KÖKAR IS DIFFERENT
What is it, that makes Kökar so special?
Is it the magnificent nature, on all those islands of the outer archipelago? Is it the inhabitants? Is it the exciting history of Kökar, filled with seal hunters, monks, pirates and soldiers?
Or is it just that Kökar cannot be described in words? Is it that you have to come here and experience Kökar?
The Åland Island forms a bridge between Sweden and Finland, geographically as well as culturally.
The largest Islands the so called Main Åland – are situated in the northwest and here live today most of the 25 000 inhabitants.
An extensive archipelago of nearly 6500 small islands and skerries, divided parishes, stretches to the east and the southeast.
Kökar is the outmost one, located at the edge of the open Baltic.
Geographycally Kökar forms an archipelago of its own, on all sides surrounded by wide waters.
The principal islands: Karlby, Finnö and Hellsö usually called Main Kökar, are situated in the north. From them, a dense pattern of hundreds of small inhibited skerries extend towards the south and the southeast.
The nature of Kökar is in many respects completely different from that on the Main Åland. Instead of red granite and conifer woods the landscape is dominated by naked grey bedrock of gneiss, covered in small brushwood, with alder, birch and juniper. This green element is of young age, however at the turn of this century Kökar was completely treeless, as a result of the constant overgrazing and permanent lack of firewood. Now, when the grazing of cattle has almost come to an end the vegetation spreads rapidly.
The population reached its maximum around 1920, when the total was ca. 1000 people lived in the five villages. After a rapid decline set in which was not halted until the beginning of the 1980s. Today the permanent population is around 250 people and new areas to build upon are planned. So we hope that the permanent population slowly increase again.
In the past the economy was based almost entirely on fishing and hunting. Most important was the seasonal fishing for the Baltic herring that took place at the outmost skerries Ören and Mörskär. Every year in August the men moved out there for six weeks, in order to fish enough herring to sell at the autumn markets in Stockholm, Helsinki and Tallinn.
Today, that traditionally life has been totally changed. The private sector is dominated by tourism, shipping and farming, but there is also a new bakery. The municipality is a major employer with some 30 employees; most of them working with childcare, care for the elderly or at the school. The spirit of enterprise and entrepreneurship is blooming, and the number of registered businesses has gone up from 18 to 33 in the years 2007-2013.
The store at Kökar provides groceries and gas. In summer there are two smaller grocery kiosks. In Karlby there´s a post office with a medicine cabinet and a bank (but no cash dispenser). At the school you can visit the library. In Hellsö is the health center next to the retirement home and the kindergarten. The coast-guard station is located on a wonderful place that is worth a visit. The hotels, restaurants and cafeés are open daily only during the main tourist season (middle of June to middle of August) and otherwise on special reservation. Antons gästhem offers accommodation in rooms or apartments and is open all the year.
Kökar is an anglers paradise. Here you find vast waters ample of fish and there are large areas where licensed fishing is permitted. The required licenses can be obtained from the shop and tourist establishments. Fishing guides, bikes and boats can be hired at the tourist establishments. My advise is to rent a kayak or a canoe! Paddling is an excellent way of seeing the archipelago.
The church of Kökar, situated at Hamnö, is dedicated to Anna, grandmother of Jesus.
The current stone church was inaugurated in 1784 and is built on the remnants of the old monastery church. The look of the church has not changed in two hundred years, only the sacristy was added in 1876. Inside, the most important change is the organ loft inaugurated in 1912. The organ was in use until 1992 when the current organ was installed. The old organ can now be seen at the Kökar museum.
Some effects are especially worth mentioning. Several objects were brought from the old wooden church that was in use at the end of the 17th and the beginning of the 18th centuries: a large crucifix, an offering box, the old altarpiece and a pelican hanging over the ornamented pulpit. The current altarpiece is from 1803 and depicts The Last Supper.
The church ship, an ornamented wooden pirate ship with 64 cannons, is also from the old wooden church. According to the legend, the ship is made by Olle from the Johans farm in Karlby, and represents the Turkish pirate ship that in 1733 hijacked the merchant vessel he was sailing. In the chancel, there is the limestone bowl of a baptismal font from the early 13th century. It is said to have been build into the wall of the monastery church.
The Franciscan monastery
Kökar is known to have had a monastery during the Middle Ages, Conuentu Tiokkakarlensis, the only one of its kind in Åland. The monastery was a Franciscan convent and is mentioned for the first time in 1472. It is, however, believed that the monks have been active in the area since the 14th century; first seasonally and then more permanently towards the end of the century.
A contributory cause why the monks came here may have been Hamnö’s importance as a medieval harbour and that there was a seafarer chapel on the island. Another reason may have been the importance of fishing for Kökar, which meant that a lot of people stayed here seasonally. The monastery activity was discontinued during the reign of Gustavus Vasa. All that remains of the monastery today are ruins, found by the church of Hamnö. On the monastery ruins there are nowadays a chapel, used in summer both for exhibitions and functions.
Excavation of buildings and graves
Archaeological studies show that there were important building complexes both within and outside the monastery area on Hamnö. The seafarer chapel, two groups of dwellings and the monastery church seem to be older than the monastery. This indicates that there was previous activity on Hamnö, which was why the Franciscan monks came here.
The seafarer chapel and the monastery church
The seafarer chapel was situated on the southern side of Hamnö, and was a small wooden building from the 13th century with walls around it. The chapel had a painted window and a brick roof, which indicates that it had an important function in the Middle Ages.
The monastery church, probably built at the end of the 14th century and in the beginning of the 15th century, was a large grey granite church with a sacristy and tower. The tower seems to have been built somewhat later, because older graves have been found under the wall, but most likely not later than during the first part of the 15th century. The ground plan of the church does not resemble Franciscan construction tradition, and it is therefore likely that the church used to be a regular parish church that the monks took over.
The refectory and the monastery cellar with museum/church room
North of the church and the monastery courtyard, there was the kitchen and the refectory – dining hall – of the monastery. Here, remnants of several stoves and green pieces of stove tiles have been found.
Outside the northern wall there was a garbage pile where lots of findings were discovered: ceramics, glass, utensils, coins and lots of bones and fish-scales. The pile was in use from the 15th century up until the 18th century.
The refectory is in the west built together with a storehouse, the monastery cellar. The cellar was maintained until the middle of the 19thcentury when it fell into disrepair. In 1974,the current protective roof was built, and in 1979 the building was inaugurated as a Franciscan chapel. It is nowadays used as a church room and museum. In summertime there is an exhibition here with texts, pictures and findings from the history and excavations of the monastery.
Some graves have been found in the chancel and the church tower. According to tradition, the finest graves are inside the church. Outside the northern wall of the church there is, peculiar enough, a medieval burying place with more than 40 graves. The graves are hard to explain as the northern side of the church normally was avoided. Some of the graves may be explained by the activity of the monastery, but the earliest graves were there before the monastery was founded. A total of almost 100 skeletons have been found, investigated and buried again.
About one hundred meters south of the church, there are two large medieval building complexes. They don’t seem to have been directly connected to the monastery. Both are at least from the 14th century. The southernmost of the two has been a wooden dwelling with at least three rooms. There was also a stone cellar, a warehouse and a well with walls and bottom made of stone.
The south-eastern complex consists of a dwelling-house and a little forge. The forge has been in active use; more than 60 kg forging slag, as well as some knives and half-made products, have been found here.
Some strange findings were found nearby; a bronze buckle from the time of the crusades 1050-1150, an elderly type of battleaxe and three crossbow arrow heads from the latter part of the Middle Ages. The south-eastern complex can hardly be related to the Franciscans, but perhaps it may concern some kind of military activity from the time before the foundation of the monastery. To the west of the southern buildings, there is one more building, unexplored to date.
On Hamnö there are unexplored remnants of two harbours with quay constructions. The westernmost, Modermagen, may be somehow connected with the seafarer chapel, which is close by. It is situated in a lagoon, protected by a pier. The other one, Munkbron, consists of a stone wall with an angle at the inner end. It is situated to the southeast of the monastery and is, according to local tradition, the harbour of the monastery. The stone wall can be interpreted as the filling of collapsed caissons. The size indicates that it cannot have been meant for the use of the monastery only. The harbour may also be somehow related to the south-eastern buildings.
The culture trail on Hamnö
The culture trail at Hamnö has been planned so that it passes by all the most important remnants on Hamnö, while it leads you through typical Kökar nature. The walk most conveniently starts by the Franciscan chapel with the exhibition and its stories about Hamnö. The culture trail is a cooperation between the museum department of Åland, the Kökar congregation, and the folklore society of Kökar. There is an ongoing effort to maintain and put up signs at the excavated sights.
Hamnö, with it´s beautiful and unusual nature, is one of the most remarkable places of the Åland archipelago. A medieval monastery environment – in the outer archipelago! On a hilly island of about 1 km, there are extensive remnants of medieval activity; a seafarer chapel and two harbours. Shipping has been a precondition for the Hamnö church and monastery as a Christian and cultural centre.
At the Kökar museum you can see, learn and experience how the inhabitants of Kökar used to live. The museum is located in Österbygge-Hellsö old schoolhouse from 1913 and was opened by Kökar folklore society in 1988. At the museum area there are old buildings, but also new houses built according to old style.
Nature trail – Kalen
Kalen, on the western side of Kökar, offers a wonderful view of the Kökar bay to the north and the Baltic Sea to the west. This is one of the most beautiful and perhaps most interesting parts of Kökar. There is magnificent nature here, ranging from old pasture land to a vast marshland and small valleys with almost jungle-like vegetation.
In particular, Kalen is dominated by the grey primary rock. There are long flat rocks and steep hillocks, together forming a tableland. Kalen is majestic to visit during any kind of weather, but especially during storm and rain from the south-west when mighty waves from the Kökar bay roll in.
Several of the ancient and historical monuments of Kökar are situated on Kalen, remnants of seal hunting activities both from the early Bronze Age and the late Iron Age, as well as extensive remnants of Russian fortifications from the First World War, and of Finnish fortifications from the Second World War. Today, there are only ruins left of the fortifications, but the place is still worth visiting.
Källskär is a small, mythical island, far out at sea, outside mainland Kökar. The island is one of the most popular destinations for excursions from Kökar. What has attracted visitors for a long time is the so-called “Källskärskannan”, a unique rock formation created during the ice age. The formation reaches about 3 m from the rock, soft and round. There are also other amazing natural phenomena created throughout history.
What has recently contributed to the legends of Källskär is the oasis created by the Swedish Lord Göran Åkerhielm. Despite the rough ground and the exposed situation of the island, a harbour, several houses and a magnificent garden have been constructed here. During the summer months the island is accessible by excursion boats from Kökar.
Read more on www.kokar.ax