In the far west, where the archipelago ends and the open sea begins, you find the island of Marstrand with Carlsten Fortress at the top. The sailing town and seaside resort Marstrand is a favourite with visitors. It is home to a harbour filled with all kinds of boats, cosy homes along car-free streets, top restaurants and cafées, sun and salty swims, music and spectacle.
Ever since the Middle Ages Marstrand has exerted a special attraction, and has retained it up to our own days. The town of Marstrand was founded back in the 13th century by the Norwegian king Håkon Håkonsson. Sited way out on the edge of the archipelago, Marstrand was an ideal harbour, often ice-free and with mooring facilities regardless of the wind direction. It was for many years a major fishing centre and the starting point for international maritime trade. Directly to the west lies Skagen in Denmark, and the route from there was regularly followed by the old sailing boats.
Nowadays Marstrand is best known for other kinds of sailing craft. Sailing has grown to be a public sport here, one that can be watched from the only natural sailing arena in the world. This is where the regatta Match Cup Sweden has been held the past 23 years. During the event, exciting sailing is combined with business and a fantastic atmosphere among the visitors, making Marstrand the sailing capital of Sweden.
It has not always been like this and for many centuries it was the herring that made the difference between wealth and poverty. In the 16th century Marstrand was the herring capital of Europe. The street lamps of Paris burned herring oil imported from Marstrand. Employment opportunities brought folk from far and near, and the island became renowned for its immorality. There were more than a hundred taverns on the little island. The island was wealthy enough to build the town hall in stone as they were tired of the many fires they’d suffered. But suddenly the herring ceased to swarm and no more stone buildings were erected.
In the 18th century the herring returned once more and – to attract labour to Marstrand – the “Porto Franco” was established, meaning a free harbour, paying no taxes, and a refuge for criminals. It was also a place of total religious freedom. The first synagogue in Scandinavia was founded here. But the great herring years once again came to an end and the people of Marstrand were forced to find a new source of income. When sea bathing became the fashion in the 19th century Marstrand began a fresh era of glory. The island attracted the upper classes, eager to mingle with royalty in the newly built Societetshus, Turisthotell and the Marstrand bath house (today’s Båtellet).