The forest Almindingen is located approximately 100 metres above sea level. The forest’s soil stratum of varying thickness is located directly on the bedrock. The bedrock consists of 1.4-billion-year-old granite. The granite is visible as rock walls, rock overhangs, large boulders and rocky ground and yields a more Nordic character to the forest than other forested areas of Denmark. The rocks dominate especially the western part of Almindingen.
Geologically speaking, Almindingen is part of northern Bornholm. Northern Bornholm is located higher above sea level than southern Bornholm and the bedrock is made up of granite, gneiss or basalt which, like in Almindingen, is close to or visible at the surface. This is unlike southern Bornholm, which is geologically similar to the rest of Denmark, which means that the bedrock is found far below layers of, for example, slate, limestone and sandstone.
Ekkodalen in Almindingen is the longest rift valley in Bornholm. starts at Saltuna on the north-eastern coast of Bornholm and cuts through 12 kilometres of the countryside to Vallensgårds Mose. It can be traced magnetically all the way to Arnager on the southwestern coast.
Rift valleys are rifts formed in the granite allowing liquid hot basalt rock mass to rise from the underground. Basalt is softer than granite and has, eventually, been worn away by, amongst others, the ice and meltwater of the ice ages. Thus, the empty rifts are now left as rift valleys.
The first people
Hunter-gatherer Stone Age to 3,900 BC.
On a chilly spring morning about 12,000 years ago, a skin-clad family left their winter residence somewhere in what is today known as Poland. They were big-game hunters and they followed their prey, the reindeer, on their summer migration to the north. The herd walked many miles along an isthmus across the Baltic Ice Lake, which later became the Baltic Sea, and reached what is today called Bornholm. The hunters continued north, and only when they came to the lake at the foot of the "mountain", which is today known as Ekkodalsklippen, did they set up camp for the summer.
Exactly, how it happened nobody knows, of course. However, this is along the lines of how archaeologists interpret the oldest signs of humans in Bornholm, namely a harpoon made from elk antlers and an arrowhead made from flint, both found in Vallensgårds Mose, just south of Almindingen.
Vallensgårds Mose together with Kærgårds Mose and Udkæret on the other side of Ekkodalsklippen are the partially dried-up remains of the ancient lake.
The migration took place during a warm period during the most recent ice age when Bornholm was connected to the European continent via an isthmus. The landscape, which welcomed our big-game hunters, was tundra-like and almost arctic with summer temperatures of a mere 8-10 degrees. Later, the ice did come back and only some 1,000 years after our little group’s summer visit was the ice age finally over.
Once again, the reindeers walked across the isthmus to a tundra-like landscape, together with people, moose and beaver. As the climate warmed up, the tundra with its glade-filled birch and pine forests was replaced by a darker woodland of oak, hazelnut and linden and the animals of the tundra disappeared. In return, red deer, roe deer and wild boar arrived and, gradually, more rodents, foxes, polecats, pine martens, hedgehogs and squirrels.
The migration of animals and plants lasted about a few thousand years, but then the watershed of the Baltic Sea rose and the isthmus leading to the continent disappeared. In other words, it was only around 7000 BC that Bornholm became an island.
This second wave of immigrant hunter-gatherer Stone-Age people settled down in the coastal areas and traces of people in Almindingen are not found again until the end of the Neolithic period.
The cultivation of Almindingen
The Neolithic period, the Bronze Age and the Iron Age. 3900 BC to 750 AD.
Until the Neolithic period, it was only the climate and the animals that had affected the forests in the middle of the island. They had developed from tundra to predominantly oak forest in peace and quiet, however, the concept of agriculture had now reached Bornholm, which meant that parts of the forest were cultivated and turned into fields. The new farmers burnt areas of brush to cultivate them and plant nutrients from the ash acted as fertilizers. Only for a while, however, until the nutrients were used up and a new area of the forest had to make way for fields. This is called “slash-and-burn-cultivation” and continued way into ancient times.
Stone Age farmers preferred to live by water and settlement are found around several of the lakes in Almindingen, especially at Vallensgårds Mose. The rocky outcrop, which today is known for the ruin of the medieval castle of Lilleborg, was also inhabited in the Stone Age. This is evidenced by findings of axes, amber beads and an unusually high number of arrows made of flint. In addition, there are leftovers of a palisade or stockade. Archaeologists believe that this could mean that there was already a castle or castle-like structure on the outcrop almost 5,000 years ago.
In the late Bronze Age, human activity really left a mark on the woodlands: It appears that, around 800 BC, the entire western part of Almindingen was cleared and under the plough. In many areas of the woods, experts see traces of these ancient fields, but there are also traces to be discovered by the less-trained eye: The many small rock mounds, which are scattered around the forest, are indicators of ancient agriculture. Most of them are so-called clearance mounds and are simply the place where the early peasants gathered the stones from the land they cultivated. Other mounds tell a different story, these are burial mounds, such as those found in Bornholm's best-preserved burial area, found at Segen. Here you find two larger and about 60 smaller burial mounds, as well as menhirs. The tombs indicate that the Bronze-Age peasants living in and of Almindingen were poor, as the tombs contained nothing but bone residues and pottery shards.
The warriors coming
In the Iron Age, around the year zero, agriculture in the forest area was abandoned. And while the oaks regained their foothold in Almindingen, society underwent significant changes.
Weapons of war had existed since the middle of the Neolithic period, but signs of war in the early Iron Age or at least of acts of war having taken place are also found in Bornholm; In the tombs, warriors were buried with their iron weapons and many of them were marked by fighting and mutilation. The Iron Age people sacrificed weapons in the bogs at Klemensker and Rutsker and they dug down their small and big treasures at the settlements. Castles for shelter or refuge were built at the tops of accessible rock outcrops in Paradisebakkerne and on Rispebjerg and perhaps also in Almindingen.
Ceramics found in Gamleborg suggest that there was already a kind of castle there already in 200 AD, which means that Gamleborg was built on a previous structure from the Iron Age. This seems to also be the case for Lilleborg, which may have already been fortified in the Neolithic period. Around 400 AD, a treasure consisting of 16 silver coins and a gold coil were buried there. Archaeological studies have also shown that “something” had previously occupied the site of Lilleborg and that “something” was destroyed by fire around the same time. And that this "something" was probably also a castle for defence, like the Iron Age castles in Paradisebakkerne and the Ring Fortress of Rispebjerg.
Viking Age and Middle Ages
Gamleborg is listed
Viking Age and Early Middle Ages (750 AD to 1259 AD)
The Gamleborg, of which we today can see the ruins, was constructed in the Viking Age, at a time when the Baltic Sea was ravaged by pirates. The Vikings built their castle well into the country far away from the coasts. It was built on a rocky plateau, 270 metres long and 110 metres wide, which was difficult to conquer. The cliff itself formed a kind of natural fortress, but it was secured further with the ramparts made from boulders, soil and clay.
The oldest parts of the castle date back to the 900's, and it Is reminiscent of the castles of the Iron Age villages or castles for seeking refuge mentioned before; places where the local population could entrench themselves and their livestock if they were attacked. However, the central location of Gamleborg, almost exactly in the middle of the island, means that it is likely that Gamleborg was the island's main fortress and central castle. And the finding of many different types of objects suggests that, in the 1000-1100's, the castle was home to a permanent garrison.
We know from written sources that, in 890 AD, Bornholm had its own king. And we also know that, at the time of Harold Bluetooth (940 AD – 986 AD), the island was subject to Danish rule. What happened in between or whether the castle was built by the Bornholm king or the Danish king, or perhaps a third individual, we do not know.
Read more about the castles of Almindinge
Gamleborg is reinforced and abandoned - Lilleborg is built
Early Middle Ages (1050 AD – 1259 AD)
There were pirates in the Baltic Sea also in the early Middle Ages. Most originated from what is Poland and Germany today, and they attacked both ships at sea and attacked and robbed along the coastlines. Perhaps for that reason, around 1100 AD, Gamleborg's rampart was reinforced by a 275-metre-long, 2-metre-wide and up to 6-metre-high massive stone wall.
However, this was apparently not enough. In any event, based on a finding of coins from around 1150 AD, Gamleborg was abandoned in favour of Lilleborg. This was probably because Gamleborg had become outdated. It was simply too big and too difficult to defend. Its successor, Lilleborg, is indeed much smaller. Just 2,600 square metres compared to Gamleborg's 27,000 square metres.
Lilleborg is a ring fortress and was built by King Svend Grathe, who ruled from 1146 AD to 1157 AD. It makes Lilleborg one of the oldest royal medieval castles in Denmark.
Lilleborg is built on a sixteen-metre-high cliff, and the king constructed a moat around its perimeter, which meant the castle was surrounded by water. The courtyard contained different buildings for living and working. It was surrounded by a circular wall and outside this circular wall was what was known as a barnyard; a breeding farm housing the livestock and agricultural tools and products.
Written sources do not mention Lilleborg before it was destroyed, but the findings from the castle show that it served as a military facility, an administrative centre and housed for a bailiff and his family. A relatively large number of keys and parts of locks indicate that the castle held a lot of valuables that were locked away in the chests or behind the castle gates. Some of the valuables may well have been taxes collected.
The end of Lilleborg
About the same time that Lilleborg was constructed, the Danish King Svend gave most of Bornholm to Archbishop Eskild of Lund in Sweden to make him "his sincere friend." The king retained only Vestre Herred (“the Western District”), including Lilleborg.
The sincere friendship between church and king thrived for about 100 years; however, in the 1250s the parties openly strived. The Archbishop was then Jacob Erlandsen and the king was King Christopher the 1st. The king wished to restrict the rights of the bishops and for them to be subject to the Crown. Jakob Erlandsen and his followers wanted the opposite.
The disputes culminated in 1259 when the king imprisoned the archbishop. That same year, Lilleborg was conquered and destroyed by the brother of the Archbishop, Anders Erlandsen, together with the Wendic Prince Jaromar of Rügen.
On 4 April 1265, Pope Urban the 4th wrote a letter to Jacob Erlandsen, in which he demanded the resignation of the Archbishop:
You have moreover gathered an Army and with it sent Your Brother Anders together with the meritorious Mr Jarmer, Prince of Rügen, at Your Expense to the Island of Bornholm, which belongs to the King and is in the Diocese of Lund, and there You have most cruelly killed about 200 of the King's Men, taxed the Survivors of the King's Men, utterly destroyed his Castle and by Brute Force taken Possession of the Island ...
The name Lilleborg does not appear in the letter, but it is probably the castle mentioned. Presumably, therefore, the first mention of Lilleborg in written sources was made when it was destroyed.
Ærkebispetiden and Lybækkertiden
Late Middle Ages (1259 AD – 1576 AD).
When Lilleborg was destroyed and the power moved to Hammerhus, Almindingen became part of the large common grazing area called Højlyngen, which covered most of inner Bornholm. Like the rest of the moor, most of the forest was grazed down by the livestock and developed into a heathland with heather and juniper. Højlyngen came to take up about one-fifth of the island.
The name Almindingen was first recorded in writing in 1543 as the name of the forested part of the moor. According to the book Bornholm Stednavne (“Place names of Bornholm”), "Almindingen" means "Forest, field or heath, which is not an individually owned property, but which is jointly used and owned jointly, or which is owned by the king".
The King's game preserves
Recent times (1576 AD to today).
In 1576, Bornholm, and thus Almindingen, had returned to Danish rule after having been ruled by others for more than 300 years. Almindingen became the "King’s Almindingen".
Later, the part of the moor that was still wooded, i.e. the western part of the present Almindingen, became the King's Game Preserve. The very hilly area that includes Ekkodalen, Lilleborg, Jomfrubjerget and Koldekilde was marked with wooden posts. Later the wooden posts were replaced by stone posts. Some of these are still there.
The king's interest in hunting concerned especially the many red deer which were then prevalent in Bornholm, and in Almindingen in particular. Over the next couple of hundred years, the king sent his hunters to Bornholm many times to shoot red deer, which were salted in barrels and sent to the court. And on several occasions, at the end of the 1600s, groups of live animals were caught to populate the area today known as Jægersborg Dyrehave.
However, over time, both the red deer and the forest disappeared. A written record from 1756 states that, in a matter of a few years, the population has "strangely decreased" because of a cold winter, intensive hunting and poaching but also because "their usual habitat, Almindingsskoven, has grown thinner and smaller over time." The trees of Almindingen had almost gone. They had been cut down and used for timber and firewood, and new ones did not grow, because the fresh shoots were eaten by the livestock. Almost 30 years later, the last red deer in Bornholm was shot, and their descendants may now only be experienced in Jægersborg Dyrehave.
By the year 1800, the forest of Almindingen had largely disappeared.
That same year, it was decided by royal decree that the forest was to be restored. This time because of the fleet: Thus, the royal decree of King Christian the 7th, dated August 6, 1800, stated:
We graciously authorize our Treasury to let Our Almindingsskov in Bornholm now at once fence and then to Grow and Protect the Forest, and in this Process, as far as possible, ensure that Oaks are grown for the benefit of the Fleet.
The restoration of Almindingen
The man who was appointed to perform this task was Hans Rømer, who was born in Bornholm. At the time, he was a second lieutenant at the Zealand Ranger Unit in Elsinore, where he had learned about forestry.
And there was enough for the young second lieutenant to do. Almindingen covered an area of 600 hectares, but most of it was moor and heather. Only 165 hectares were still covered by a kind of forest. It is described as a copse of hornbeam and low-growing, gnarly oak forest which was not suitable for building fleets. The forest was situated west of the brook, which flows from Koldekilde to Ekkodalen, and contained Jomfrubjerget, Gamleborg and Lilleborg. Both Rytterknægten and Ekkodalsklippene were described as "bald".
Hans Rømer was a diligent man. He built nearly 10 kilometres of stone fences around Almindingen to keep out the livestock. He founded his first plant nursery between Gamleborg and Christianshøj, where you can today see his memorial. He dug ditches, built roads, built the dwelling of the Forest Supervisor in Ekkodalen and planted forest.
The area, which he fenced, the old Almindingen, corresponded largely to King's Game Preserve including Ekkodalen and Rytterknægten. Here, the peasants had for generations put their animals out to graze and they were not happy with the new order. They protested by destroying and removing the fence in several places. And by letting pigs into the plant nursery.
For centuries, no public Establishment has been carried out in this Part of the Country, which has caused the common People as much general Ill-feeling as the Preservation of Almindingen.
Rømer died in 1836. Then, "his" Almindingen had been forested. Since then, others have continued his work and the forest has become much larger. However, Hans Rømer is remembered as the founder of Almindingen and, in 1893, he was honoured with a memorial, which is located in Rømersminde.
Hans Rømer, Forest Supervisor of Almindingen, 1800-1836
A grateful Posterity erected this Monument in 1893
With Skill and great Stamina, he dedicated the warmest Love to the Work, to which he was called, and thus created this lovely Forest.
The descendants of the angry peasants had forgiven him, and today's inhabitants of Bornholm see him as one of the great men of the island and no one would want to be without Almindingen.
In the years after Hans Rømer's death, Almindingen was expanded with Vestre Indlæg and Østre Indlæg. Thus, the forest tripled in size. At the same time, parts of the old moor were distributed between the then municipalities for forestation. Since then, Almindingen and several of the old municipal man-made forests have merged and now form Denmark's fifth-largest forested area. To this day, Almindingen is owned by the state and, hence, all of us. The Bornholm Nature Agency I located at Rømersdal, the old Forest Supervisor dwelling of Hans Rømer.