The name Smaland is based on the history of this Swedish region, which developed from small (sma), formerly independent estates (land. Including the northern province of Ostergotland, the area encompasses some 40,000 square kilometers. The borders of the entire region are the Ljungby-Kalmar line to the south, the E4 to the west and the eastern parts of Lake Vattern; the northernmost city is Norrkoping, and the eastern border is the Baltic Sea.
The landscape was formed during the last Ice Age, when massive sheets of ice created smoothly polished rock knolls and melt water produced countless lakes. Millions of boulders left behind by the glaciers, some of them as big as houses, impart the impression of a primeval world. Nearly a third of the region is covered by pine forests inhabited by a large population of elk. Lakes and moors comprise an additional third – areas suitable to farming are therefore very limited. For the very reason that this region has largely been left to itself without much human encroachment, extraordinary natural landscapes remain unchanged, lending charm to the area and allowing it to be accepted for its true value.
The ever-increasing shortage of farmland for a rapidly growing population led to the great waves of emigration of the 19th century. Only after the development of the iron, wood, leather and glass industries could the inhabitants begin to make ends meet and the population begin to stabilize.
Until the Treaty of Roskilde in 1658, Smaland was the southernmost region in the Swedish realm. Constant wars and internal turmoil hindered a continuity in development so that not until modern times could at least the cities of Vaxjo and Kalmar attain some sort of significance outside the region. The infrastructure also remained undeveloped for quite a long time. The major traffic artery in the west consists of the E4 and the railway, both following the old trade routes between Helsingborg and Stockholm. Secondary train routes lead to Kalmar, Oskarshamn and Vastervik. The recently completed E22, following the Baltic coast, is a rapid connection between Kalmar and Norrk8ping. The region’s inland area, on the other hand, is served only by a system of royal highways.
In the Forests of Smaland
Travelers from the south heading for central or northern Sweden usually take the E4. The 560-kilometer stretch between Helsingborg and Stockholm can be covered in six to eight hours by car or rail. This leads to the temptation to forgo the small detours leading to many sites which are well worth visiting.
Shortly before reaching Ljungby, the first town after crossing Smaland’s provincial border, signs direct you to a road leading to the burial site of Kanna, with numerous burial mounds, stone settings and other relics from the Bronze Age and the Vikings. Ljungby’s picturesque marketplace is an inviting place for a coffee break. Those in search of peace and tranquility can make an excursion to nearby Lake Bolmen, where the island of Bolmso is home to other archeological findings; the Pikesborg for instance. On the northern route, along the E4, you will become acquainted with the vast forests of the Smaland highlands, having an elevation of only 100 meters above sea level.
From Varnamo, a westbound detour leads via routes 27 and 153 to Smalandsstenar 40 kilometers away; five huge circles of stones from the Iron Age lend the city its name. Taking Route 27 or 151, you will reach the Store Mosse (Great Moor) National Park, with a unique population of birds you can watch from observation towers. Hiking trails lead through the park: they must be strictly followed in order not to disturb the flora and fauna.
Shortly before reaching Jonkoping, two detours are worth taking: to Taberg (towards Norrahammar) and to the country estate of Riddersberg (towards Nassjo). The Taberg (343 meters) is a large hill of stone containing iron, titanium and vanadium ores. Mining was carried on here from the 15th century until World War II. In 1986, the Swedish government purchased the mountain to stop the proposed construction of a ski resort, thereby protecting the last remains of a unique ecosystem. From the mountain peak, you have a beautiful view over the forests of Smaland, and of Lake Vattern a hundred meters below. The country estate of Riddersberg boasts an exhibition of contemporary wooden sculpture executed in the naive style by Calle Ornemark. Especially due to the massive dimensions of the work, the sculptures have drawn interest even from abroad.