It’s like something out of a fantasy film! All the way in Sweden, in a usually quaint and peaceful area, lies a strange and mysterious structure jutting out of the sea. While the structure lies there in plain sight, it lay undetected by Swedish authorities for years. Once discovered, however, the mystery only deepened and led to an unprecedented and historic revelation. Read on to find out how a mysterious formation led to a remote nation unlike any other.
1. Out Of The Ordinary
This modern day mystery began like many made-for-television mysteries often do, in an idyllic, small town on a hillside by the water. While carrying out a routine check, authorities in Sweden were surveying the surrounding area by the water and happened upon an unusual scene.
What they saw was only fully visible from the water and it had already gone undetected by the authorities for years. What they’d end up finding was not on any map, nor were there any official signs to mark its location. They didn’t know it yet, but what the authorities would soon find was the key to uncovering a secret nation, one that until then, lay undetected under the radar.
2. A Remarkable Discovery
The patrol team was utilizing boats that day, since the Scandinavian country is in large surrounded by water. It was during one of those patrols that they found themselves circling Kullaberg Nature Reserve. The area was known for its breathtaking views of craggy cliffs, expansive wooded areas, vast hiking trails and scenic, rocky beaches.
But as the search team rounded a corner cutting through the dark tides, they saw a peculiar formation in the distance. While the sight seemed to blend in with the surroundings, it was clear that whatever was out there was definitely not a natural part of the landscape.
3. A Rocky Start
The mysterious structure in the distance was massive and unlike anything they had ever seen before, but at that moment they still did not know exactly what they were even looking at. They needed to move a bit closer to take another look at the looming shape.
Then came the the first of their problems. They had reached the part of the country where the mountains met the sea, and the shore was extremely rocky. The stony coastline made for a picturesque backdrop, but it also made it nearly impossible to dock a boat. If they were going to get a better look, the search team would have to find another way.
4. Setting the Scene
The discovery was close to the town of Mölle, Sweden, across the water from Copenhagen, Denmark. The tiny town had a small population of roughly 715 people. Tourists were constantly flocking in and out of the small town, with Kullaberg Nature Reserve providing a huge draw for out-of-town tourists to come for a visit.
With so few people in the town, and so many visitors constantly exploring seemingly every inch of the area, it seemed hard to believe that no one had previously made a big deal about the unusual landmark and its true significance that would eventually land itself in history books.
5. An Unmarked Trail
With the rocky shores creating an obstacle for the team to get a closer look at the mysterious discovery, the investigators had to try their luck solving the conundrum by other means. The search took them to a decades-old stop along the way, where they found their first clue on the journey.
Sitting on Kullaberg Nature Reserve was a group of 18th century preserved barn homes called Himmelstorp. To get to the bizarre-looking structure seen from the water, the team would have to trek through the woods to the shore below. And the popular landmark was a great starting point. Just to the right of those old barns, there was a worn hiking path. The search team began to follow the path, unaware that the trek was about to get much more complicated.
6. Path to Nowhere
Past the clearing, the search team began to follow the path through a small gate that led to a grassy, flat valley. But that easily-traversed terrain quickly started to change. The well-worn hiking path started to become more and more dangerous as the trek continued.
The winding trail soon became rough and rocky, as it turned into a steep, mountainous hike plummeting treacherously downward toward the water below. It was becoming increasingly harder to tell where the trail was, and easier to get lost. But then, the team noticed a series of strange markings starting to appear that would reveal yet another clue.
7. ‘N’ Marks the Spot
Yellow markings of the letter ‘N’ began to appear on trees lining the path and on rocks down the mountainside. It seemed that the search team was getting close to the answer they were looking for. But while the enigmatic markings would help them, the spray-painted Ns would also lead to even more questions about what was on the other side of the long, rocky path.
They curious team continued to follow the now-marked path toward the water below. Then suddenly, the ominous and bizarre structure they’d seen from the water finally began to appear through the trees, and would lead the team to learn what the strange N markings really represented.
8. Entering A New Reality
When they reached the peculiar-looking structure they saw that it was made of gnarled and twisting wooden sticks, blended in easily with the surrounding woodlands. But it definitely wasn’t a natural phenomenon. Someone had built it, but for what reason? Upon further inspection, the strange structure seemed to be an entrance to something much larger.
The makeshift doorway led to a set of mangled, winding stairs. The whole thing looked like something straight out of a science fiction or medieval fantasy novel. Judging by the amount of construction that went into it, the structure had taken a significant amount of time to complete. Unsure of what was to come, the team decided to go down the stairs, and descend into the unknown.
9. A Journey Downwards
Scaling down the stairs, it became clear just how much work and perseverance had gone into building the structure. At least a few thousand pounds of wood and nails were used to create the intricate winding path reminiscent of something out of Game of Thrones. If they hadn’t seen it with their own eyes, the search team likely would have hardly believed that it existed.
Walls of driftwood and branch were built up on either side of the passage, making the structure seemingly blend in with the mountain beneath it. The creation was just as frightening and intriguing as it was impressive, with layers of material stacked on top of the other, creating something thick and sturdy enough to climb. But there was so much more to come from this gigantic treehouse-like creation, and what they were seeing was just the beginning of the bizarre scene.
10. Coming into View
After scaling down the steep, winding stairs to the beach below, the scale of the discovery they had found came into view, and it was gigantic. While the intricate, maze-like connecting paths that linked this “tree house” were essentially camouflaged with their surroundings, what the team saw next did not have the same inconspicuous effect, and prominently stood out in stark contrast against the rocky shore.
What came into view were the several colossal, spindly towers the team had seen from the water. The sky-high formations made entirely of driftwood planks, sticks and nails jutted from the beach like a makeshift medieval tower. New mysteries started to form: What could this be? How did it get here? And what was the meaning behind those mysterious “N” markings?
11. Not Out of The Woods Yet
No matter who had built them, it was an incredible accomplishment to have made these massive, skeletal structures all the way from the mountainside down to the beach. Whoever had built it must have wanted to preserve and protect it. Along with the discovery by the authorities, so too came to light the unusual truth about its background.
As details of the birth and intended purpose of the strange, secluded compound emerged, a new and increasingly unusual saga involving the responsible party would unfold and catch the attention of media outlets. Just how old was the rugged structure? What was it used for? Why was it in that specific location? All these questions and more were about to be answered.
12. Meeting The Maker
Swedish artist and activist Lars Vilks was soon identified as the controversial creator behind the menacing structure. He had been working on the rocky beach building his driftwood castle long before police had discovered the hideaway on the mountainside. Vilks had, in fact, been working on this project shrouded in secrecy since 1980.
He had chosen such a remote location that it took two years until the police showed up and found it. But building the gigantic structures was just the start of the unbelievable story to come that would change his life, and the landscape of Sweden. Vilks was known to be an eccentric character. His curious project had humble beginnings, but would eventually lay the groundwork for one of the world’s rarest and most astounding tiny nations.
13. Taking A Life Of Its Own
In 1980, Lars Vilks was just a man on a beach cleaning debris from the marsh when he had a seemingly crazy idea. He was finding so much driftwood that he felt he wanted to start experimenting and fiddling with it. That’s when he came up with the idea to build enormous sculptures on the beach. But he would quickly find it was much easier in theory than in practice.
The gigantic structure he had in mind could not be built only by using the driftwood found on shore. Instead, he had to carry more logs from the forest nearby and drag it through the uneven trail and down the steep mountainside to get it to his remote nation location. He layered the wood, and transformed them into the giant tree house-like structure. It was definitely impressive, but at the time, he had no idea that he was building something historic.
14. The Meaning Behind The Markings
Vilks was working diligently for two years, layering driftwood and nailing planks into place. He imagined the sculpture to be an escape for anyone who happened upon it, a place for their imaginations to run wild, like an adult playground. He imagined the formation to have its own set of rules, and to represent freedom and individuality. Part of this meant he wanted his new structure to be sturdy enough to climb on and explore.
His creation grew to be massive – 75 tonnes of driftwood stretched to nearly 10 stories high! Vilks went on to name the structure “Nimis,” a Latin word for “too much.” The name finally provided an explanation behind the mysterious N markings leading up to the site. But the work that had taken him years to create would would soon face an existential threat.
15. Walking the Plank
Despite the sturdy building job of Vilks’s small city, the whole place could be destroyed at any minute. Once authorities had taken note of it, they determined that the massive structures violated a Swedish law prohibiting people from erecting buildings on nature reserves. Vilks had to defend his creation in court, and it would be a fierce battle.
Meanwhile, Nimis and the structures surrounding it were gaining public awareness. Word spread about the impending fate of the site, and tourists and locals alike started to grow curious about the strange structure called Nimis. But no one could have imagined what would become of this sculpture of sticks.
16. Gaining Support
Everyone wanted to get a first-hand at the mysterious, secluded and baffling area of the coast. Soon enough, Vilks began to gain some unexpected supporters from nearby locals who were benefiting from the growing number of tourists in the area making the trip to Nimis.
Vilks worked hard to upkeep the massive tree house on the beach, constantly adding more reinforcement to the structures. And it was necessary, as tourists were scaling up the giant tower, climbing through the labyrinth of a stairwell, and exploring something unlike anyone had ever seen. The world Vilks wanted to create was finally taking shape, and the weird work on the beach was about to get even weirder as its story became even more unbelievable.
17. Building It Up To Tear it Down?
Despite orders for Vilks to tear down his project, he continued to construct the driftwood city. Legal battles raged on for years, but in the meantime Vilks added 100 more meters – 25 tons – of driftwood to the growing compound. By then, 160,000 nails had gone into the project, jutting out of every side of the structures.
Vilks added two more driftwood towers to the formation, along with a dreamlike structure resembling a melting sandcastle called “Arx.” But it was all threatened to be torn down, until Vilks surprised everyone and came up with a clever way to save his city and turn it into much more.
18. Buying More Time
Vilks had a plan that would change everything, and ultimately redefine what his project would become. He sold the giant structure of Nimis and Arx to foreign artists. Since they were now privately owned, Swedish authorities could no longer order that they be torn down. The structures were there to stay, at least for now.
It was a victory for Vilks, but the story wasn’t over yet. The entire maze of structures was built to embrace freedom and exploration, and now he had a chance to do just that. Having his work out of the grasp of Swedish authorities gave him another idea to hopefully help preserve his creation.
19. The Birth Of A Nation
Nimis and the structures around it were on Swedish land, but not in Swedish control. This technicality led Vilks to declare the land a “micronation” of its own, claiming the area was its own independent state, separate from the country of Sweden.
On June 2, 1996, Vilks officially named the area covering the one square kilometer of land around his structures the “Royal Republic of Ladonia,” or “Ladonia” for short. It would become a nation within a nation. And like any nation, it needed citizens, and there were plenty of people lining up to become part of something that most of the world had never seen before.
20. Model Citizens
Those who wanted to become Ladonians simply had to to fill out an online form. Applying was free of charge, and becoming a citizen was free too. Of course, no valid travel documents came with citizenship, and the rocky beaches meant that no one could actually live within the one-square-kilometer boundaries of Ladonia. But still, somehow, it worked, and people began to sign up!
Within one year, more than 1,000 people from around the world became registered “citizens” of Ladonia. Citizenship came with a mailed certificate naming its populace as valued members of the Ladonian community. But if Ladonia was going to be a real nation, with true autonomy, there had to be leadership. And the leadership of Ladonia was almost as strange as the place itself.
21. Watch the Throne
Any proper nation needs proper government, and Ladonia was no exception. In 2011, the micronation elected and crowned its ruling monarch — Queen Carolyn. According to the rule of the tiny country of one-square-mile, the Chicago-born leader will hold her seat for life.
The quirky micronation also has a president and vice president that are elected tri-annually. Currently, the president is actually a pair of shoes named “The President’s Old Shoes.” The vice presidential seat is currently vacant. Over the years, the micronation has grown in size and popularity. Ladonia finally seemed to be getting its happy ending. Unfortunately, fate had other plans.
22. Drifters In The Driftwood City
The nation of Ladonia does not just operate by its own rules and laws, it even has its own time zone. Ladonia Standard Time (LST) was determined to be 3 minutes behind its neighbors in Sweden. Ladonia even had its own postage stamp and flag (a green and white cross-like design similar to other Scandinavian flags).
While Ladonia has no public transportation, it has still maintained the same unpaved path throughout the years. The nation eventually came up with two separate national anthems – one of which includes no words at all. The official anthem was just the plopping sound a single stone makes when it is dropped in water. Yes, that is the entire anthem. But the nation wasn’t all fun and games, and soon enough it would again face destruction from a new threat.
23. Rain or Shine
As tourists continued to brave the steep, mountainous hike to scale Ladonia’s towers and climb through the wooden passageways, Vilks and his “cabinet members” continued to keep Nimis and its driftwood-constructed companions sturdy. Tourists would often spot Vilks fixing up his project-turned-nation. But no amount of reinforcements could have protected Ladonia from what was to come.
In December 2013, Hurricane Sven devastated much of southern Sweden, bringing with it high floodwaters and gusting winds. One of Vilks’s towers came crashing down. Another was destroyed. The Queen’s Throne near the shore of Ladonia was demolished completely. Ladonians were forced to rebuild their city as soon as the storm cleared. But on the horizon, another devastating blow would soon come to Ladonia.
24. Under Fire, Once Again
In November 2016, the usually dark beach of Ladonia was lit by the flames of a blaze that consumed the entire city. An arsonist had set fire to the entire micronation. With Ladonia having no official fire department, Swedish police were brought to the scene. But because of Ladonia’s secluded location, their options for extinguishing the fire were extremely limited.
Firefighters could only use handheld fire extinguishers and water from the nearby sea to contain the fire. By morning, one of Ladonia’s largest towers had been reduced to just a pile of scorched wood and nails. In Ladonia’s official newspaper, The Ladonia Herald, Vilks announced that 25% of the famous Nimis structure had been charred. The other 75% was safe and sturdy. Despite the devastating blow to the tiny nation, its story wasn’t over.
25. Knock On Wood
Since the fire, Ladonians have rebuilt Nimis and continued to add to their unbelievable nation. Today, Ladonia boasts over 20,000 citizens, including 841 “nobels” (meaning they’ve paid a $30 donation for the title). Ladonia remains free to all with no entrance fee for those seeking to enter and explore.
Each year, 40,000 visitors hail to Nimis and the unique micronation of Ladonia. Over the years, not much has changed about Ladonia, and visitors still hike up and down the rocky mountainous path to get to the site, and follow the same mysterious N markings to find their way to the micronation.
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