Our journey around Sweden continues in Luleå, 65 degrees north, and the capital of the province and county of Norrbotten.
“å” means “river” in Swedish, and Luleå was founded at the mouth of the Lule river. Other cities on the northern Swedish Baltic coast, like Umeå, Piteå, and Skellefteå, were also founded on river mouths.
Luleå received a royal charter in 1621, although the area was first named as inhabited in the Middle Ages. The city was moved to its current site in 1649 when the bay became too shallow for ships, in the original location.
That location is now called Gammelstaden or “the Old Town”, and it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Today Luleå has a population of 75,000, and after a past as a market and port, nowadays it is information technology that is taking off there, centered around Luleå University.
Perhaps the highpoint to establishing its reputation as an IT capital was getting Facebook to open its first data center outside the US there, taking advantage of the one of the few places in the world with fast Internet access, plentiful electricity, and year-round chilly temperatures to keep those servers cool.
With its strategic location close to what once was the border with Russia, nowadays it’s Finland, Luleå has also been a military center. The naval and anti-aircraft units are no longer there, but it still remains the home of the F21 Air Force Base.
F21 has been the site of a number of joint Swedish-NATO military maneuvers, and has been the target of several demonstrations.
In recent years Luleå and the north have been trying to diversify from the reliance on industry towards attracting more tourism.
Inspired by the success of the Ice Hotel, close to neighboring Kiruna, entrepreneur Kent Lindvall has started a Tree House hotel, and Radio Sweden’s Tom Sullivan dropped in, or rather climbed up, for a visit.
There’s lots of sports in the north, and as one might expect in a subarctic climate, winter sports are the most popular, and the local ice hockey team is in the top division.
But Luleå is known for another winter athletic activity, it hosts the annual Swedish championships in snowfall fighting.
Among the music groups that come from Luleå, Movits is known for combining hiphop with big band and swing. In 2009 the group performed on the “Colbert Report” on American TV's Comedy Central.