Aavasaksa (working title)

Here we place banner LOOP by Theo about Aavasksa

Enchanted Landscapes

Under title

@THEO: discuss with Bernhard: DIFFERENT OPENINGS OF THIS STORY ARE POSSIBLE: WE COULD START BY INTRODUCING A SECTION OF THE FRONTISTPIECE WITH THE BOAT AND START FROM THERE: – start laying traces for the whole story: engraving from 1701, central: the sun, a boat, a smoke scene, river, hebrew and emblems: how does that all fit together? i could make it a personal intro describing how i studied this landscape during the days at torneå / up on the watertower to then motivate the travel into the landscape in the second part of this story.


(Mention: year of engraving 1701)

The story behind the engraving starts many years earlier. 

In 1694, a rumour lured the Swedish King Charles XI to Torneå: In this town located on the northern tip of the Baltic Sea, still below the Arctic Circle, it were possible to witness the midnight sun that does not set.

In the midsummer night of 1694, the king and some noblemen climbed the clock tower at Torneå. In the decisive minutes, however, a cloud obscured the horizon. Yet the king had seen what he had come to see – the sun not setting for an entire day over his kingdom. 

Lapland had left Charles in XI in deep awe – to a degree that he launched an astronomical expedition the subsequent year to study the phenomenon in detail. In 1695, Johan Bilberg and and Anders Spole left from Uppsala with the mission to conduct scientific observations up at Torneå. 

However, the same year a second expedition left from Uppsala for Lapland. Its mission was to study further aspects of this lesser known part of the kingdom, in particular its inhabitants as well as its flora and fauna. And for one man, leading this expedition promised a decisive step in his career.


Detail. Description.

‚Let me talk to the KinG‘

The first natural historical expedition to Lapland

On 22 May 1695, the second expedition embarked towards Lapland. Leading the natural historical team had fallen to no lesser person than Olof Rudbeck the Younger (1660–1740)

For years, his father – the author of the Atlantica – had paved an academic career for his son. [for footnotesIn 1688, Rudbeck the Younger dedicated and presented his botanical dissertation to the Swedish queen Ulrika Eleonora. When she and her husband Charles XI visited Uppsala in 1693, he could prove his skills as a draftsman of nature to the royal couple. Rudbeck dY, Laponia illustrata, 17–19. As an introduction to the expedition see Anfält (1987). As an introduction to his journey see Fries T. M., “Den första naturvetenskapliga forskningsfärden i Sverige”, in: Nordisk tidskrift för vetenskap, konst och industri (1898), 481–497, 517–537.] 

When it came to his knowledge that the king was sending Bilberg and Spole to Lapland, Rudbeck the Elder sent a letter to Charles XI right away. His son had long had the idea of travelling the same route, he explained. 

Up north, his son planned to produce drawings of a nature different to the one down south – the plants that don’t grow down here, or the birds migrating up north and that pass Uppsala in spring and fall. As such a journey could provide the foundation for a work on the natural history of Sweden’s north, it should well be considered worth a royal travel bursary, Rudbeck concluded. [Footnote: Annerstedt, Brev, p. 355 (no. 124)]

All parental patronage aside, Rudbeck had a point. In the 1690s, the depiction of the kingdom’s north still mainly depended on the Lapponia by Johannes Scheffer (1673) – a work that was the product of an armchair scholar. 


The journey which Rudbeck now envisioned would be based on the scientific values of autopsy and precise documentation. And as such, it was bound to become the earliest scientific expedition into Lapland.


An ambivalent Enterprise

It was an enterprise destined to make a region visible in Europe that was hardly known. 

Up north, Rudbeck the Younger planned to document all aspects of the land, its people and nature. In this, he pursued a highly visual approach. Out of this reason, he made two painters part of his team, Andreas Holtzbohm and Olof Thelott. 

At the same time, Rudbeck’s enterprise in the beginning of a long tradition in which scholars from southern Sweden began defining the historic discourse on the regions up north, the indigenous people living in these lands, and their culture. 


Bernhard adds an image of plants and birds from the surviving lapland material at uppsala.

Alternative interests

Together with the artists followed the noblemen Jacob and Carl Gyllenborg, sons of the governor of Uppsala, and an unknown number of servants and assistants.

Rudbeck’s party left Uppsala later than Bilberg and Spole. Where the astronomers had deployed their instruments for optical observations on the way north, Rudbeck and his team now documented the plants and birds en route

The days around midsummer, the two expeditions united at Torneå. In the harbour town, Bilberg and Spole climbed the clock tower as the king had done the year before. Overlooking the coast and the Torne River, they set up their instruments. Thirty feet above the ground, they explored the phenomenon of refraction that Charles XI had witnessed.

While Bilberg and Spole operated from the church tower, the team of Rudbeck the Younger decided to leave the town behind. On 13 June, they travelled up the Torne River by boat. Upstream, they hoped for more favourable observation conditions to observe the midnight sun. And they should be lucky.

As Rudbeck relates in his journal, they found a wind mill on an elevated hill. Climbing one of its wings, he found a vantage point that, as he claimed, was superior to Bilberg’s in town (in the decisive minutes, however, the sun’s lower quarter still was covered by trees and hills). [footnote: dagboken 34]

@Lutz: können wir das folgende als Kasten o.ä. machen? eine art feature „Extra Info“? Oder einen Button Slider?

The Story behind the image

Almost a century after Olof Rudbeck’s journey, the Englishman Sir Henry George Liddell embarked with some gentlemen friends on a voyage to Lapland. 

In mid-June 1786, the party reached Torneå. In a clear night, they moved out of the city to observe the midnight sun. 

After their return, this scene was turned into a wood incision by the engraver Thomas Bewick. It formed the frontispiece of a travel account drawn up by the traveller Matthew Consett. 

The scene – not described in further detail in the text – shows the travellers next to a wind mill. In the background, at a lower elevation, the church of Torneå can be seen to the left. 

Perhaps, the engraving shows the mill that Rudbeck the Younger chose to climb at midsummer, a century earlier?

Frontispiece of Rudbeck the Younger’s Laponia illustrata (1701).

From the copy kept at Uppsala University Library. Courtesy of alvin-portal.org (Alvin-record:103033).

Publishing the results

In the days that followed, the astronomers followed up on the Torne River. On higher latitudes, Bilberg and Spole made observations of the midnight sun that were less affected by refraction. 

On 4 July, the expeditions reached the headwaters of the Torne River, the northernmost point of their journey upstream. From there, Bilberg and Spole headed back to Torneå again, making haste to return to Uppsala and prepare the publication of their treatise on refraction.

For Rudbeck’s team, however, the journey was not over yet. From Torneå, they embarked southwest for the harbour town of Luleå. From there, they followed up the Lule River deep into north-western Lapland, the second leg of their expedition. 

As late as September 1695, Rudbeck the Younger returned from his journey that had lasted five months. At that time, Bilberg was already close to finishing his treatise on refraction. 

It would take Rudbeck another six years until the first result from their harvest of material saw the light. In 1701 the Laponia illustrata (‚Lapland illustrated‘) appeared. It was the first volume in a series intended to cover no less than twelve volumes. 


Its frontispiece (opening engraving) communicates the vision that Rudbeck the Younger projected on the northern regions of the Swedish kingdom.  

The rock gate in the center opens up a vision into a landscape of stunning beauty, wonder and ancient promise. For Rudbeck, there was a place whose geography, nature, language, and ancient rites left no doubt about the historic truths the Bible had meant – and this place was Lapland. 

Yet the landscape and the scenes the frontispiece shows are far from naturalistic. As in the case of other engravings from the time [Footnote: Stone in the Green Valley], it combines pictorial details inspired by earlier illustrations – first and foremost Johannes Scheffer’s 1673 Lapponia – with further features that Rudbeck the Younger connected with Lapland. 

It was the river landscape at the right, with its rapids and raging waterfalls, that attracted my attention during my days on the Torne River. 

Further upstream, a hill emerges at the left bank. At its top there is a wooden boat. At its foot there is a camp site with tents. In front of them, a small group of people seems to engage in a fire sacrifice. 

A pair of medaillons, held by winged putti hold to the right, provides the key to this imageryThese combine slightly modified verses from the bible in Swedish and Hebrew. At their center, they are illustrated by images recalling the emblematic tradition of the Baroque. 

The medaillon at the bottom right – This is the sign of my covenant– refers to the rainbow which God put into the sky after the deluge as a sign for his new covenant with Noah and humankind. 

The one above – ‚And the Lord smelled a pleasing aroma‘ – points to the same episode from the Bible. It refers to the favourable reaction that the fire sacrifice kindled in God when Noah thanked him for the flood receding by selecting animals from the ark.

The two medaillons thus spell out the biblical dimension to which the landscape in the background delivers. Lapland was a promised landscape – the place where Noah’s ark had landed. 

Detail from the frontispiece of Rudbeck the Younger’s Laponia illustrata (1701).

From the copy kept at Uppsala University Library. Courtesy of alvin-portal.org (Alvin-record:103033).

A gate to Paradise

Explore the meanings behind the Laponia's frontispiece!

Was the landscape in this frontispiece purely imaginary – or was there an actual place up north, one whose physical features and legends was behind this depiction? 

Rudbeck the Younger does not answer the question in the Laponia illustrataMost of his material from the journey burned in the Fire of Uppsala in 1702. The one part of the Laponia illustrata that had appeared in print until then only covers the expedition’s path up to the Dalälven – some fifty miles out of Uppsala. 

What survives are the raw notes Rudbeck jotted down on the voyage, a few of the exquisite expedition drawings his draughtsmen produced, and secondary sources on the voyage. 

These sources include the volume of his father’s Atlantica that appeared after his son’s return, that is volumes three (1698) and four (1702, fragment). It is in the fourth volume that Rudbeck the Elder revisits variants of ancient traditions such as the Deluge. As he argued, all these traditions must point to one historic reality at their core. It is in his Atlantica that he discussed candidates for the highest mountain at that time – the one where Noah’s ark must have stranded accordingly. 


In the same context, Rudbeck the Elder also touches on local lore of mountains linked with stories of global flooding – including stories from Lapland. 

On his recent journey north, Rudbeck the Elder relates, his son had heard of traditions circulating among the Sámi about a flood that once drowned all humans – except the ones who survived in a boat and stranded on nearby peaks. 

The Sámi were still predominantly of pagan belief, Rudbeck explained. Therefore, he interpreted the existence of such traditions up north as evidence that it had been the same major event which echoed in the early myths of different cultures. 

In this context, Rudbeck the Elder mentions two such peaks about which his son had learned on his recent journey north – ‚Lappavari‘ and ‚Avasaxa‘. (fOOTNOtES: Avasaxa: IV p. 23f)

The first of these I found about sixty kilometres upstream from Torneå – Mount Aavasaksa on the eastern (Finnish) bank. It is a hill of modest height. Yet rising a few hundred meters over the river valley, Aavasaksa ranks among the most exquisite spots to witness the midnight sun over Torne Lapland.


View across the Torne River towards Aavasaksa Mountain as seen from Luppioberget .

Photograph by Annette Rosengren (1979) from the collection of the Nordiska Museet (CC-BY-NC-ND). Courtesy of digitalmuseum.se (DIMU code 011013853019).

Train stopping near the foot of Luppiovari Mountain (ca. 1950). In previous decades, thousands flocked to Luppiovari and Aavasaksa in the days around Midsummer. 

Photograph by Eric Lundquist (ca. 1950) from the collection of the Järnvägsmuseet (CC-pdm). Courtesy of digitalmuseum.se (DIMU code 021018081953).

On his way up the Torne River, Rudbeck the Younger had changed crew and boats at Aavasaksa mountain. In his handwritten journal, he noted the legends he picked up on that occasion.

Among locals there was lore of an ark that stranded up the hill in the great deluge – and even of physical remains still visible. The same legend he had heard about another hill nearby, to which he and his father referred as ‚Lupovari‘ and ‚Lappavari‘ respectively – that is Luppiovari, a similarly prominent hill a little further downstream on the Swedish bank. [footnote dagboken 38, 39] 


tentative translation by Bernhard,

@Theo: voice over material??

„… Lupovari mountain, [derived] from [the word] shallop, boat, of adequate height, of which it is said that the ark in the Deluge has stranded, of which some remains are still supposed to be visible. Others said the same in return about Aavasaksa at Mikkolajärvi, where we also had a change of crew and river boats. With the former may it be as it can, namely that the ark could have stranded there in the Deluge. But the latter – that there is still something of the keel supposed to lie around – is of no value.“

[Footnote: Dagboken p 38: „… berget Lupovari, af slup, båth, tämeligt högt, hwarest sades att boten i syndafloden skulla hafwa stannat, hwar effter ännu skulla synnas några öfwerlefwor. Andra sade åter thet samma om Avasaxar wid Mikkolajärvi, ther wir och hade omwexling med folk och håpar. Med thet förra må wara huru thet kan, nemligen att boten ther i syndafloden kunnat stanna, men thet senare, att ther effter ännu något af kölen skall ligga qwar, är af intet wärde.“]


There was an actual a landscape that inspired the Laponia’s frontispiece. The two neighbouring mountains and the legends tied to them were at the bottom of the vision that Rudbeck the Younger opened up into Lapland. The camera set up on the water tower at Torneå, I knew where I was headed during midsummer night.



24 Hours Under the midnight sun


way up torne dalen

arrival to Aavasaksa

the watchtower on aavasaksa

follow the river around the mountain

finding the bridge for the railway

the fors in that river

the ship like structure in the water

aavasaksa mountain with its open flank



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Here we should place a cool video by Theo from the Aavasaksa / Noah’s Ark Material.

on the peaceful field: sound of motocross bikes driving up to the watch tower on aavasaksa

I drive away,

search for a place on the other river bank

to see aavasaksa from some distance, with the midnight sun

drone filming

not a single car on the roads I travelled that night

only a few teenagers on bikes, in T-shirts, white plastic bags with beer cans, peaceful


returning south on the swedish bank

a rabbit running in front of the car

fog rises over the torne river in the early morning

church at hedenäset, pull over into drive way

walk towards the silent river, peacefulness of the river landscape

cow sheds mirror on the even surface

cow bells ringing across the water from the island in the river

aavasaksa sunrise

Here we place a fancy multmedia installation with the soundtrack of the landscape.

driving back to tornea


warm evening air in the car

no car passing



back on the water tower

check in with the camera

looking stable

recording time 09:54:04 hours – happy, camera still working

roll out the mattress, buff over head, fall asleep in the morning sun