showed man how to live, and he learned where to find the, when to go fishing, and when to let the ground rest.

Every ground had its time. The enlightened mountain man lived within this cycle year after year. Generations came and disappeared. This was before words like like tourist, padlock and engine existed.”

Mijá ednam - the Laponia programme


In the northern part of Sweden there were almost no cities a couple of centuries ago, at least not if we use the general definition of a city.

Instead, the large territory was occupied by the Sami people. The lived on the territory like nomads. Together with their reindeers, they inhabited different areas depending on the season and the cycles of nature.

To them, the relation to land and nature was very important. They believed that nature had a soul that guarded the landscape and the animals. It was very important to have a good relation to the god’s of the nature, just as important as having a good relation to other people around you.

The nature’s gods provided humans with food and if one angered them they could bring bad hunting luck.

Natural phenomenon like thunder and wind were seen as divine, just as the sun and the moon. The sun was a goddess which gave life to all the animals and nature. The gods had both good and evil sides and it was important to remain calm and quiet and avoid provoking noise not to disturb the gods.

Animals were sacrificed to the gods to  please the gods. Special sacrificial places were found at places that were distinguishable in nature. Those places could be used by anyone who needed good luck.


In the northern countries aim for bigger areas the national churches played and important role. By building churches and establish parishes it was possible to claim that the surrounding area belonged to the nation that was represented by the church.

In the 17th century many churches were built in the north. At the same time the Samis where forced to join the Swedish church and stop practicing their own religion. The Samis where also obliged to attend the churches at special occasions and pay taxes.

People that refused to do so where threatened with punishments, from fines to death penalty. The state also founded schools as a way to Christianize the Samis.

Many parents though, did not send their children to school, and a lot of Samis tried to stick to their own religion since they believed strongly that that the gods could help them in their everyday life. Though, there was no problem to accept the Christian god since the Sami religion did not forbid other gods. The biggest conflict would instead be the view on dead relatives. According to Sami beliefs dead relatives also plays an important role in the family.


The cultural heritage of the Samis not only consist of physical remain. Just as important is the immaterial cultural heritage, all of the things that cannot be seen by eyes.

Hunting, fishing, collecting and plants all had their different places just like the nature and its landscape would provide materials, tools and food.

All of the stories, traditions and important places and names are all important parts of the cultural landscape.

Cots and other Sami buildings

The cot is the traditional Sami building, but also works as a collective name for a couple of different buildings. Cots have had different function, different constructions and have been made out of different materials according to the location and the time.

The traditional cot is a tent construction centered around an open fireplace, or later on a stove or a heater. The construction is then covered with a protective material. Some cots had a wooden base in the shape of a polygon. Depending on the function, different materials have been used to cover the cot. Movable cots where covered with skin or felt, while more stationary cots where covered with peat, bark or planks.

The building materials have varied depending on what the nature could offer and the form as well. When open fire places where replaced by stoves or heaters there was a demand for daylight and windows.

Cots were inhabited by both humans and animals. Some cot where used for storage and some were used only in winter or summer.

The building principles are heavily influenced by notion of recycling and to use what is found on site, but also to be receptive to new materials such as the implementation of tar paper as a protective material.

First mining attempts

The date of the discovery of the Gällivare deposits is uncertain. Stories tell that the existence of iron ore was discovered already in the mid 1600s, but the man who was credited with discovery was a farmer named Per Andersson of Orrbyn. But he died before his ore samples were given to a priest, whose son first claimed the Gällivare deposits.

But lacking funds, he approached Abraham Steinholz and Jonas Meldercreutz for a joint venture. A mill, named Melderstein, was formed and the wheels of industry slowly began to turn.


Ore transports posed a problem, and farmers and Sami were unwilling to provide horses and reindeers to haul the ore from the mines. It became even worse when it became apparent that the rich Malmberget ore was not easily processed in the blast furnaces.

Many of Norrbotten’s mining pioneers went bankrupt, and most of the mines ended up in the hands of Samuel Gustaf Hermelin who became Norrbotten’s leading 19th century industrialist. He would run the business until Russian soldiers started to level a couple of his mills. Some other mills were destroyed by fire and ore ships where lost at sea. Hermelin’s fortune shrank quickly and by 1812 he declared bankruptcy.

In 1818, the newly proclaimed king, Karl XIV Johan, began buying mills, mines and farmland in Norrbotten. But from a business point of view, it was not a good investment.

British take over

For more than a century, the problem of finding a viable mean of transporting ore across the wilderness seemed intractable. Ore hauled from mines by reindeer and horses cost more than finished pig iron from the mills of central Sweden. The idea of building a railway from the mines to suitable harbors was first discussed in the 1830s but was first materialized in 1865 when the new established Gellivare Company, backed by English capital, planned to build an 80-kilometer long railway that would transport the ore to Lule River, where it could be transferred to barges.

Many people where employed and after two years the project ran out of many and the fiasco had repercussions throughout the country, since the Swedish state had invested money in the project. But the English investors held out and started buying more mines and mills.

In 1878, two English chemists, Thomas and Gilchrist, solved the problem of how to produce steel of good quality from high phosphorus iron ore, and over a night the potential value of the gigantic ore reserves of Norrbotten increased enormously.

English businessmen were on the ball and were quick to assume major holdings in the ore mountains, and they realized that if mining were to be profitable it would be necessary to build a railway. They employed a work force of thousands and managed to build a provisional railway from Malmberget to Luleå in only four years. The first ore train, forty cars long and carrying 1000 tons of ore, arrived to Luleå in spring 1888. It was then the heaviest railway train that had ever been hauled.

Swedish governance

The English success was however short lived. By summer when the ground had thawed, the railway was no longer stable, especially when it crossed marsh and wetlands and the bankrupt railway abandoned its venture and sold the railway to the Swedish government for a low price.

Repairing the poorly built railway was costly and time consuming. The Luleå-Gällivare section was approved for traffic only in 1892.

Two new mining companies, Luossavaara-Kiirunavaara Aktiebolag (LKAB) and Aktiebolaget Gellivare Malmfält (AGM) were formed in 1890 and 1891.

Kiruna (LKAB) and Gellivare (AGM) were concurrent until the Swedish State acquired half of LKAB’s shared and retained the right to subsequently purchase the remainder. Soon LKAB also took control of the mining operations in Gällivare.

In 1899 a railway line between Kiruna and Gällivare was inaugurated. In 1903 the first train hauled a load of ore from Kiruna to Narvik.

Shanty town

As the mine’s working force increased from 459 to 1520 between 1892 and 1903, the need for more housing became urgent. A need that was further emphasized as the construction of a railway connection to Kiruna also demanded a big working force.

The mining company’s own buildings were only able to accommodate a small number of employees, and those at very close quarters. Most were left to their own devices to find some means of putting a roof over their heads.

The resulting slum grew into a shanty town that at its most consisted of 633 crude shacks and turf shelters side by side with more respectable shops and market stands.

Despite the facts that work on the mountains was very hard in the early days, LKAB had no difficulties in recruiting labor, mainly because of the good wages that were offered. The mining pioneers had other benefits such as low rents and two weeks of holiday. This was 20 years before the Holiday Act was introduced in Sweden.

First town plan

The housing situation did begin to improve until the beginning of 1899, when Malmberget adopted a town plan and the mine holders and their families were able to build their own homes on freehold lots. This resulted in a veritable building boom.

As a part of the Egnahem movement launched in early 1900s it was it was possible to get a loan from the state to buy land and build a small farm or a house in rural areas. This loan was given to individuals that could contribute with som own money in order to build their own home. The loan was given in two forms, partially for building of a house but also for the purchase of a smaller lot.

Housing was normally built by workers, close to the work place and was aimed for the working class. Restrictions were made on size and activity. A house or an estate should never be big or important enough to provide full time employment. It was only supposed to be a complement to regular employments in the surrounding area. The resulting settlements could be compared to Garden Cities.

Gällivare town plan

Gällivare emerged as a village in the mid 1700s and grew a lot as the railway came. In the final phase of the railway construction around 3000 people worked on the railway, comparing to the total amount of inhabitants of the municipality that was only 3500 at the time. It soon became obvious that the basic conditions for the small agricultural village would change dramatically, and a town plan was established in 1894. Using the same method of calculation as in Malmberget, the plan was dimensioned for 15000 inhabitants.

In the initial plan, Malmberget was planned to be the place where all the workers would live. The idea of letting the workers live Gällivare was impossible with the means of communication at that time.

Gällivare, Malmberget and Koskullskulle

The first years after the establishments of the town plans, the population grew dramatically and continued to grow in a strong way until 1920. Malmberget had at that time 7761 inhabitants and Gällivare 3154. Alreday early on Malmberget and Gällivare developed in very different directions.

Gällivare developed into a trading and parish centrum with good contacts to the rest of the country.  Malberget, on the other hand, remained above all a mining centrum. Malmberget mostly attracted people from other counties, while Gällivare mostly attracted people from the rest of Norrbotten.

Koskullskulle emerged in in the late 1800s and had its town plan established in 1902. Koskullskulle is today the only mining suburb that remains after the concentration of the mining industry in 1948, and is today an own village with it its own special character, enjoyed by its inhabitants.

The cities continued their expansion until 1950. LKAB was active in stimulating construction in Malmberget, and Malmberget had the biggest variety of shops ans services in the 1950s. But the picture changed as more services and businesses were established in Gällivare. Better access to land and better communications with the surrounding world were important to this development.

Common planning

In the beginning of the 1950s it became obvious that the mining industry could enter in conflict with the settlement, as ore finds were predicted under resident areas. The decision to further investigate the potential finds was recieved as very dramatic by the residents. Apart from 350 houses, a school, a church, a swimming hall and a public hall, would potentially be affected by the plans.

The planning process changed in the mid 1950s as Gällivare, Malmberget and Koskullskulle began to work on a common general plan. The question of mining was to be further investigated as LKAB presented evidence that ore was to be found under the town plan.

First relocations

The mining law of 1938 limited the possibility to touch permanent residential areas. But exemption rights were introduced in 1966, and LKAB started a systematic redemption of properties within the threatened area. As the train traffic in Malmberget was closed in 1962, area was freed and available for explotation. Parts of the old center was moved there, above all public buildnings, when forced from their original site by the mining exploatation.

Gällivare continued it expansion, mostly nothbound and eastbound. An industrialarea was planned north of Gällivare at the same time as a big part of the town plan of Malmberget was abolished as the mines continued to expand in an southern direction through the area.

A motorized society

The 1970s came with a big boom of detached houses as taxes where regulated, the inflation was high and many households experienced better economy as women where let into the working market on a more regular basis.

Until the mid 1960s the population centres where dense with good services such as, grocery stores, postal offices etc, but the picture changed in the 1970s. The new areas where less dense and cars got more common. Housing standard and surfaces grew sharply during this period.

Malmberget expanded in a southwestern direction, and there was an ambition to tie Gällivare and Malmberget together. The new agglomeration became spread out due to a number of brook ravines that crossed the area.

Demolishing and reconstructing

During the 1980s the expansion speed was slowed down. Gällivare continued its expansion in an eastbound direction, menwhile the center was densified. Malmberget went back to demolishing, as the landslide risk zone grew bigger. As Gällivare experienced a more positive development than Malmberget, it soon established itself as the center for trade and business.

During the 1990s, Malberget diminshed due to as the mines continued expanding. A lot of commerces moved to the new industrial area, and apartment blocks started to showed vacancies, and were eventually torn down. But the negative trend was reversed as in the new century as the price of metall boosted, and the need for housing is today more urgent than ever.