The different faces of Skanör with Falsterbo



Three days ago I visited my new friend Mons Krabbe in Skanör on the Falsterbo peninsula. I have mentioned that corner in some of my earlier texts about Scania/Skåne, e.g. in “What’s in a name?” from late May, and also when I wrote about the Viking museum in Foteviken in July, which is located just north of this utmost south-west part of Sweden and Scania. Mons guided me round Skanör, showing me old important sites and the beautiful nature there. Mons’ father Peter Krabbe who is an architect has made new scientific research about the fortress hill where the sheriff’s fortress once was located in the Middle Ages. Peter Krabbe has written five very interesting articles about his research, the story behind it and he also has made a new reconstruction of the fortress. If you read Swedish I think you should go to his web log too, called Mons Krabbe showed me the hill where not much is left of the old fortress, but the place is still enticing, and the place has a unique background and modern present story which I now will try to retell.



Skanör, which literally means “The Dangerous Peninsula” and got this name already 2000 years ago, was originally not very significant, apart from being known for the treacherous waters outside. However in the late Viking Era and early High Middle Ages Öresund and the southern part of the Baltic Sea was teaming with herring. The waters were thick with this kind of fish. In the Early High Middle Ages we in Scandinavia were Roman Catholics, and it was forbidden to eat meat unless under certain times of the year, so the use of herring was cheap and plenty. In the beginning of the 12th century two small cities were founded on the peninsula, Skanör and Falsterbo. In 1146 there was a violent storm and flood which killed lots of people, but still the commerce started here. Market places were formed for the herring trade, which became an important income for the Danish king. In 1169 the Danish king made a crusade to Arkona, on the German island of Rügen where the Vendes lived. They traded with herring too, but they were not Christians and instead sacrificed to their god Svantevik. When they wanted Christian merchants and priests to be sacrificed to their deity the Christian merchants had had enough, which led to the foundation of the new cities. Sometime 1170-1210 the Danish king Valdemar Sejr/Victory and Archbishop Absalon in Lund gave orders to the building of a fortress in Skanör. From there the local sheriff could survey the herring trade which would be booming for years to come. The main building was a rectangular house in two floors, 16 times 8 meters big, and made of bricks. There was also a circular tower, (a so called keep), some smaller buildings and outside the fortress-walls it was surrounded by an inner and an outer moat in circular shape. The fortress was built in the German tradition which was prevailing and modern in those days. From there the sheriff could, (aided by his soldiers), maintain law and order, collect taxes and duties from the fishermen and merchants.

During the Middle Ages Skanör with Falsterbo became one of Northern Europe’s most important trading markets. The commerce was going on between August and October and it has been estimated that ca 40 000 people came to the market place of Skanör every year. In the Danish Capital City of Copenhagen/Köbenhavn there lived about 3000 people at the end of the 14th century, this according to the web site About the same time as the fortress was constructed Saint Olof’s church was built, which you see in two of the photos above. It replaced an earlier chapel on the same spot, which had been made of wood. In 1311 Skanör and Falsterbo were put under siege and conquered for a while by the Vendic, North German Hansa cities of Rostock, Wismar and Greifswald. They didn’t like the Danish competition, and there was a merchant war going on against the Danish king Erik Menved. In response to this siege and sack of Skanör and Falsterbo Erik Menved decided to make a bigger and stronger castle in the region, which was completed in 1318. That was Falsterbohus Castle. During the 14th century the sheriff moved from the old fortress in Skanör to Falsterbohus Castle. The old fort became more and more neglected and gradually fell into decay. Below you see a painting I’ve made after an old black-and-white drawing of the Medieval herring market. I have written in my picture that the original drawing was made by Wagenaer, but that is wrong. The original artist is unknown, and a blown-up version of that picture can be seen at Falsterbo Museum. You also see a photography I took of the beach from Skanör harbor this last Thursday, but from a slightly different angle than the drawing. It’s the same beach though.



At the beginning of the 16th century the amount of herring in Öresund began to decline. The herring trade gradually lost its importance for the national and local economy. The two cities turned into rather common fishing-villages. So they remained during the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. After the Swedish conquest of Scania in 1658 this region had no real significance. In the 1770’s stones from the old fortress were taken by the local inhabitants when de la Rose ordered the building of a new Town Hall, and the fortress hill had been used as a quarry for centuries. In 1754 Skanör and Falsterbo stopped being formally two cities, but instead named as a unity. In 1872 there was a flood which went up to the church and ruined large parts of Skanör. Both in 1874 and 1885 Skanör was victim of large fires which also destroyed most of the old fine buildings. Trees were planted to avoid further disasters. Between the years 1907 and 1909 the professor Otto Rydbeck from Lund University excavated the fortress hill and later published his results. Now Peter Krabbe has used new techniques to make an improved reconstruction of that site, a reconstruction I’ve used for my drawing of the fortress above. A railway was also built in the beginning of the 1900’s, and the Falsterbo Line existed 1904-1971. In the beginning of the last century the Swedish upper class, the royal family and aristocracy noticed the beauty of the place and began coming here. Skanör and Falsterbo became a seaside resort for the wealthy families. In 1908 Falsterbo Hotell was completed. After World War II Skanör with Falsterbo was Sweden’s smallest city, but in the late 1960’s it grew again as a suburb to Malmoe. Skanör with Falsterbo is though situated in Vellinge Municipality nowadays.

The region has become famous also for other things. Along the western tip there’s a nature reserve called Flommen. Flommen nature reserve is 865 hectares/2 162 acres big. It’s a mix of bays, lagoons, beaches and sand formations which attract many types of animals. Every autumn hundreds of thousands of different birds pass this way, rest here for a while and Flommen is therefore popular among ornitologists/bird-watchers. Especially Nabben, the south-west tip of the reserve. In the south we also find Falsterbo light-house from the 18th century and also Kolabacken. In July every year there’s also a big, famous riding competetion called Falsterbo Horse Show. Read more of that at Watching the landscape is a marvel and anyone who can go to Skanör with Falsterbo really ought to.

Anders Moberg, August 18th 2013

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