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Kiruna: A town that keeps moving with the times

The TIDLÖS watch company is based in Kiruna, which boasts a small population of 23,000 people living in a remote yet eclectic world in the far north of Swedish Lapland, deep within the Arctic Circle. 

Kiruna is mostly known for its long history in mining, but it is also the home of the Sámi people, space research, the northern lights, pristine and beautiful landscapes, snow and ice-based sports, the midnight sun and polar darkness. 

TIDLÖS is proud to call this remote and resilient town its birthplace and home, and in this article, we hope to give you an insight into what makes Kiruna a unique town and in turn, what gives TIDLÖS, as one of its proud inhabitants, its unique origins and character.  

The History of Kiruna

Kiruna - A town on the move - history of Kiruna

Archaeological findings show that the area of Kiruna has been inhabited for over 6,000 years. While the town of Kiruna was only founded in 1900, the area was well-known for the iron ore within two of its hills, centuries before. As far back as 1696, this iron ore was spoken of and has made Kiruna famous, contributing to its unique history.

Although there was a lot of iron ore to be mined, little was mined in the early years because the area was so remote and the weather so harsh. At first, in the 19th century, the ore was mined in the summer and then driven out of the area in winter on sleds that took advantage of the snow to move more easily. However, the costs were high and the quality of the phosphorus ore poor, until, in 1878, a new process was invented allowing for the separation of phosphorus from the ore.

A contract to build a railroad was awarded in 1884, but the British company that started its construction went into bankruptcy and so it was subsequently sold to the Swedish government. Only in 1899 however did the railroad reach Kiruna with the Norwegian and Swedish sections being joined in late 1902.

The city of Kiruna was designed by architects in about 1900, but the area already had some provisional buildings, such as a school, hospital, and police station, and illegal slums that had been built for the miners. This led to the creation of a disorganised town with the town centre itself being built right on top of the mineshafts. However, official residences were built at a high pace, and when the king opened the railway in 1903, all illegal residences and most other provisional buildings had been demolished and replaced.

In April 1907, a tram began operations in Kiruna, the northernmost in the world. This meant miners would no longer have to walk several kilometres through the sub-arctic cold, nor would they need to climb a hundred meters up the mining hill.

Mining in Kiruna

Old miners in Kiruna

Miners in Kiruna worked hard, as did and do miners all over the world. In Kiruna, strikes over the years led to improved wages and living conditions. In 1909, a general strike hit the country’s entire mining industry. The tiny town lost about 500 residents who went to Brazil in search of a better life. Many returned soon, though, realising that conditions in Brazil were no better and sometimes worse.

World War I saw very low mining production. After the war, Kiruna roared back to life however and miners took advantage, striking for and winning a 20% wage increase.

Mining dropped by 70% during the Great Depression, a drop that would turn into a dramatic increase when World War II began.

Kiruna is close to the Norwegian and Russian borders. This made the town and its railway of strategic importance in terms of the movement of supplies and equipment. During the war, the city housed about 2000 refugees from other countries and German prisoners of war. There was even a secret radio station built for the Norwegian resistance in the town.

After the War

German invasion in Kiruna

During the 1950s, the town of Kiruna diversified its economy. Tourism, which had always been a part of the town’s life, became an increasingly important industry.

The airport was built, and the railway was improved to make it easier for people to come to visit this unique town and its surrounding rivers and mountains.

Moving the Town of Kiruna

Moving Kiruna

A honeycomb of mine shafts and other weakened ground structures directly under the town centre has led to the risk of subsidence so the town centre is being relocated about 3 kilometres away.

In 2004, it was decided that the town would be moved and in 2007, it was decided that it would be moved to the foot of Luossavaara mountain. Construction was started on the main sewage pipeline in 2007 but then there was another change of mind and in 2010, the municipal council decided to move the town east instead of northwest. 

Plans were drawn up and the town soon had a complete plan for moving to the new location. The new location will be more densely populated and will use green energy sources in order to be more environmentally friendly, cost-efficient whilst surviving the long winters.

The Midnight Sun

Midnight Sun Kiruna Sweden

Kiruna lies 145 kilometers (90 miles) inside the Arctic Circle. Tourists come every summer to see the Midnight Sun that shines for 100 days on the city.

It’s a city of sweaters and jackets all year round, however. The peak average high is only 19.7 C (67.5 F) in July. Meanwhile, the average low in January is -18.8C (-1.8F) in January.

The sun in summer allows tourists to enjoy the city all day and night, but it is still cool and warm clothing is required.

Winter Tourism

Kiruna - A town on the move - Winter tourism

In winter, the Icehotel in Jukkasjärvi and the northern lights attract thousands of tourists. 

The long and certain snow cover, which generally lasts from October to May, and frozen lakes and rivers facilitate cross-country and alpine skiingdog sledding and snowmobiling

There is ice climbing in the mountains and ice skating on lakes and rivers. The annual Snow Festival is held over the last weekend of January and includes scooter jumping, reindeer racing and an ice sculpture contest.

The Icehotel, first opened in 1990, was the world’s first ice hotel. It is open from December to April of each year and needs to be rebuilt every year from ice blocks taken from the nearby Torne River. The hotel includes rooms, a bar, glassware made of ice, and an ice chapel that is very popular for weddings.

Kiruna Church

Kiruna Church

One of the city’s most distinguishing features is the Kiruna Church. The exterior is Gothic Revival, and the interior is in the Art nouveau style. It is one of Sweden’s largest wooden buildings.

The church was built between 1909 and 1912. It was designed by Gustaf Wickman and the altarpiece was created by Prince Eugen, Duke of Närke

The Sami of Kiruna

For thousands of years, the Lapland region where Kiruna is located was inhabited by the Sámi, a hardy aboriginal people who still live in the area.

Today, they share their culture with tourists, including dog sledding, maintaining their culture even in the face of modern society. 

One of the most popular activities is to tour Sámi Reindeer farms and see how this vital animal was domesticated by the Sámi thousands of years ago and how it became a focal point of the culture.

Space above the Arctic Circle

Kiruna - A town on the move - Maxus 9 Rocket Launch

Space research started in Kiruna in the late 1940’s. Today it’s home to the ESRANGE Kiruna Station of the European Space Agency (ESA), Esrange (the European Space and Sounding Rocket Range), as well as an EISCAT station and EISCAT scientific headquarters.

Also in Kiruna are the Institute of Space Physics and the Department of Space Science belonging to Luleå University of Technology. In 2007, the Swedish government announced that Kiruna would be the host of Spaceport Sweden, signing an agreement with Virgin Galactic.

Space has been part of Kiruna for a long time, and the population of highly qualified rocket scientists attest to its long history of innovation and exploration.

TIDLÖS and Kiruna

Kiruna - A town on the move - TIDLÖS and Kiruna

TIDLÖS and Kiruna are inextricably connected for it was here in Kiruna, 1500m underground in the world’s deepest iron ore mine, that Henry Salmela, the company’s founder, was inspired to create a new watch brand, one that would capture his dreams of the world far above him, a timeless world where joyful summer days were never-ending and long winter nights enclosed the natural world in serene peace, dazzled only by the magical colours of the mysterious northern lights.

Kiruna was also the inspiration for the choice of the name TIDLÖS, which is the Swedish word meaning ‘timeless’, and so a perfect reflection of the remote and un-spoilt landscapes surrounding Kiruna, where nature is pristine and without the limitations of time or space.

Kiruna is Home

Kiruna - A town on the move - Kiruna is Home

Whether you visit Kiruna or simply purchase one of our watches from elsewhere in the world, rest assured you will enjoy a long and timeless connection to one of the most eclectic and storied towns in Scandinavia. 

From the Sámi people with their cultural traditions dating backing thousands of years and the mining of iron ore over the past centuries to the more recent, leading-edge work in space research, Kiruna continues to metamorphose itself uniting the best of the past with the best of the new.

There is nowhere in the world quite like Kiruna!