Road Trip 2018, Part 18
From Karum’s Alvar with the Bronze Age stone ship, we went on to also have a look at the ruins of Ismantorp Fortress; an old ringfort dating back to between 200-600 A.D.
I struggled with how to present this place, but decided to let you see it pretty much the way we did. All I knew beforehand was really that the fortress is the largest and probably also the oldest on Öland; but also has the unusual feature of no less than nine gateways in the wall.
The fort is situated kind of “in the middle of nowhere”; and from the parking space, we had to follow a woodland walkpath to get there.
When the woodland opened up, there was the ancient limestone ringwall in the background; said to have a circumference of approximately 300 meters and a diameter of 125 meters.
From the burnt grass and some trees already in autumn colours (this was 18th July!) you can tell how very hot and dry the summer was – and that we’re once again on “alvar” kind of ground (cf. previous post).
Entering “the main gate” in the wall (well, the one used as such nowadays, anyway!)
Within the wall are the foundations of around 90-100 buildings, with an open place in the middle.
Getting an overview of the place from the ground level is difficult… If not for the sign and map at the entrance (+ having read a little about it beforehand) I don’t think we’d have had much clue what we were looking at inside!
Because of the unusual construction with the nine gates in the wall + all the buildings inside, opinons seem to vary about the purpose of this fort. On the one hand, the layout is thought to be inspired by Roman military camps; but on the other hand, the large number of gates makes it seem unlikely that it was built primarily for defense. The buildings are said to have been homes, workshops, animal sheds and barns; but at the same time, archaelogical excavations have provided very little evidence of the fortress having served as a permanent settlement.
There seem to be three main theories – and I suppose they don’t necessarily contradict or exclude each other:
1/ A military training camp, perhaps also used for storage of goods, livestock and slaves brought back from raids abroad.
2/ A fortified trading site, like Gråborg (another ancient stronghold on Öland, which we also visited on the same day)
3/ A ritual/religious center. This theory is supported by the nine gates, as the number nine is important in the old Norse mythology. (For one thing, there were nine “worlds” all connected to the mythical tree Yggdrasil. Was there perhaps once a big tree growing in the middle of this fortress? Who knows!)
Aerial photo of Ismantorp fortress (1997), from Swedish Wikipedia