A cliff of limestone

A long time ago, there were no harbor piers or mini golf courses or bike paths. Twenty thousand years ago, all of Scandinavia was covered by ice and everything was tranquil. Denmark and the province of Skåne were united by a land bridge. For thousands of years the days passed by this way. Sometimes a reindeer or a hare passed by on its walk north. But the climate was slowly getting milder, and when the sea level in the Baltic sea rose, the water poured in and land became seabed. Ven was the only thing left standing in what was to become Öresund.

Rock carvings from a stone at Vingestig on Ven

Then followed many hundreds of years

It’s inevitable to try to imagine how the life on Ven looked during the Bronze and Iron Age. It’s likely that the whole island has been woodland. The great herring era of the twelfth century can’t have passed the islanders without notice. However, Ven seems to have evaded the naval battles and wars in Middle Ages that were fought with Ven in the line of fire. It’s said that the Battle of Svolder in year 1000 is one of them. Ven seem to have had a calm and insignificant existence that didn’t leave many traces. This until the day when Tycho Brahe arrived at the island.
Till och med sillfisket var bättre förr. Denna bild från Olaus Magnus klassiska verk Historia om de nordiska folken visar hur sillen under den tidiga medeltiden stod så tät i Öresund att man kunde svepa upp den med håvar.

This picture from Olaus Magnus classic work History of the Nordic People shows how the herring in the early Middle Ages were so numerous in Öresund that it could be scooped up with hand nets.

A starry night on Ven Despite the lights from Swedish and Danish coastal lines that shine up in the sky, Ven has a fantastic night sky. But then it’s not like any other rural sky. And the reason for that begins and ends with Tycho Brahe. During his 20 years at Ven, he transformed this small island into a state-of-the-art astronomical research center the like of which had never been seen before.

Tycho Brahe’s arrival to the island

When the Scanian-Danish astronomer and nobleman Tycho Brahe came to Ven, nothing became the same for the people here. The peasants had to do all his labor and couldn’t leave the island without permission. Tycho Brahe received Ven as a gift from the Danish king Fredrik II and he built his castle Uraniborg right in the middle of the island. In 1580 the castle was completed – housing and astronomical observatory in one.

On the balconies were instruments directed against the moon, planets and stars. Near the castle, Tycho later built a special observatory, Stjärneborg. It was immersed in the ground and reasonably protected from the wind. Tycho placed some of his best sight instruments there.

Yes, sight instruments! At this time there were no binoculars or telescopes. The positions of the celestial bodies were analyzed by the naked eye using instruments equipped with graduation discs. Tycho made use of particularly precise instruments and scales to get good readings. He built the best, most sophisticated scientific instruments available until the invention of the earliest known telescope in 1608.

The activities at Ven can be compared to a private university. A skilled research leader, many students, big resources and the best available technology. It can hardly sound more modern than that, but this was the 1500’s on Ven!

Tycho Brahe vid hans stora Murkvadrant. Gravyrtryck från hans egna bok Astronomiæ instauratæ Mechanica

Tycho Brahe at his great mural quadrant. Gravure print from his own book Astronomiae Instauratæ Mechanica.

The universe in transformation

In his youth, before arriving at Ven, Tycho Brahe finds that a strong light in the sky is a new star and not just a smolder in the Earth’s atmosphere. He measures and counts and draws a conclusion about the new star that goes against what had been believed for thousands of years – that the celestial spheres are eternal and unchangeable. Later he also observes a bright comet, and on the basis of his measurements, Brahe can conclude that the comet moves far beyond the path of the moon. It was not heard of before. Comets were considered to belong to the sea of air surrounding the Earth.

Tycho eventually leaves his island and his country after deteriorating relations with the new king Kristian IV. As an old-aged gentleman in company with his wife Kirsten and the six children he takes their belongings and research out to Europe. His belongings include instruments from Ven, observation journals, manuscripts, printing presses, books and alchemical equipment. The course is set at Prague, where Emperor Rudolf II promises him a warm welcome.

After Tycho Brahe’s passing 1601 in Prague, Johannes Kepler takes care of the observations from Ven. Thanks to Tycho’s careful measurements, the correct movements of the planets are to be discovered. The sun is placed in the center, and the earth is moving around the sun. The transformation of man’s view of the world proceeds with relentless power.

Uraniborg med omgivande trädgård och vallar. Kolorerat gravyttryck från Tycho Brahes Astronomiae instauratae mechanica

Uraniborg with surrounding garden and hills. Colored gravure print from Tycho Brahe’s Astronomiae Instauratae Mechanica.

The Tycho Brahe Museum

The Tycho Brahe Museum in the middle of the island tells the whole story about Tycho Brahe. A tangible memory of the activities in the 16th century is Stjärneborg. Of the half-underground crypts there are some that are well-preserved. The well to the castle is also preserved. The symmetrical Renaissance garden around the castle is partially rebuilt and invites you to stroll around in apple grooves and flower beads. The location of Tycho Brahes paper mill, where he made paper for his books, is close to the place called Möllebäcken, which served as Ven’s harbor during Tycho’s time. But anyone who wants to visit the castle is left to use his imagination – the building was taken down stone for stone already in the early 1600s.

You can read more about the Tycho Brahe Museum on its website.

I Stjärneborg spelas en ljud- och ljusföreställning om Tycho Brahes forskning med sina instrument. Foto: Landskrona Fritid & Kulturförvaltningen

Stjärneborg at the Tycho Brahe Museum shows a sound and light performance about Tycho Brahe’s research with his instruments. Photo: Landskrona Fritid & Kulturstyrelsen

How Ven came to be Swedish

Ven became Swedish for the same reason that the provinces of Skåne, Blekinge, Halland and Bohuslän became Swedish. It can actually partially be explained by the fact that it was very cold in the 1600s. So cold that in the winter of 1657 the ice lay thick over the Danish straits Little and Great Belt. The Swedish king Karl X Gustav had been met by a sudden declaration of war from Denmark and had to return home from Poland with his army. But he didn’t take the seaway, as Danish king Fredrik III thought, but marched southwards, and through an incredibly venturous maneuver, he passed his army over the ice on Little and Great Belt. Not before long, the Swedish army had surrounded Copenhagen, which led to the peace in Roskilde in 1658. However, Ven did not become Swedish until two years later, when Sweden requested to have Ven instead of the island of Bornholm, which instead became Danish.
Tåget över Bält Målning av Johan Filip Lemke

The march over Belt, painting by Johan Filip Lemke.

The spelling of the island

Ven is actually named Hven. Well, actually, the spelling, and certainly the pronunciation, have changed through the centuries. In King Valdemar’s book from 1231, for example, the island is called Hwaithsen. During the 16th century, the spelling begins to become unified as just Hven, and that’s what the island was called until the mid 20th century. The change had to do with the 1906 spelling reform where “Hvad” became “Vad” and “Hvit” became “Vit”. For the pronunciation, it does not matter, but everyone can probably agree on that Hven is more beautiful than Ven.

The brick industry on Ven

Breaking clay and burning bricks began on Ven as a side business to agriculture. Gradually, industrial brick factories were built and around the turn of the century Ven had a fully-fledged industry that employed several hundred men. At most, nine plants were running simultaneously. The owners made good profits and built beautiful villas for themselves on Ven. After the First World War, the business dropped, and the last factories were demolished in the 1940s. Along almost all of Ven’s northeast coast, the trails from the brick era remains in the form of huge amounts of brick, which now rests beautifully and glittering on the beaches. In the photo brick factory worker, 1923. Photo from Eva Pettersson.

“Vänta mig inte till sommaren, Ellen”

The poet Gabriel Jönsson spent his summers at Ven, and it was he who wrote the poem “At the Guard”, which was given music by Gunnar Turesson with the title “The Girl from Backafall”, which became a big success and today a part of the Swedish song book. The picture of the girl standing on Ven’s grassy hills and waiting for her sailor has become a famous motive in songs, film and crafts. Gabriel Jönsson also wrote a very beautiful and factual prose about Ven, but it’s his poetry that is widely appreciated.