Sweden's Crystal Kingdom (Slideshow)

In the pristine southeast coast of Sweden you come upon a glorious fairytale land. Its name is Crystal Kingdom. Photo: Dave Bartruff

VAXJIO, Sweden, October 20, 2011 – There’s a marvelous fairytale land that lies along the pristine southeast coast of Sweden. It is a land of broad, unspoiled beaches and thick fragrant forests: just the perfect place for imagination to leap to life.

This is the rustic Swedish province of Smaland where each morning brings forth a new day of creation. For centuries now, it begins in the same timeless way, with the mixing of sand with the elements of salt peter, arsenic and red lead.

The mixture of these odd ingredients then undergoes a spectacular baptism by fire: in hell-hot kilns whose temperatures reach 2,552 degrees Fahrenheit. Transformed here into a new molten state, the liquid glass meets its legendary creator face to face: a renowned glass blower from Glasriket, Sweden’s venerable “Crystal Kingdom.”

In a matter of minutes, the master artisan gathers the molten mass at the end of his blowpipe. Swiftly and skillfully he sculpts it into an exquisite drinking glass or bowl or vase. He culminates his artistry by separating the glass creation from his blower with a single calculated stroke. It has taken him a minimum of ten years to attain his recognition as a master glass or crystal maker.

The question most often posed to such a creative artisan is, “What is the difference between crystal and glass?” Answer: “Genuine crystal contains 24 percent lead; glass contains none.” Therefore, crystal is easily recognizable by its weight, and has superior brilliance and resonance over glass as well.

Today, Smaland glass makers also produce a semi-crystal glass which contains five percent lead to provide buyers with a crystal-like product at an attractive price.

The traditional art of glass and crystal making has been passed down from father to son in the Crystal Kingdom for generations. Surprisingly, Sweden’s first glass blowers were not Swedes at all, but migrant workers from Bohemia which was the center of Europe’s glass making industry since the Middle Ages.

The Bohemian glass blowers were nomadic and seldom stayed long in one place. However, some of the craftsmen did fall under the delightful spell of Smaland, so their descendants today continue to practice the art of glass and crystal blowing in the same time-honored manner of their ancestors.

Sweden’s very first glass foundry was established by King Gustav Vasa in the 16th Century. In time, the art of glassmaking spread across the realm thanks to the nomadic Bohemians, and by 1742, the first glass foundry was opened. It was named “Kosta” by its founders, two generals in the army of Charles XII, Sweden’s legendary “Warrior King.”

Today, 16 famous glass factories operate in Smaland with familiar names like Boda, Orrefors, Afors and, of course, Boda. For a great many connoisseurs of fine crystal and glassware, Smaland is acknowledged to be the site of the finest glass design center in the world as well.

The Crystal Kingdom is an unique, intimate place where visitors can view master craftsmen and designers working together side by side in all stages of production from the drawing board to the kiln to the finishing shop.

Watching the creation of renowned Swedish art glass and crystal and practical tableware take shape in the heat of the burning ovens provides a memorable travel experience. In recent years, this love of crystal and glass has attracted more than half a million tourists a year to Smaland’s crystal and glass works.

Visitors may enjoy a special Swedish feast called “Hyttsill” inside a number of the glass works. The popular regional meal consists of grilled herring and baked potatoes which may be enjoyed in eye-shot of the glow of a fiery kiln. To conclude the treat, local Smaland Curd cake is served for dessert along with a selection of sour-cherry preserves and local lingonberries picked fresh from bushes nearby.

Exploring the Crystal Kingdom is best done by car. Besides the fascinating visits to the crystal works where their handsome, handmade creations “sell for a song,” there are many natural and historic treasures to discover as well.

The kingdom is conveniently contained across a diverse landscape just 45 miles from east to west. Its westernmost extremity is Vaxjo, the largest town in southern Smaland. Its cathedral dates to the 12th century. Its glass museum contains Northern Europe’s largest collection of crystal and glass.

East from Vaxjo the drive leads through a beautiful land of lakes and forests to the shores of the Baltic Sea coast and the old Hanseatic trading post of Kalmar. It is one of Sweden’s oldest settlements and has a well-preserved 17th century Old Town.

But Kalmar’s most spectacular site is its massive castle set upon an island all its own, just off shore. Surrounded on all sides by water it has protected the fine ancient harbor and town for more than eight centuries. The present castle dates to the 16th Century when King Gustav Vasa and his sons rebuilt the fortification in a renaissance palace. Here visitors are welcomed to inspect the state apartments with their paneled and inlaid walls and vaulted ceilings.

For centuries Kalmar Castle has been considered Sweden’s most important stronghold and was called “The Lock and Key of Sweden.”

From Kalmar, you can drive over Europe’s longest bridge to the holiday island of Oland leaving Sweden’s legendary “Crystal Kingdom” behind only to return again.

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California-based Dave Bartruff is an award-winning photojournalist who has traveled to more than ninety countries.

Join Dave Bartruff on his journeys to near and middle earth through his award-winning photography.

To read more by Dave go to http://communities.washingtontimes.com/neighborhood/images-dave-bartruffs-world

 

 


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Dave Bartruff

California-based Dave Bartruff is an award-winning photojournalist who has traveled to more than ninety countries.

Column Description: “Faraway places with strange-sounding names” is my middle name.  I’d like to introduce myself to you as often as I can.

 

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