At the centre of things - or not?
Today Røros is a densely populated place in a sparsely populated part of Norway, but was it always like this?
We know that the Copper Works was responsible for the development of a mining town, which came to have important economic implications for Trondelag and the eastern districts. Perhaps Røros would have remained a quite ordinary hamlet if it were not for the discovery of copper-rich ore?
If we take another look at today’s perceptions of what is at the centre of things or not, then perhaps Røros is not so far out on the periphery. Many paths have been made across the Røros mountain slopes, for people who walked and for people who drove sledges or wagons. In prehistoric times there were three main roads through the area: To north-south routes where the most easterly track followed the rivers and streams from Fedmunden, along Feragen, continuing on to the east of Aursunden and along the Ri and the Riast Rivers. The western track followed along the course of the Glomma River and continued on towards the north, te route follows a track running to the west of Aursunden. The third path or track follows an east-west direction along the Vaul River, to the north of Aursunden to Molingdalen and Glomos. In this manner the area was well connected to Sweden to the east, Tydal and Holtaalen to the north, and Osterdalen to the south.
These old roads were used throughout the centuries and still exist in parts even though joined by more modern roads or railways. There are still traces of the old road along the northen side of Aursunden and it can still be seen at Ryttervollen and Kokkvollen. It is also possible to identify the old tracks through Litj-Molingdalen leading over Rundhoegda and down to Skaardal at Aalen.
After the Copper Works were started it became necessary to build roads of much higher standard for both summer and winter use. It was of particular importance to have good road connection to Trondheim to get the copper out, and get provisions in, to the mining community.
With the development of the road system and eventually the railway, Røros step by step became a destination for those who sought employment, for different types of craftsmen and experts, and for scientists from Norway and abroad, as well as a destination for the first tourists. It is probable that the majority of foreign travellers did not consider Røros to be in the centre of things. The journey from more urban centres such as, Kristiania and Trondheim was long, the landscape sparsely populated and the climate hard. If we read some of the travel notes from the journals of the earliest tourists, we get an idea of how they perceived the ‘remoteness’ of Røros. One example is from the Dutch Ships Commander, Cornelius de Jong who visited Røros in 1796. De Jong was on an extended sea voyage but was forced to seek shelter in Trondheim through the winter. He used this opportunity to travel around in the district. The road up the Gaul Valley was exhausting with snowdrifts, hard frosts and sledges that over-turned. Røros did not impress the Dutchman and he felt sorry for the inhabitants. ‘I am sorry for them that they must spend their lives among Norway’s highest mountains, in an unpleasant climate and in an barren part of the country.’
Another description is written by an English Naval Lietenant, William Henry Breton who visited Røros in 1834, he recorded his visit to the mining town in this way. ‘Of all the places that I have seen for the foundation of a town, Røros is absolutely the worst.’ In the opinion of the Englishman, that a town was in existence in Røros was only because of the discovery of copper. ‘This mining town has achieved some significance only because of the existence of the copper mines. Without the mines Røros would have simply been a poor little hamlet.
The mining town was surrounded by harsh mountainous areas and uncultivated lands, ‘Now and again one comes across an isolated shack or summer farm. But even in the town if one climbs a slope and turns one’s back to the town there is not a single building or farmed plot to be seen. Some sand hills, which are 40 – 50 metres high, help to improve the landscape. There are no attempts at making a garden, because the climate makes it impossible. Rye and potatoes only ripen in very good years and even then the potatoes are tiny. Only the worms thrive, and the farmers are satisfied if they can at least keep their family in milk products and clothes woven from their own wool.’
How do modern tourists see Røros today? In Discovery Channel’s guidebook for Norway, the mining town is considered to be quite an attraction, and the church and the museum are singled out as worth visiting. And, interestingly enough, Røros is described as a junction where travel routes from east, north and south meet. Understandably the road to Sweden is described as a journey through barren wilderness, but Røros is clearly described as a meeting point, in the centre of things and strategically situated. And it is exciting to think that these lines of communication to the outside world have been in use for thousands of years.
Breton, W. H. 1975: Gamle Norge. Reisehåndbok anno 1834. Oslo.
Daugstad, K., Binns, K. S., Grytli, E. R., Liavik, K., Prøsch-Danielsen, L. og Vistad, O. I. 1999: Bergverksbyen omland. Om ressursbruk, vern, kultur og natur i Rørosområdet. NIKU Temahefte 29.
de Jong, C. 1993: "En tur til Røros" en reisebeskrivelse fra interen 1795/96. Fjellfolk nr. 18, s. 43-47.
Discovery Channel 2004: Norway, Insight guides. APA Publications.