An hour and a half by Inlandsbanan and 89km north of Sorsele, ARVIDSJAUR was for centuries where the region’s Sámi gathered to trade and debate. Their presence was of interest to Protestant missionaries, who established the first church here in 1606. The success of this Swedish settlement was secured when silver was discovered in the nearby mountains, and the town flourished as a staging point and supply depot. While these developments unfolded, the Sámi continued to assemble on market days and during religious festivals. At the end of the eighteenth century, they built their own church town of simple wooden huts. Today, out of a total population of five thousand, there are still twenty Sámi families in Arvisdjaur who make their living from reindeer husbandry, and the town is a good place to get a real hands-on experience of Sámi life.
Arvidsjaur is not one of Sweden’s more attractive towns – its streets of drab houses strung out either side of the main drag lined with a dozen or so shops make a pretty depressing impression on any first-time visitor. However, although the modern town is decidedly unappealing, it hides one of northern Sweden’s top attractions: the traditional Sámi site of Lappstaden. Arvidsjaur is also the jumping-off point for day trips to the Båtsuoj Sámi Center, 70km away to the northwest, one of the best places in Swedish Lapland to get to grips with Sámi culture and traditions.
A good way to find out more about the
culture (which manifests itself more and more as you travel north from here) is to visit
which lies just off the main drag, Storgatan. Although you probably won’t meet any
here, you will at least be able to see how they used to live in traditional huts, or
. About eighty of these huts in the eighteenth-century
have survived, and are clumped unceremoniously next to a yellow, modern apartment building. The design of these huts – square wooden buildings supporting a pyramid-shaped roof – is typical of the Forest
who lived in the surrounding forests, constructing their homes of indigenous timber. Local
schoolteacher, Karin Stenberg, made it her life’s work to preserve Lappstaden, and the huts are still used today during the last weekend in August as a venue for a special