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Norrland ( listen (help·info)) (Northland) is one of the three lands of Sweden (landsdelar), the northern part, consisting of nine provinces. The term Norrland is not used for any administrative purpose, but it is common in everyday language, e.g., weather forecasts.
Provinces and counties
Norrland comprises the historical provinces (landskap) Gästrikland, Medelpad, Ångermanland, Hälsingland, Jämtland, Härjedalen, Västerbotten, Norrbotten and Lappland, roughly 59 percent of Sweden's total area. Historically, Jämtland and Härjedalen belonged to Norway until 1645, and are thus not part of the historical Norrland.
Administratively, Sweden is not divided into provinces but into counties (see Län). Although Norrland is defined in terms of the historical provinces and not the counties, it roughly comprises the modern counties of Gävleborg, Jämtland, Norrbotten, Västerbotten and Västernorrland.
Except for the coastal areas, Norrland is sparsely populated. Approximately 12 percent of Sweden's population lives in Norrland. Unlike the much more densely populated Svealand and Götaland, which are better known for big cities (Stockholm, Gothenburg, Malmö) with landmarks and tourist attractions, Norrland is known for its nature: wide forests, large rivers and untouched wilderness.
Most inhabitants live in rural areas and small villages, and in cities along the coast. Towards the end of the 20th Century there was a noticeable increase of the population in Norrland, mainly from people moving from bigger cities. The largest cities in Norrland, from north to south, are Luleå, Skellefteå, Umeå, Östersund, Sundsvall and Gävle. With the exception of Östersund, all these cities are located near the coast.
During the industrial revolution, which reached Sweden in the mid-19th Century, Norrland became the source for the important wood and pulp industry. All of the major Norrland rivers but four have been exploited for water power. The rivers in Norrland account for the bulk of hydroelectric power in Sweden – in many countries a limited energy source, but in Sweden hydroelectrical power accounts for approximately 40 percent of Sweden's total production of electricity.
Mines for producing precious metals have also been located in Norrland. In older history, the administration in Stockholm viewed Norrland pretty much as a colony consisting of natural resources to be exploited. "In Norrland we have an India within our borders, if only we realize we should be taking advantage of it" (I Norrland hava vi inom våra gränser ett Indien, blott vi förstå att bruka det) is a quote attributed to Axel Oxenstierna that fairly well describes the attitude. In the official history of Sweden not much is written about the northern parts of the country.
In older history, Norrland is one of the four lands of Sweden. To the west it represented the northern half of Sweden bounded to the south by Svealand and to the east it represented the northern half of Finland – which was then a part of Sweden – bounded to the south by Österland. In Svealand and Götaland, the land boundaries were of major juridical and administrative importance, but this was not the case with Norrland. The name Norrland just gradually became a denomination of everything north of Svealand. Up to the Middle Ages, the northern part of Norrland (Norrbotten and Lappland) was basically a no man's land. The area was sparsely populated by Sami, Kvens and different tribes/people related to the Finns. In the southern part of Norrland, Swedish and Norwegian settlers lived side by side with the Sami population. From the Middle Ages on, the Swedish kings tried hard to colonize and Christianize the area. But it took time – even today, Finnish and Sami minorities live in the northern parts of Norrland and have maintained their culture and customs.
As a result of the changing relations to Finland, the northern borders of Norrland have shifted. While the word Finland originally meant only the southwestern part of what is now Finland (Finland Proper), the border of Norrland was drawn at the rivers Kaakamojoki or, later, Simojoki. This changed when the eastern half of Sweden (Finland) was lost to Russia in 1809, and the new border was drawn at Torne River. The southern border was first everything north of the Gästrikland province (until the 14th or 15th century a part of Uppland), but from the mid 17th century further also Gästrikland is considered a part of Norrland. The name can be first traced from Karl's Chronicle, explaining how Engelbrekt Engelbrektsson in 1433 sent a letter to Erik Puke requesting assistance to conquer entire Norrland (al norland vnte han honom wolla).
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Norrland is often portraited slightly negatively in Swedish fiction, often being a place of terror and dread. The thriller films The Hunters and The Hunters 2 show a highly negative portrait of Norrland, filled with racial prejudice and violence. The people of Norrland refer to Stockholm as fjollträsk. Despite Norrland being the most diverse of the three lands of Sweden in terms of languages and cultures it is usually portrayed as one homogenous region. Fiction usually portrays characters from Norrland as villagers from the wilderness even though the majority of the population live in and around the coastal cities.
In the 2006 horror film Frostbite, the portrait is more balanced. Unlike most other Swedish films, it takes place in a larger community at the northern peak of Sweden, being filmed in Kalix and Kiruna. The people are shown to be pretty warm and welcoming towards outsiders. Rather than the people, the nature of Norrland is shown to be hostile. A constant darkness roams over the town and there is extreme cold. Vampires have been shown taking a liking to the land and hunt the towns people in the arctic night. The film is notorious for not having the actors speak without the district Norrland accent, even the actors in the film which are native to Norrland.
The plot of the well-known thriller "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" shifts back and forth between Stockholm and the fictional Norrland town of Hedestad. A constantly repeated theme in the book's background are the social, cultural and physical differences between these two locations: Norrland is more sedate, conservative and slow-moving in comparison with the cosmopolitan Stockholm; a Stockholmer having to live for an extended period in Norrland feels "exiled to the back of beyond"; Norrland is also colder and a Stockholmer coming there must urgently buy warmer clothes; Norrlanders often speak regional dialects which Stockholm people find nearly incomprehensible; Stockholm people look down their noses at "a working class boy from Norrland" even when he had lived many years in Stockholm.
The book's great success and translation into numerous languages made non-Swedish people more aware of Norrland and its special characteristics.
- Population of Sweden 2008-12-31, Statistics Sweden
Media related to Norrland at Wikimedia Commons