Visiting Gothenburg, Sweden and its great river: geographical and historical centrality

Flag of Sweden
Flag of Sweden | Source
The Goeta River and Gothenburg's port, seen from the Aelvsborg bridge
The Goeta River and Gothenburg's port, seen from the Aelvsborg bridge | Source
Olof Palme, later Sweden's veteran Prime Minister, opens the Aelvsborg Bridge in 1966
Olof Palme, later Sweden's veteran Prime Minister, opens the Aelvsborg Bridge in 1966 | Source
Map location of Gothenburg on the Goeta River
Map location of Gothenburg on the Goeta River | Source

The Goeta river and the flow of Swedish history

This article follows a visit I paid to Gothenburg, but its origins are from more than three decades ago when I started reading about the remarkable and invigorating geographical and historical fusion that is Sweden. From the recesses of the memory of my reading, I have a recurring image of a great river, mentioned over and over, as if the different writers wanted to impress their readers of its importance and centrality. This is the Goeta River, which enters the sea near the port, and historic city, of Gothenburg.

As I recall crossing the Aelvsborg bridge into Downtown Gothenburg I am conscious of a stirring of images which coalesce after decades of reading. Why are those images so striking? It would be partly because the Goeta River has long been economically important to Sweden. The lumber industry has defined Sweden's economy for centuries. The Goeta river has been the carrier of lumber products to their markets, for shipping downstream out of Gothenburg.

New Aelvsborg fortress

For centuries, the New Aelvsborg fortress (actually, 'New' means the 17th century!) has stood on an island at the mouth of the Goeta Alv, guarding the river and city of Gothenburg. This island with its fortress may be reached via a ½ hr boat trip along the Goeta River; boat departures are from Lilla Bommen.

The Goeta River's inland links

Psychologically also, as well as economically, the river provided a link with inland Sweden — might one say, also, with the heartland? — given that much of the coastline of Western Sweden belonged to Denmark for centuries, apart from an outlet around the mouth of the Goeta River. Inland from Gothenburg, the Goeta River links through, with the 19th century Goeta and Trollhaette canals, via lakes Vaettern and Vaenern, to the Baltic. (There is a canal museum at Trollhaettan.)

The Goeta River was strategically regarded over a long period. Several kilometres inland from Gothenburg, on the Goeta River, is Kungaelv, where, in the Middle Ages, the Norwegian town of Kungahaella (Norwegian: Konghelle ) was situated. In fact, under Norwegian King Sigurd the Crusader , it actually served as Norway's capital. Norwegian castle ruins at Ragnhildholmen, near Kungaelv, may still be visited.

The Aelvsborg Bridge

When in 1966 the Aelvsborg bridge was opened, thus linking the northern and southern banks of the Goeta at Gothenburg, one might say that it represented a physical coming together of a centuries-old economic and psychological focal point. Presiding over the ceremony was Olof Palme , then serving under Tage Erlander as Communications Minister, who was later to serve many years as Sweden's vigorously independent and sometimes irascible Prime Minister, and whose vision of a sovereign Sweden, with its strengths and values, informed (and at times infuriated) a generation of Swedes.

North American comparisons

Another word about the lumber industry. Remember: it was Swedes who first introduced the concept of the log cabin to North America in Delaware. And for Canadians, are there not also parallels between Gothenburg and Ottawa? both historically hubs of the lumber industry; both subsequently became practical symbols of the bringing together of diverse provinces? is not the Ottawa River a living limb of both Quebec and Ontario, and do not a number of Swedish provinces converge on the Goeta river?

Also worth seeing

While you are in Gothenburg, there is an array of museums worth visiting; these include the Maritime Museum, the Volvo Museum, the City Museum of Gothenburg and the Gothenburg Museum of Art: the latter two museums are housed in striking, historic buildings. Downtown Gothenburg's canals are also a remarkable feature.

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How to get there: Delta Airlines (with KLM) flies from New York via Amsterdam to Gothenburg-Landvetter Airport (Göteborg-Landvetter flygplats ). North American visitors making London, England a base, may find it convenient to fly with Ryanair from London Stansted Airport to Göteborg-City Airport . Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.


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