The sun rises in the east, also in Sulitjelma
Sulitjelma belongs to the municipality of Fauske and is located in the province of Nordland. Gravel and copper were mined here until 1991 and ….. This is roughly what a very factual description of an online lexicon for a Norwegian place sounds like, which wants to be particularly emotionally discovered with all its shortcomings and its own charm Lost Place of Norway.
For everyone who completes the selfi collection of all famous sights of Norway on their agenda, it can be said that one can save the visit of Sulitjelma.
For all those who want to discover Norway, how it really is beyond the advertising-praised tourist paths, Sulitjelma is really to be recommended. It will also not deter a 60-kilometer 830 road that ends in a cul-de-sac in Sulitjelma.
Sulitjelma, was there something?
Admittedly, although I’ve been traveling to Norway for decades, I’ve never heard or read anything from Sulitjelma. Sulitjelma is described so wonderfully reserved in travel guides that you can flip it over without a guilty conscience.
But then I discover a rather touching article about her visit to Sulitjelma on meerblog.de by Elke Weiler that I include this former and somewhat impoverished place in our travel planning to Northern Norway.
And now we are currently in Fauske, see the sign to Sulitjelma and turn spontaneously. After all, it is 60 kilometers over the 830 and the same distance back on the same route.
However, the route to Sulitjelma itself is fantastic, mostly the route always leads along the water, twice through a rustic dark tunnel. We set up the night camp in our VW bus at a small forest clearing, which gets us in the mood with an open tunnel. From the clearing we walk on the narrow and marshy-slippery forest path to Hellamovatnet, a truly mystical place. Snow remains can still be found in the forest in June. The Hellamovatnet, comparable in size to a large pond. It is only separated from the Langvasselva River by the causeway and shows traces that point to a small port facility. Not far away, a high waterfall thunders into the valley, it brings the melting water of the mountains to Hellamovatnet and Langvasselva. By the way, Vatnet stands for water in Norwegian, Elva for river.
A narrow suspension bridge attracts me over the Langvasselva, which flows into the valley towards Fauske. However, it is now so dilapidated that I have to think about every step to avoid falling into the Langvasselva gorge. This is worth mentioning because pedestrian bridges are installed elsewhere with enormous effort and extravagant architecture, but in this case shows how the former mining region was left behind and somehow left to its own devices.
So far we have not been able to find out about Hellamovatnet, but a possible explanation lies in nearby Sulitjelma with its copper smelter. Maybe here, when there was no road, the material was transported from the tunnel to the hut – over the water?
Today Hellamovatnet, just a few kilometers west of Sulitjelma, is a popular fishing and barbecue area for insiders.
The next morning we continue to Sulitjelma. Where is the mine? The first bridge leads to the right and so we stand on the opposite side of the river in front of a closed gallery. This is used today for exercises by the local fire brigade. However, a small hiking trail starts here through the quite impressive and varied nature. From here we also discover the silhouette of Sulitjelma and will now drive to its center.
At home in Sulitjelma
One or the other large and freshly painted villa shows itself on the slope in the best location, at the foot of the simple small village streets with their settlement houses. Multi-family houses like here in Sulitjelma are rather rare in Norwegian villages of this size, they are normal in this mining settlement. The facades could usually use new paint again and in some buildings the windows are boarded up. Old Volvos, Opel or Golf park in front of the houses, not always ready to drive. A teenager with his moped is being checked by a young policewoman, a few curtains are blowing from the window of the house opposite. The small white wooden church stands out on the top of a street, it shows presence and invites you to come and hope, no matter how it is in the place.
The first impression of Sulitjelma has nothing to do with the romantic romance of Norway. And yet or because of that, Sulitjelma seems approachable. Nothing is preserved here, here life shows its real traces. And they are sometimes poor in Norway, which is so rich.
A few meters further on we see the reason for the visible decline of the place – the decaying mine of Sulitjelma. We park our car in front of this brownfield site and I set out to grasp, feel and portray the surroundings. Cold concrete that gets its cracks, a large wooden structure and again and again the heavy steel connections, in front of it somewhere a break bench, a fire barrel and a grill. Parked mine railroads, a stack of rails, parked mine vehicles, an old fire engine and a mountain of rubble.
On the facades I discover the oversized street arts, which comment on the founder of the mine, but also its decay in its own striking way. The complete industrial ruin is a true street art gallery that needs to be discovered and interpreted.
Can I be here? Will I be allowed to move around this industrial site so freely here in Sulitjelma? There would be a police patrol elsewhere, would ask me, maybe report for trespassing or, in the best case, refer the place. Here a jogger comes towards me, then an old lady with a shopping bag, we greet each other briefly as if the encounter here in the middle of this deceased mine was the most normal in the world.
But maybe that’s also the normality of living in this decay, in this place with no future, near the Swedish border and the Sulitjelma mountain.
3000 people once lived here because the copper mine was the largest and most important in Norway. Everyone had a living. But then came the year 1991, zero hour, so to speak. The mine closed and the people were out of work. There is no alternative to mining in Sulitjelma, 60 kilometers from the central town and seat of the Fauske commune. Something like a collective depression followed, the place died out.
But little by little people came back to Sulitjelma, their home. Around 400 to 500 people may live in Sultijelma today, most commute to work in Fauske, perhaps in the marble quarrying there.
Then, in the beginning and today, in the beginning, in Sulitjelma
It all started hopefully in Sulitjelma. Sometime in the 19th century, when Norway was still a poor country, the Same Mons Petter discovered a lump of glittering copper ore. A real gold digger mood broke out, tunnels were created everywhere. More and more people came here, thankful for making money. Mining life increasingly ran in an orderly fashion. Until the lights went out in 1991.
Today a new small supermarket has emerged in Sulitjemla, a modern country trade, right next to the sports field. It is something like the meeting point of Sulitjelma, here you can find the post office as well as a mug of coffee and bread from the baking shelf.
The new business gives hope. It provides a very modest number of jobs, but also shows that it is worthwhile to be here again. Here in Sulitjelma.
Part of the copper mine in Sulitjelma is now a mine museum and demolition has also stopped in the very old plant with its melting furnaces. Surrounded by heaps you try to get what you can get. Caution is essential when entering, sturdy footwear is mandatory, and this area is also not a children’s playground.
Immediately below, the Sulitjelma mine exhibition with integrated tourist office in a new building invites you when it is open in the short main season.
We spent a whole day here in Sulitjemla, before the start of June. The place seems deserted. And yet, the closer we look, we discover life here. Life in a form that could hardly be more authentic in Norway.